More About Baghdad Once again, we were overwhelmed. Not just physically (we were that, too), but by the significance. The Independent sponsored the area’s premiere this week of the documentary About Baghdad, made by a cooperative that included local activist Rania Masri. After the stunning response we got last year when we had to hurriedly arrange a second showing of the film Uncovered, a documentary on the litany of Bush Administration lies about Iraq, we scheduled showings of About Baghdad in all three points of the Triangle. We’d even scheduled a fourth, in Cary, that had to be canceled when the Madstone theaters abruptly shut down.
That wasn’t enough.
As with Uncovered, we discovered the tremendous thirst this community has for insight into the real story behind the war against Iraq. In Chapel Hill on Monday, people were lined up on Franklin Street by 6 p.m. for a 7 p.m. show. It was sold out by 6:30, and with the quick cooperation of the Varsity Theater, we sold tickets for a 9:30 showing. Nearly 400 people donated $5 each to defray the costs of the film, which were paid up front by the cooperative’s nine members. The same thing happened Tuesday night in Durham at the Carolina Theatre. That time, though, we had an inkling of what was coming, and made contingencies for a second show.
The next showing is 7 p.m. Thursday at the Rialto Theater in Raleigh. Because of previous commitments, the theater can’t offer a second showing. But it’s a bigger theater, seating more than 400 people, and you can buy tickets in advance Wednesday during box office hours (it opens around 6:30 p.m.) and then after 6 p.m. on Thursday. The theater advises you to call 856-8683 to check availability.
It’s worth the effort. I’d seen the DVD at home, but the city and its people come to life on the big screen. The film is elegantly photographed, cleverly cropped to make subtitles clear and dramatic, and edited in a way that creates a spiral of insights as it moves from person to person, neighborhood to neighborhood, around the city of more than 5 million people. It is not dogmatic and it is not propagandistic; there are American soldiers speaking honestly about what they believe they’re accomplishing, and there are Iraqis who are glad the Americans came. But the overwhelming message after listening to scores of people–artists and unemployed factory workers, businessmen and women’s rights activists, victims of torture and families of the disappeared–is that these are ordinary and extraordinary people who just want their country back. They describe the effects of suffering more than 40 years of hell under Saddam and enduring a national psychosis as other Arab leaders looked on indifferently and the United States gave him support. They know our history better than we do.
Masri says the people in the film are typical of everyone they interviewed. Most of them want us to leave. They are angry with the Americans for destroying their city and doing too little in the months after the invasion ended to provide water, power and security. Shot in July 2003, some say they’re willing to give it another year. We can only imagine what these same people must think now, with the nation plunged further into chaos and torture now being committed by U.S. soldiers instead of Saddam’s. And still the water and electricity aren’t on.
It’s a picture we’re not getting anywhere else. And if you don’t get a chance to see it for yourself this round of showings, we’ll try to arrange more. Then it will be your turn to be overwhelmed.