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The First Movie


Stars: Mark Cousins (he wishes!)

Director: Mark Cousins

The set-up is simple. Cousins travels to a small village in northern Iraq to introduce the sheep-herding kids to a little cinema, showing them movies from Iran, Germany, Denmark and France in an improvised open air cinema, along with Spiellberg’s over-Disneyesque E.T. and Lamourisse’s infinitely superior The Red Balloon. The next day a chosen few kids are given cameras to make their movies which are duly screened for their and our delectation.

On the credit side, some of the films ’made’ by the youngsters undoubtedly possess raw emotional power, notably an elderly woman’s heartbreaking to- camera account of lethal chemical attacks on the village.

That said, I found Cousins’ approach to the youngsters – most of whom (as is now something of a worldwide phenomenon) were dressed American style, sporting T-shirts variously promoting Harry Potter, Barcelona and Barbie – depressingly patronizing, an approach not helped by the Ulsterman’s increasingly irritating wrongly-stressed narration. I’m sure he meant well. It’s even more of a pity, then, that he appeared to be using the all-too-willing-to-be-on-film kids as an aid to his apparent self-promotion. For me, his opening with an Iranian youngster telling a fart joke all too indicative of his approach.

The little-viewed UK TV channel More 4 appears among the myriad of producers who are credited with bringing this documentary to the screen. It makes sense since TV, not cinema, is the film’s natural home since the small screen allows viewers to (a) change channels or (b) switch off without parting with good money for what I found to be (while doubtless sincerely meant) essentially a relentless ego trip for writer/director/cinematographer Cousins. It’s well made, true, but mostly hollow, a near-perfect specimen of that ever-growing genre ‘Cinema for Pseuds’.

Alan Frank

Scotland 2009. UK Distributor: Picturehouse Cinemas. Colour.
76 minutes. Not widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 25 Sep 2010