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July 7–13, 2017

Chicago Premiere

Letters From Baghdad

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Film still: Letters From Baghdad Film still: Letters From Baghdad
Festival Prize
Beirut Intl
Film Fest
"[Directors] Oelbaum and Krayenbühl have fleshed out a complex, fascinating figure"
"Letters from Baghdad reaffirms [Gertrude] Bell's legacy as pivotal in the West's understanding of the Middle East"
  —Los Angeles Times
"The documentary brings to life a woman who was stunningly ahead of her time and profoundly of it"
  —Film Journal International
4 stars
  —The Guardian
"Anyone in search of context for today's headlines, whether about the 50th anniversary of the Six-Day War or the strategic break between several Arab states and Qatar, will be enriched by Letters From Baghdad"
  —Chicago Tribune

One of the most powerful figures to emerge in the Middle East before and during the First World War was a British spy, explorer, writer, and dynamo named Gertrude Bell, "the female Lawrence of Arabia". A pioneering diplomat and a political hero in her own right, Gertrude Bell has an untold story that is shared in Letters From Baghdad. Academy Award®-winning actor Tilda Swinton provides the voice of Bell in a documentary uniquely told solely from historical documents, private diaries, and numerous letters exchanged between Bell and her colleagues.

After growing up in England and attending the University of Oxford, Bell's independence launched her on an extended journey to foreign lands, a feat unheard of for women of her era, particularly in the all-male inner sanctum of British colonial power. Bell's widespread travels throughout Iraq, Iran, Syria, and the Arabian desert branded her an invaluable asset to the British Empire during WWI. History books dole out plenty of recognition for the work of her peers at the time, such as Lawrence of Arabia and Winston Churchill, but it was Bell's intimate knowledge of Middle Eastern culture and innate ability to influence major political players that helped establish a stable, post-war Iraqi government and impact the region in ways that are still evident today.

Directed by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl, U.S.A./UK/France, 2016, 95 mins. In English and Arabic with English subtitles.

Facets Film Dialogue

McGuire Gibson, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the University of Chicago will be here for a Q&A on Saturday, July 8th following the 7 p.m. screening.


  • Fri., July 7 at 9 pm
  • Sat., July 8 at 7 & 9 pm
  • Sun., July 9 at 5 & 7 pm
  • Tues.–Thurs., July 11–13 at 9 pm
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$10 general admission

$5 for Facets Members

The Facets Cinémathèque is located at 1517 W. Fullerton Ave. in Chicago. Call the Cinémathèque Hotline at 773.281.4114 for the latest schedule, showtimes and updates.

For all Cinémathèque inquiries, contact Charles Coleman at 773.281.9075 or

  • John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
  • Artworks: National Endowment for the Arts
  • Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences
  • Comer Family Foundation
  • Bloomberg Philanthropies
  • Alphawood Foundation
  • Polk Bros. Foundation