Ivan Olita is a filmmaker who in the years that we’ve followed his work has consistently provided captivating windows into the world and the diversity of lives within it, something we’re all very much in need of at the moment. Olita returns to DN today for a discussion about his latest short The Last Singer – a film which introduces us to Abu Haider, an Iraqi marsh-Arab who finds himself and the generations strong traditions he practices fast becoming a relic of the past.
Could you tell us about the intentions behind The Last Singer and how Abu Haider’s life embodied those?
This film is about identity. Not just the internal identity, shaped by the way we define ourselves and our values, but the external: the broader identity one has as part of a community, country, and collective shared experience.
Abu Haider is in a moment of his life in which he needs to sacrifice one of those identities: he can assimilate into his peers, or stoically hold on to a dying tradition. At one time his singing was a connection to his community. Now, it’s a connection to the past.
Faced with that choice, he somewhat heroically accepts that his social identity will bear the consequences of choosing to preserve the nature of his calling. Larger than just singing, he’s choosing to hold on to a part of a culture that’s been shrinking for generations.
After the Mesopotamian Marshes were drained, much of the population was forced to abandon their traditional way of life there, scattering into towns and cities to avoid the fallout of a political vendetta against them. For the Marsh Arabs, the marshes are a fundamental part of one’s identity, permeating both the material and spiritual; to lose that makes it impossible to hold on to their history and traditions.
If the only way to keep the legacy of singing in the marshes alive is to personally become a tourist attraction, then so be it. Better that, than to carry the burden of knowing he’d let such a deeply defining part of his identity fade out. He’d rather be ridiculed, painted as a caricature of himself by others, and know he’s still following what he believes in.
At one time his singing was a connection to his community. Now, it’s a connection to the past.
The film’s narration is both movingly reflective and beautifully punctuated with rich metaphor, was that prompted by questions you asked or more a stream of consciousness from Abu?
I would say it’s a combination of both… I like to blur the boundaries between facts and truths and so I believe constant dialogue with the subject may allow you to reach a better understanding of their inner truth only if properly processed.
That means that there is a layer of assimilating what our time together brought me to understand of his culture and his situation that we then decide together how to express in a VO.
What new stories will you be sharing with us in the future?
I’m currently absolutely intrigued by the world of YouTubers, teenager social media influencers and “content farms” – I’m obsessed by medias and social/public identity perception so it’s a very interesting theme for me to investigate. Working on something as we speak but it’s in the early stage of development… Stay tuned!