Seven Oak magazine published a review of Baghdad Blogger Movie, I sent them a counter review with a different persepective but it wasn’t published. I thought I would share it here.
The 2004 Vancouver International Film Festival hosted the premier of Baghdad Blogger, a series of videos shot by an Iraqi man that goes by the pseudonym Salam Pax. The home brewed documentary style footage spans a time period of 18 months that starts from the dramatic capture of Saddam and ends with the violent uprising of Mahdi militias in Najaf. Salam interviews average people in the streets of Baghdad, shows the reaction of family and friends to the capture of Saddam and goes cruising in Sader city with Mahdi army militias who brag about attacking American soldiers. On the flip side the movie shows us more irrelevant and less media worthy aspects of live in Iraq. The young Iraqi man that starts a tattoo parlor, Salam trying to find a good liquor store to buy enough stash to last the whole holy month of Ramadan, the street corner smoothie shop with a colorful display of fruit juices. So who is this Salam? some people walked out asking after the movie. Is he a ba’athist? a CIA agent? a leftist? Is he in the pro war camp or anti war camp? One thing we know for sure is that he can’t possibly be religious with the amounts of liquor we see him lugging in one scene of the movie, but other than that, the movie doesn’t give us many clues.
In a polarized world, people demand clear cut demarcations, you are either pro Bush or pro Kerry. For or against the war on Iraq. A terrorist or a freedom fighter. With us or against us. On all these questions, the movie stays radically and defiantly ambivalent. On one hand he shows us the destruction in the city of Baghdad as a result of American bombing; on the other hand he shows us the new found freedoms that Iraqis are enjoying as a result of the removal of the oppressive Ba’athist regime. His heart bleeds to see the city of peace, the famous burial site outside of holy city of Najaf, become a battle ground. Yet on the other hand he seems delighted while viewing the wide plethora of independent news papers emerging in Iraq today when before only state run newspapers existed. He seems both delighted and bewildered to see the Shea’a processions happening all around Iraq for Shea’a religious ashoura celebrations, banned under the Ba’athist regime. Happy that people can practice their religion freely yet disturbed by the self mutilation that some participants engage in.
People that went into the movie expecting clear cut answers, left disappointed because there were non. I viewed the movie differently. I compare Baghdad Blogger to Forrest Gump, the American movie about a charming idiot that kept popping up at historically significant moments. Salam found himself in Baghdad, Iraq the most talked about city in the last 3 years and he decided to bear witness to the madness as it evolved. Like Mr. Gump he does not claim to understand the chaos around him nor impart wisdom about its significance. This is daily life in Iraq raw and unprocessed, sometimes irrelevant, other times disturbing. This is not a movie about monumental heroics, nor about experts with well refined opinions. This movie is a about the idiot who dares to show it like it is, without spin, without context and without towing the party line.
Lets beat to the chase, “Was the war worth it?”, Salam asks at one point in the movie. Well sometimes you need acknowledge the truth staring you straight in the face. While I went to every single anti war rally for months, despise the American foreign policy in the middle east, believe the US’ support for Israel is equivalent to crimes against humanity and resent seeing foreign troops in my own country, even I have to acknowledge that there have been positive outcomes from the American occupation of Iraq, even in my personal life. I used to go to many demonstrations apposing US and Israel in the city of Vancouver but would not dare speak a single word of criticism against the former Iraqi regime for fear of causing catastrophic outcomes to relations still residing in Iraq. Three years ago, whenever I met another Iraqi I would approach them with suspicion, “they might be a Ba’athist”, “they might be a spy for Saddam” the little voice would say inside my head. Today I feel comfortable to talk to anybody without the need to qualify their political affiliations. And If I in Vancouver was living in fear and silence, can you imagine the horror people living in Iraq had to endure? I never thought I would be saying this, but even I have to acknowledge that there have been positive outcomes from this war. I reserve final judgment until the promised Iraqi elections in Jan 2005. Salam being the ever optimistic fool has concluded that the answer is Yes already.
During the Q&A that followed the movie, I asked Salam, who was present in person, what his hopes for the future of Iraq were. He said that he hoped he wouldn’t hear about yet another bombing or kidnapping in the next 6 weeks. I do hope his wish comes true.
Life is a box of chocolates….each filled with liqueur, if Salam had his way. My chocolates would all be filled with dates from beloved Iraq. But, you never know what you are going to get.