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” who in many respects was more influential than her colleague T.E. Lawrence. Bell shaped the destiny of Iraq in ways that still reverberate. Letters from Baghdad gradually reveals this remarkable story through spectacular historical footage of the region, recently unearthed in private archives, while chronicling Bell’s journey into both an uncharted Arabian dessert and the inner sanctums of British colonial power. Told mainly in Bell’s words—Tilda Swinton reads from letters, diaries, and other primary documents—the film makes a profound statement about a woman who not only mastered the Arabic language but also studied and admired Arab cultures. As an outsider, Gertrude Bell’s respect for the land, the environment, and the people has never been rivaled by any other political figure.

Directed by Zeva Oelbaum and Sabine Krayenbühl. Produced by Zeva Oelbaum.

Gertrude Bell: Letters from Baghdad

2016 US, GB, FR 95 min
Festival Year: 2017
Types: Documentary
Topic: Global Perspectives