The First Movie (12A)

Film image
Mark Cousins
Mark Cousins

The ViewBirmingham Review

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Review byMatthew Turner04/10/2010

Four out of Five stars
Running time: 76 mins

Heartwarming, thought-provoking and genuinely uplifting, this is a well made documentary with a powerful message.

What's it all about?
Directed by film enthusiast Mark Cousins (who used to present Moviedrome and Scene By Scene on BBC2), The First Movie is a documentary in which Cousins travels to Goptapa, a small village in Kurdish Northern Iraq, builds a makeshift cinema and shows the children films such as The Red Balloon, The Singing, Ringing Tree and Spielberg's E.T. The films receive a rapturous reception (captured on camera) and the next day, Cousins gives several children a flip camera and asks them to make their own short films.

Through the use of stills and old home movies, Cousins also examines the impact of film on his own childhood, growing up in war-torn Belfast and draws some thought-provoking parallels.

The Good
The films the children make are powerfully moving: one child interviews his older relatives as they recall Saddam Hussein's genocidal chemical attacks on the Kurds while another child films a boy playing by an irrigation stream and interprets his actions as “giving his dreams to the mud”. There are also several delightful sequences where Cousins films the children himself, such as a sequence shown in reverse where a young girl 'pops' balloons into life.

The children's reactions to the films they watch (bearing in mind that none of them have ever seen a film before) are equally uplifting, though it's a shame that (one assumes) the copyright issues involved mean that we only get a few brief shots of this. Even so, we hear their loud shrieks and Cousins describes their specific reactions, e.g. reaching up to the screen to try and catch the balloon in The Red Balloon.

The Great
Part of the appeal of the film lies in Cousins' own screen persona and his idiosyncratic speech patterns – with his strange pauses and ultra-deliberate pronunciations, he's a bit like a combination of Werner Herzog and William Shatner. At any rate, it's impossible to see this film without talking ... like ... MARK ... COUSINS ... for several ... hours ... AFTERWARDS.

Worth seeing?
In short, this is an emotionally engaging documentary with a striking central message about the power of art and imagination. Highly recommended.

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The First Movie (12A)
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Content updated: 21/09/2018 23:11

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