'What would I do?'

Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) documents the lives of family and friends over the course of the US invasion of Iraq. At the Open City Documentary Festival, 25 June 2016.

Rana Magdy
24 June 2016
"Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)", Abbas Fahdel, 2016. All rights reserved.

"Homeland (Iraq Year Zero)", Abbas Fahdel, 2016. All rights reserved.Through a hand-held camera, Abbas Fahdel’s two-part documentary Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) documents the lives of his family members, friends and acquaintances, leading up to the US invasion of Iraq, and thereafter over the course of two years. This film is a historical, albeit chilling, documentation of what the people of Iraq endured, and are still enduring the repercussions of.  

Before the fall

Abbas dives into the lives of his relatives gradually, but in such a way that, as an audience member, you feel that you have become part of a traditional Iraqi family. It starts off on the first day of the feast: the family wakes up in the cozy confines of their home. Over the course of approximately 6 hours, celebrations, daily errands, and family chatter provide a rich background to life prior to and during war.

What is beautiful in this documentary is the intimacy by which each character is portrayed, allowing the audience to grasp the dynamics of the family with Abbas’ nephew, Haidar, taking a more prominent role. As one enjoys peering into the lives of others, reality hits – just like that of war approaching – when Abbas informs the audience via overlaid text which of the family members will not make it to the end of the film.

The television screen gathers the family. Prior to the invasion, Saddam’s PR campaigns flood airwaves with nationalistic fervor depicting him as the generous father and protector. What is interesting is that not one negative word is spoken about him, leaving one questioning the people’s perception of their leader, then understanding what life is like under a tyrannical regime.

Abbas’ nieces and nephews attempt to predict what will take place and the feeling of uncertainty encapsulates, along with what seems to be fear and excitement. Giggling nervously while talking about death, pretend-playing war, the young give a raw depiction of how life goes on as world leaders decide the fate of a nation.

There is no doubt war is on the horizon, however, the question that constantly looms is ‘what would I do?’

After the battle

Now we begin two weeks after the US invasion of Iraq. Tanks and roadblocks are manned by, what look like teenage, American soldiers telling Iraqis whether they are allowed through or not. The people compare Iraq to Palestine; being occupied in their own home country, fearing for their basic security.

Buildings and homes are bombed and looted. The sound of gunfire and aircrafts loom. Historical and cultural heritage is lost. These are not headlines – the difference here being the effect all of this has on the people, the losses they endure, not only as individuals, but as a culture.

Their lives are turned upside down, but what’s fascinating is how they persevere, keeping the family unit and community intact. Day-to-day life changes, but responsibilities continue and basic needs are paramount.

As friends, family members and neighbours discuss the effects of the invasion, all one can think of is the injustice the common man endures thanks to the power struggles of political elites.

After having remained silent during Saddam’s rule, the people of Iraq start speaking up about the injustices they endured. From family members disappearing to later discovering their remains in mass graves, inequality, injustice, poverty and fear to name the very few. What is apparent is that the invasion only exacerbated these feelings and the people of Iraq feel forgotten.

With no government and an occupying force, their lives are in the hands of fate and all they can do is continue living by constantly adjusting to new conditions, which are dire to say the least. The people foresee the consequences of the invasion and the documentary provides a brilliant foundation for those confused as to the situation in Iraq today.

The waiting game never seems to end as day-to-day life becomes more difficult. People continue to try and live in the midst of turmoil and uncertainty. Having never visited Iraq, one is left feeling grateful, with heartache, that this invaluable documentary made it to our screens. The Iraq of 2002 seems a world away from 2016.

Homeland (Iraq Year Zero) is screening at the Open City Documentary Festival, 25 June 2016.

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