Even A Dog in Babylon is Free (postproduction)

20 minutes

THIS FILM IS PART OF “BIRD DIVINATION IN MESOPOTAMIA TODAY“. A SHORT ITERATION OF THE FILM, TITLED “EVEN A DOG IN BABYLON” AND 10 MINUTES LONG, SHOWED AT QCP 2023.

In a letter written in the 7th century BC by the Babylonians to the Assyrian king Essarhaddon, the Babylonians defend the rights of foreigners in their city and call on the Assyrian king to afford them the same privileges they receive as Babylonians. They write that “even a dog, when entering the gates of Babylon, shall be protected.”

The film is constructed as a series of repetitive iterations inspired by the musical “Passacaglia” form, in which continuous variations of a base melody unfold throughout a piece. Each sequence begins with a conversation between Lior Shamriz, the film’s director, and Myriam Ali-Ahmad, a Los Angeles-based Lebanese actor. We learn that Ali-Ahmad was invited by Shamriz to act in a faux documentary as a process of world-building for Shamriz’s future project, a speculative feature film taking place in a West Asia that was never colonized by France or Britain. After the conversation, we see Myriam Ali-Ahmad in character as Souhaila, a fictional artist in the Federal States of West Asia, the entity now encompassing most of what used to be the Ottoman Empire. Souhaila is then shown working on a video poem that utilizes ancient texts. She comments on the letter the Babylonians wrote to Esarhaddon: why did the Babylonians need to denigrate the status of dogs to elevate foreigners in their city? With each iteration, the texts Souhaila is working with and her mode of engagement with them change, as the historical knowledge base in the “world” of the film modulates.

Inspired by Amélie Kuhrt’s book chapter, Even a Dog in Babylon is Free, in “Legacy of Momigliano” (2014), the film is an investigation of how our understanding of the past shapes our interactions with the world and of the relationship between our sense of historical linearity and our political worldview. In one of the iterations, for example, the discovery of an ancient West Asian school of thought that opposed the hierarchy between gods, people, and non-human animals prompts Souhaila to work with a different text. At the same time, the film questions our need to reevaluate the past in order to conceive different futures.

2K Video, Sound, 2023
Performers: Myriam Ali-Ahmad, Su-jin Kim Holmes, Alexandra Panzer, Mitra Ghaffari
Camera: Lior Shamriz, Hannah Jayanti
Recordist: Oana Tenter