Letters from Baghdad

: Documentary
GENRE: Documentary
STATUS: In Distribution


More influential than her colleague Lawrence of Arabia, Gertrude Bell was the most powerful woman in the British Empire, drawing the borders of Iraq, before disappearing from history. Who was she?


"Letters from Baghdad" tells the dramatic story of British-born Gertrude Bell, sometimes referred to as the female Lawrence of Arabia. An adventurer, spy, archaeologist and powerful political force, she traveled into the uncharted Arabian desert and was recruited by British Military Intelligence before World War I. After the war, she drew the borders of Iraq, helped install its first king and established the Baghdad Museum of Antiquities, looted in 2003. But her personal life was scarred with tragedy, and her death by an overdose of sleeping pills at age 58 remains a mystery.


What was it like to be a woman ahead of her time? What choices did she make? We were intrigued by the contrast between Bell’s public self and her private self, as expressed in the more than 1600 letters she left, and dazzled by the archival footage that we discovered--more than 500 clips of rare, never-seen-before footage of the Middle East filmed in the early 1900s. Our film is based entirely on primary source material making it a fascinating window into an exotic, vanished world, a woman’s personal journey, and the tangled history of a region who is in our news every day.


Sabine Krayenb├╝hl - Director, Editor

Sabine Krayenbühl is an award winning editor with over 20 theatrical documentaries and narrative features to her credit, many of which have premiered at prestigious festivals around the world. Her work includes Oscar and Independent Spirit Award nominated MY ARCHITECT for which she received an American Cinema Editors (ACE) Eddie Award nomination. Other credits include MAD HOT BALLROOM, one of the top twenty highest grossing documentaries, THE BRIDGE produced by IFC, PICASSO AND BRAQUE GO TO THE MOVIES, produced by Martin Scorsese, AHEAD OF TIME on which she and Zeva Oelbaum collaborated and most recently Jennifer Fox’s acclaimed MY REINCARNATION. Krayenbühl has a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts and is a long-term member of New York Women in Film and Television.

Zeva Oelbaum - Director, Producer

Zeva Oelbaum is an award winning producer and the founder of Reel Inheritance Films. She produced AHEAD OF TIME, a feature length documentary about centenarian journalist Ruth Gruber which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival before garnering 7 Best Documentary awards. The film opened theatrically in 8 cities and is currently being broadcast on Showtime Channel. Oelbaum was also executive producer of the feature documentary RENE AND I, about twins who survived Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. She comes to film from a career as a still photographer and her work has been extensively published in periodicals such as The New York Times Magazine. Her photographs are in international public collections such as the Bibliothèque nationale de France and two monographs of her work were published by Rizzoli Int’l Publishers. She is a magna cum laude graduate of Brandeis University with a degree in anthropology, and a member of the Producer’s Guild of America.

Thelma Schoonmaker - Executive Producer

 Thelma Schoonmaker is a highly acclaimed, 3 time Academy award-winning film editor. During a six-week summer course at New York University’s film school she met Martin Scorsese and within a few years she was editing his first feature, Who’s that Knocking at My Door. In 1981 she won the Academy Award, the American Cinema Editors Eddie Award, and the BAFTA Award for her editing of Raging Bull. Since then, she has worked on all of Scorsese’s feature films, most recently HUGO, which earned her an Oscar, an Eddie and a BAFTA nomination. In addition to editing, she works tirelessly to promote the films and writings of her late husband, the film director Michael Powell (The Red Shoes, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp).


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UPDATE - January 05, 2014

 We are thrilled to be the recipients of a 2013 National Endowment for the Humanities film fund grant

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