The Baghdad Museum Project


Filmmakers Begin Work on
Baghdad Museum Project

Hollywood film producer makes first pledge,
$1.5 million sponsorship

JUNE 9, 2003 — Looters, now in armed bands of up to 200, are still sacking archaeological sites throughout Iraq. Whatever they cannot carry away whole, they hammer into portable fragments — a head, a hand, an ornamental design. They quickly sell their stolen artifacts along booming trade routes that cross the borders into Syria and Saudi Arabia. From there, these random puzzle pieces of history slip into the world of war booty and illegal antiquities.

A Cultural Crisis Needs a Cultural Strategy

While governments move to protect Iraq's cultural heritage, members of the film & tv industry are joining the Baghdad Museum Project to go one step further —
we want to bring the cultural heritage alive. We believe that this is the most effective way to bring a long-term halt to the plundering.

Within Iraq, the people of Iraq need to unleash their social imaginations, to decide what of their past they want to preserve, and to decide what they want to invent for themselves as they go forward. For this, their heritage becomes an important tool. Meanwhile, the global community must offer more than humanitarian relief to Iraq. People from all sectors and disciplines are needed in a group problem-solving process. The world must help Iraq create a process to turn conflict into dialogue, and dialogue into human development.

This is the clarion call of our filmmakers' working group. We call upon people in film and television to create a global network of dialogue; a network that is linked to Iraq's network of museums, historical sites and cultural centers; a network of ideas, programs and actions that promote not only cross-cultural understanding but also community cultural development.

Below are the members of our launch group, and our resources already available.

Feature Film Producer Sponsors Cultural Partnership

Beni Atoori is a Hollywood filmmaker and President of Stonelock Pictures in Los Angeles. He is producing the ancient epic of Gilgamesh for theatrical release, starring Michael Madsen, Omar Sharif, Billy Zane and Robert Davi. A cultural partnership has been formed between this production company and the Baghdad Museum Project, bringing to our efforts the visualization resources of a motion picture that recreates life in ancient Mesopotamia. The filmmaking process itself will explore how culture speaks to modern dilemmas.

Stonelock Pictures is also the Baghdad Museum Project's first corporate sponsor, pledging $1.5 million toward our outreach campaign for community cultural development. This will be an omnimedia campaign, involving television, radio, print, internet and live events.

Gilgamesh will be directed by Academy Award winner Roger Christian, who earned an Oscar for his innovative work as Art Director on the original Star Wars film, A New Hope. As Art Director and Production Designer, he went on to apply his eye for convincing detail and "used realism" to the original Alien film, for which he received an Academy Award nomination. His film, The Dollar Bottom, meanwhile had won an Academy Award for Best Dramatic Short.

Roger then wrote and directed the medieval fantasy Black Angel, and has since helmed eight more motion pictures including the critically acclaimed Nostradamus starring Julia Ormond, F. Murray Abraham and Rutger Hauer. The historical biography, produced for $4.2 million, earned $89 million worldwide before video and DVD sales.

Roger recently again worked alongside his old colleague George Lucas, this time as Lucas' second unit director on the Star Wars prequel, The Phantom Menace. After 20 years, he returned not only to the world of Star Wars but to location shooting in the North African deserts, where he had helped bring the first Star Wars film to life and where he will now oversee the construction of Gilgamesh's domain, the ancient city of Uruk.

"I like the Baghdad Museum Project because of my own Assyrian heritage," says Stonelock Pictures' Beni Atoori. "I feel like I'm doing my part to help preserve the Assyrians' cultural property," he says. The production of Gilgamesh has been his lifelong ambition and passion. Now production is slated to begin at the end of summer in Morocco. "We're taking mankind's oldest known written epic and making it a living document," says Atoori. Meanwhile, Stonelock has four feature films in release that he produced:
In Dark Places, starring Joan Severance and Bryan Kestner; The Spreading Ground, starring Dennis Hopper and Frederic Forrest; The Jimmy Show, starring Frank Whaley, Carla Gugino and Ethan Hawke; and the "two thumbs-up" picture now airing on HBO/Cinemax, 13 Conversations About One Thing, starring Matthew McConaughey, Alan Arkin, John Turturro, Amy Irving, and Clea DuVall.

Partner with the Gilgamesh motion picture project:

Our Documentary Filmmakers: Ready to Roll

A documentary film producer, director, and writer, Robert Gardner believes the study of one's past civilizations is key to mapping today's human condition.
He has extensive experience filming in Iraq and the Middle East. He received a Prime Time Emmy for producing and directing two episodes of Lost Civilizations, Time Life Television's NBC series. Those episodes were Mesopotamia: Return to Eden, which included location shooting in the Iraq Museum and at archaeological sites throughout Iraq, and Egypt: Quest for Immortality. His National Geographic special, Search for the Lost Ark, was shot in Egypt, Israel and Ethiopia. Throughout his career, Rob has explored the shared humanity of all cultures of the Middle East. He received an Academy Award nomination in 1986 for his searing documentary, The Courage to Care, narrated by Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel. His PBS special, Arab and Jew: Wounded Spirits in a Promised Land, based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by David K. Shipler, earned him the duPont Columbia Award for Journalism. Recently he created the definitive film biography of Elie Wiesel for the PBS series, First Person Singular. And as producer-director of another prime time PBS series, Islam: Empire of Faith, he was the first American filmmaker allowed to work in Iran since the Islamic revolution of 1979. Rob is now completing the series, The Life of Jesus Christ, and regularly produces for PBS, National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.

Alexander Kronemer created and produced with Michael Wolfe the feature documentary, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, which made its debut in prime time on PBS and is currently in release on DVD. Three years in the making, the film takes viewers not only to the ancient Middle Eastern sites where Muhammad’s story unfolds, but into the homes, mosques and workplaces of some of America’s seven million Muslims to discover the many ways in which they follow Muhammad's example. Alex has appeared frequently on television as a commentator, including during CNN's historic live coverage of the Hajj in 1998, which was broadcast to 400 million viewers. In addition to his work for the Baghdad Museum Project he is preparing a series on the co-existence of Arabs, Christians and Jews in Medieval Spain. The series examines the flowering of the three cultures when they cooperated with one another, and what went wrong when they quit trying.

Lobna "Luby" Ismail, founder and president of Connecting Cultures, Inc., is a training specialist with over fifteen years of experience in the areas of cross-cultural communication, international cultural competency, Islamic awareness and religious diversity. She has conducted training for Federal and State agencies, educational institutions, nonprofit organizations and private corporations including AETNA, Walt Disney World, Department of the Army and Navy, Convergys, Department of Justice, Fairfax and Montgomery County Public Schools, Foreign Service Institute, Institute of International Education, ExxonMobil, Marriott International, NIKE, Inc., and DuPont Merck. She is frequently used as an expert by national media and major international news programs.

The leader of our film group is Rick Marchesano, a prominent Washington, DC writer, producer and director with his own creative consulting and production company. He is a Clio Hall of Famer and has captured nearly every advertising award in the industry, from local "Best of Show" Addy, and both regional and National Addys, to the New York Art Directors One Show, Gold Pencil, the Clio, local Emmys, and National Tellys. His work covers many of today's key social issues: health care, crime, school violence, national crisis management, public safety, and responsible government. In addition to creating high-impact messages for the television screen, Rick helped develop the "documentary of ideas" format for digital video on the Net. This allows documentaries to be generated "on-the-fly" by the viewer from online video databases. Rick also brings his production values to high-end teleconferencing and live presentations.

Join the Filmmakers' Workgroup:

Communication, Education and Entertainment
Technologies for the Study of Human Activity

Arun Sood, Ph.D., is Chair of the Computer Science Department at George Mason University and will organize the team to develop the elements of the film and video projects and the Virtual Baghdad Museum that deal with 3D and 4D navigation, online collaboration,  multimedia databases, geographic information systems (GIS), image analysis, artificial intelligence and electronic security. Visualizations for the Baghdad Museum Project will incorporate 3D character animation to show how cultural artifacts were used in ancient times, and to depict the people and mythological figures of Mesopotamia. The unclothed body-form of the goddess Ishtar shown here is fully-jointed and can deliver real-time interactive 3D human animation over the Internet on a personal computer. The system, first developed at George Mason, will be available to all members of the filmmakers' workgroup. Human animation will also be used to show the activities of archaeologists in the field. For instance, it can show from any angle how an archaeologist must work in confined spaces, managing reach zones so as not to break an object being recovered, or cramp a muscle. Also, improvisation algorithms reveal how people in early civilizations may have reacted to certain disasters, struggled with early inventions, engaged in warfare, or practiced various rituals.

Donald H. Sanders, Ph.D., is Founder and President of Learning Sites, Inc., a world leader in virtual heritage, whose clients include: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City; The Dallas Museum of Art; Ministry of Education, Republic of Egypt; Ekip Film, Ltd., Istanbul, Turkey; The Denver Art Museum; Thames & Hudson Publishers; The Superintendency of Antiquities, Catania, Sicily; and many other museums and universities. He is a founding trustee of the Institute for the Visualization of History, with Samuel M. Paley (Professor of Classics, University of Buffalo, SUNY), Marian Roussou (Head, Virtual Reality Department, Foundation of the Hellenic World), and Robert Stone (Scientific Director, Virtual Presence, UK). Recent three-dimensional digital ancient worlds created by Sanders and his colleagues include: the temples at Gebel Barkal, Sudan; the Vari House, Greece; the sanctuary of Antiochus I at Nemrud Dagi, Turkey; the funerary chapel of Ka(i)pura, Saqqara, Egypt; the Northwest Palace of Ashur-nasir-pal II, Nimrud, Iraq; the site of Tel Brak, Syria; the site of Tsoungiza, Ancient Nemea, Greece; the Acropolis, Athens, Greece; the Palace at Til Barsib, Syrian; and the House of Many Colors, Olynthus, Greece.

Neil Thompson is our Director of Architecture and Innovative Technology Design, and will be the liaison for the Baghdad Museum Project with the world-famous technological advances of the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA). Our filmmakers' workgroup will have unprecedented opportunities to integrate traditional film & television with the latest visual information technologies through the NCSA Alliance Center for Collaboration, Education, Science and Software (known as the ACCESS.DC Center). Neil has worked in over 40 countries on more than 100 projects, including Federal pojects and also as a representative of the late architect, Louis I. Kahn. He has helped create information, education and cultural centers worldwide, as well as museums. How technology can be integrated and used to help solve Iraq's cultural crisis is now a new educational and cultural development focus at the Multi-Sector Crisis Management Consortium (MSCMC), headquartered at ACCESS.DC. This advanced technology center will serve as our portal to hundreds of similar high-tech broadband communications centers around the world in both the public and private sectors, using advanced collaborative, computing, communications and information technology, including advanced virtual reality collaboration environments, to create a networked global grid for our dialogue network and the Virtual Baghdad Museum.

Join the Filmmakers' Technology Workgroup:

First Principles of Cultural Development

The Baghdad Museum Project filmmakers' workgroup will have the direct input of two lifelong champions and conceptualizers of community cultural development. Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard have worked as partners in Adams & Goldbard since 1978, consulting in a wide variety of public and private agencies, most of them involved in cultural policy, artistic production and distribution, and cultural development planning and evaluation. From their experience, community cultural development projects aim to realize these common principles:
  • Active participation in cultural life is an essential goal of community cultural development.
  • All cultures are essentially equal, and society should not promote any one as superior to the others.
  • Diversity is a social asset, part of the cultural commonwealth, requiring protection and nourishment.
  • Culture is an effective crucible for social transformation, one that can be less polarizing and create deeper connections than other social-change arenas.
  • Cultural expression is a means of emancipation, not the primary end in itself; the process is as important as the product.
  • Culture is a dynamic, protean whole, and there is no value in creating artificial boundaries within it.
  • Artists have roles as agents of transformation that are more socially valuable than mainstream art-world roles — and certainly equal in legitimacy.
These principles are further developed in two recent books by Adams and Goldbard: Community, Culture and Globalization, and Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development. Members of the filmmakers' workgroup may order a complimentary copy of each of these books.


For more information about the Baghdad Museum Project Filmmakers' Workgroup, contact:
John Simmons, Chairman
Phone: (703) 899-7771

Media Contact: Steve Winter,
Brotman·Winter·Fried Communications
Phone (202) 296-7200 or Fax (202) 296-6341

Send news items pertaining to Iraq's cultural crisis, and information on the archaeological and historical context of museum objects to: Francis Deblauwe,

United States and international management services provided by Cultural Strategies Institute, Lowell Christy, Ph.D., Chairman - - Phone (301) 869-9098

The URL for this document is

©2003 Watercolor sketches of "Warka Head" and Museum Gate by Piet Lüthi.
Photo of Iraqi meeting ©2003 AP/Wide World Photo/Brennan Linsley, via U.S. Department of State.