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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Voices of Iraq

Film Review: Voices of Iraq

By Sonia Nettnin

''Voices of Iraq'' is an edited collage of footage taken by Iraqis between April and September 2004.

A Gulf War veteran and two filmmakers distributed 150 digital video cameras (35mm) across the country, along with suggested questions about women’s role in society and Iraq’s role in the Middle East.

Iraqi citizens interviewed family members and friends. The people were from Baghdad, Sadr City, Kirkuk, Kurdish Iraq, Halabja, Sullemania, and Mosul. They ranged from ages four through eighty-four. The film contains interview clips with government officials and Iraqi citizens in labor jobs. It includes victims tortured under Saddam’s regime also.

The film editors added clips from insurgents’ internet videos and clips from Saddam’s paramilitary troops, the Fedajeen.

“Our situation is terrible,” one man says. “We’re not safe in our own homes.” He explains that bombs fall on the heads of their children.

A pianist plays phrases from a piece he composed during the invasion. The title of the composition is “The Bombarding of Baghdad.” He explains he did not sleep for 45 days and he aged ten years.

On the side of the road, young boys fill cars with gas. They carry plastic containers. They are one of many, makeshift gas stations.

“I dropped out of school,” one boy says. “So I could work to support my family.”

Farrah, a mother, just lost her son. Children run around the room. “My son used to provide everything for us.” She inherited a girl, four years-old, who was shot in the arm and the stomach at a U.S. military checkpoint. When the car she was in did not stop, they killed the girls’ mother and two brothers.

Footage from southern Iraq shows the ancient regions of Sumer and Ur. A sheepherder leads his flock. The Ba’ath Regime cut off the water to the marshlands. As a result, 300,000 people lost their way of life. This ancient culture goes back to Mesopotamia. Saddam’s government burned the reed beds and left the people to fend for themselves.

The film contains a confession from a man who claims he shot Saddam’s son, Uday and the shots crippled him. The man explains that Uday came to the market on Rawad Street every Thursday. Then, Uday would take a girl and rape her.

In the Kurdish areas of the north, people have an annual reenactment of the Anfal campaign. In 1988, Saddam’s soldiers killed 182,000 Kurds. They gathered people in trucks and then killed them.

In northeast Iraq, near Iran, Saddam and his men spread cyanide and nerve gas in Hallabja. They show white bags filled with bones unearthed from the ground. Clips of torture show Saddam’s soldiers cut off a man’s tongue; another clip shows a man’s hand cut off; and another clip shows a decapitation.

In Kirkuk, the Kurds talk about the loss of homes in the Shorja quarters. Many women cook on the ground and children run barefoot. Saddam’s soldiers buried people alive and their tragic memories permeate in their sad faces.

The next clip moves to a celebration, where people dance to music. A man sings out loud. Men and women dance separately in a semicircle, with arms wrapped behind shoulders.

“He stole love and beauty,” one man says. “He stole our lives and happiness.”

When it comes to women’s rights, some of the men remain quiet and point to their friends for response. An older man advocates women should have equal rights.

“Men will not give women’s rights,” one woman says. “Women will take their rights.”

The footage in the film is important. I question whether the 80 minutes represents the 26,920 minutes not in the film. The film editors gave Iraqis questions, but were any of the questions about life with U.S. military forces? The film focused on specific aspects of Iraq’s socio-political spectrum, which portrayed a good-evil dichotomy. As a result, the film’s inherent premise is that the U.S. invasion of Iraq helped the people lead better lives, therefore war is good.

Film has aesthetic exploration, yet this film contains agenda, which detracts from its examination of life in Iraq.

When the film shows U.S. news headlines, it is unclear if the film editors questioned the media’s reports about violence and/or were the headline displays a device for the passage of time? Was it an attempt to balance the film and/or was it commentary? The film borders propaganda, which is distractive. It prevents viewers from hearing a broader range of Iraqi voices. People need to hear from the torture victims and see the unearthed bones, but they need to hear more about living conditions in Iraq. Here are some example questions and settings:

What is life like with intermittent electricity and water? Do Iraq’s engineers have anything to say? Are there any malnourished children? If hospitals have people, who are in them? What are their life stories? What is the collective, Iraqi psyche like after two wars and life under Saddam’s regime? Were there any clips of people discussing issues in coffee shops? Viewers see Iraqi men train for the police force and people graduate from the university. Are the graduates employed now? Did the museum recover any more artifacts? For the children who yearn for an education, are there any current or future school developments? Are there any economic initiatives for women underway? We see a church burned to the ground and what are the causes of the religious tension and violence?

A mural of life in a country is complete when the artists use all the colors of the peoples’ palette.

Life, especially in diverse Iraq, is not black and white with a touch of gray.

Peoples’ lives should not be assembled together to justify war.


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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