Voices of Iraq

The filmmakers of Voices of Iraq distributed 150 digital cameras and tapes beginning in April, then compiled the footage in September, and edited furiously to get to a late October release date. The end product is an astonishing look at the ordinary lives of the Iraqi people. Although it claims to have a relatively non-biased look at the lives of Iraqis, nearly all of the opinions shown are extremely positive towards the United States. The redeeming factor in this is that Voices of Iraq is not about whether the Iraqi War was right or wrong, it is about the everyday life of Iraq's citizens.

The overwhelming message is that while times are hard for Iraqis, things are better than when Saddam was in power. One mechanic remarks that under Saddam, there was security, but now, while instability is the norm, he could work and earn his own living. People want cable television, the Internet, and pretty much the same things that everybody else in the world wants. The relish the newfound freedom that they have, and look back, sometimes bitterly upon the regime of Hussein. One person claims to have been in the party that shot and permanently crippled Uday Hussein. He matter-of-factly relates how he and his cohorts shot Uday over thirty times, then walked away. Many former prisoners brush off the tortures at Abu Ghraib, stating that compared to what they suffered under Hussein, the American tortures were nothing. There are clips from Uday's private collection.

There seems to be a disproportionate share of children wielding these cameras. Each person given a camera was also given a guide with suggested questions. The children film themselves at play, then film their family. One small girl does not bat an eye, and even smiles when she talks about how US forces threatened to shoot the people in her car if they didn't stop. Another was shot, and her mother shows the wounds in her stomach and hand, yet the girl seems happy. Most seem to acknowledge that there is a trade-off, and that returning to stability will take a long time.

Over the months, the cameras spread all over the country, including the northern Kurdish areas, and Basra in the south. The Kurds talk about the murders under Saddam, and they seem uniformly happy that he is gone. Notably, there have been few insurgent problems in the north. The film also mentions the plight of the marsh Arabs, one of the lesser-known tragedies of Hussein's regime. Hussein diverted water from the marshes around Basra, where some believe the biblical Abraham lived. After the marshes dried, he burned them, forcing thousands of people to flee.

Moreover, the film acknowledges that living in Iraq is still dangerous. One interview in a restaurant is interrupted by a nearby mortar attack, causing everybody to flee. Shots and bombings can be heard in the background during other interviews. In one scene, the cameras capture a car bombing with Iraqis denouncing the US in front of international reporters. As soon as the reporters leave, the protests stop, suggesting that it was staged. The producers, perhaps in an act of balance, show some insurgent tapes, just to contrast the feelings of the people in the film with their counterparts who do not want the US there. Bleak headlines from US papers that flash across the screen seem to be at odds with scenes of relative serenity and even playfulness. Either way, this film captures scenes that no reporters can. By having Iraqis film themselves in everyday situations, it allows a previously unglimpsed look at current life in Iraq. Their guard is down, and their true personalities can come out. There is anger and grief, but most importantly, there is laughter and relief, something not usually in the news.

Gerf Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 18 minutes, Arabic, English, and Kurdish with English subtitles, Not Rated but contains some language and violence, probably an R, maybe at PG-13.

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