VOICES OF IRAQ
Directed by and Starring: The
People of Iraq
Audio: Dolby Stereo
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Length: 79 Minutes
Release Date: October 29, 2004
hope Iraq will be the greatest country in the world…I hope the world will see
of Iraq is
one of the most moving and inspiring documentaries I’ve ever had the pleasure
to watch. It’s like witnessing
the birth of an unimaginable miracle. If,
as it has been said, the basic yearning of all human beings is to be free, then
this is a film that speaks directly to that most sacred part of all of us.
was a simple project instigated by a group called Voices of Freedom, who decided
to distribute 150 digital video cameras to the people of Iraq in April of 2004,
telling them to film anything they wanted to…themselves, their friends, their
families…giving them full license to speak their minds and talk about whatever
they felt like addressing. Then
pass the cameras along so that others could do the same.
In September, the cameras were collected, and the amassed footage was
turned into this documentary…a film in which the Iraqis spoke with their own
voice, with no one looking over their shoulders.
six month period encompassed a lot of landmarks in the war…it began with the
first Fallujah insurgency. Early on
in the film, many Iraqis were disheartened.
They were not sure if their futures had a chance with all the bombings
and disruptive terrorist attacks. Though
they were glad to be rid of Saddam Hussein, some wondered aloud if they would
have been better off with him remaining in power.
despite the hardships, many begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Setbacks are amusingly chronicled by the American media as worse than
they are (we frequently see newspaper headlines on dates where the video footage
is showing quite a different picture). How
did the Iraqis really react, for example, to Abu-Grahib?
At least one was impressed that America would apologize for it.
Many had been in that prison when it was Saddam’s torture chamber, and
therefore don’t see why such a fuss was being made over the photos that had
the anti-war crowd in our country so up in arms.
the day sovereignty was handed over, many media outlets tried to portray it as a
symbolic but meaningless transfer of power.
But in the eyes of the Iraqis, it was a new birth.
People who used to work for slave wages were suddenly getting real money.
Schools were being opened with a new sense of freedom.
News agencies were celebrating that for the first time, they didn’t
have to censor themselves. Open
discussions were being held about the emergence of the role of women in Iraqi
society. Okay, some men were still
a little hesitant about that, but the women were proud and fearless…one
gleefully announces that if men won’t give them their rights, they’ll simply
TAKE them. Another young woman is
asked about the future of women’s roles in her country.
She pauses, laughs, and says, “I can’t believe we’re talking about
this in IRAQ!”
Iraqi stock market began to emerge as a true economic force.
Email addresses, which used to cost a year and a half’s worth of an
average salary, were becoming common as Iraqi citizens took to the internet.
Passports used to cost a fortune and were hard to come by…now they are
free and available to all. Some
older citizens are shown beside themselves with joy that for the first time,
they could travel.
watch the nation look on as their national soccer team played in the Olympics
for the first time in 16 years…they had been banned from participation since
1988 because of Uday Hussein’s use of torture against players who lost
matches. Now, playing for love of
country instead of fear, they took to the world stage, and despite such a
lengthy absence from the event, managed an impressive fourth place showing
of the stories that have been force fed to us by our media are shown to be
somewhat less than reliable. Our
press told us Saddam had no weapons of mass destruction, yet we see actual
photos of his chemical weapon attacks against his own people…and worse, the
aftermath, as innocent men, women and children were left with their skins
burning off of their bodies and no way to save them.
They said there was no pre-9/11 connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda,
but listen to the people who had to live with al-Qaeda walking freely amongst
them for the last ten years. One
man considered the irony…any normal Iraqi citizen who waxed politic could be
jailed, tortured or killed if not all three.
Al-Qaeda, he tells us, was the only political group given free reign in
Iraq by Saddam, who even went so far as to secure housing and supplies for them.
Iraqis are troubled by the way the world media portrays “Iraqi insurgency”
in places like Fallujah. They speak
openly about how emerging democracy in Iraq is a threat to neighboring Arab
nations, and how they are the ones sponsoring the insurgencies…not the
Iraqis. (We even see an internet
video by al-Zarqawi and his followers pleading for help from the neighboring
Iraqis have fear, to be sure…who wouldn’t?
But their sense of optimism for a better, free Iraq seems to outweigh the
uncertainty. They are even happy
about the thought of democracy spreading beyond their borders, predicting that
once it fully emerges in Iraq, other Arab dictators will have their citizenry
questioning them as well.
music of the film is provided by an Iraqi group called Euphrates, whom we see as
finally being able to record the kind of music they’ve always wanted to,
without government restrictions. We
see Christians and Muslims side by side, respecting one another and working
together for the future of their nation. We
see kids dreaming of growing up to be doctors and lawyers and such, while their
parents look on and smile and realize the new generation will have the kinds of
opportunities that theirs never had.
film is filled with images both dramatic and humorous, but perhaps the most
striking images aren’t the ones dealing with Iraq’s future, but rather…her
past. We see footage from one of
Uday’s personal torture videos, and it’s beyond repugnant. There is a video made by Saddam’s army showing tongues
sliced, arms broken, and people being pushed from high buildings to the streets
below. One man got his hand sliced
off for the crime of having five American dollars in his pocket.
too bad that while vile propaganda films like Fahrenheit 9/11 get shoved
down out throats for the better part of a year, a modest, unstaged and
non-partisan film like Voices of Iraq has to struggle for distribution.
It has only been shown in a few cities.
This DVD was produced as a way of getting it seen, but it’s not
available in most stores…thankfully, Netflix has chosen to add it to their
library so renters can get a look at what can only be described as a documentary
of the purest kind…no scripts, no directions, just real people baring their
real souls. I can only hope in the wake of Michael Moore that people will
take the time to remember what a real documentary can be like.
has come a long way in a very short time, all the way from days like those to
anticipating the first real elections in their country.
It hasn’t been a smooth road, or one without its share of
heartbreaks…this movie doesn’t try to gloss that over…but Voices of
Iraq shows a glimpse of a country being born from the inside out.
It’s the kind of vision we may never get to witness in such an up close
and personal way again. It shows a people, in their own words and ways, emerging from
darkness into light, from tyranny into freedom, and from despair into hope.
It is, as I said, like seeing a miracle unfold.
shot on digital video, the widescreen presentation looks quite good.
It’s a look at real life filmed by regular people, so shots weren’t
designed with a cinematographer’s eye. Still,
colors and details come through with great integrity.
film is mostly dialogue oriented with both Iraqi and English language words
(subtitles exist all the way through so that no phrases are lost via accents or
background sounds). As mentioned, a
bit of music by Euphrates sounds nice as well.
but I don’t really hold it against the disc…I’m sure it was rushed into
production as a means of getting seen facing lack of distribution.
I hope it will be revisited in the future with some extras…I’d like
to hear from those whose idea the 150 camera project was, what they hoped to
accomplish with it, and what they thought of the results.