Photos and Video
With moving intimacy, Baghdad High affords an unprecedented glimpse into the lives of ordinary Iraqis attempting to lead ordinary lives in extraordinary circumstances. The film resulted from a terrific idea born in the minds of two Western journalist/filmmakers who had already worked in that country. Four high school seniors were given basic instruction in filmmaking, and then each was given a digital camera to record his life for the next year. Their school was in a middle-class, religiously mixed district, and they'd been raised by parents who saw themselves as Iraqis first and only secondarily as members of a particular religion or sect. What's fascinating about the film that resulted is how very familiar and ordinary these kids are-they're not really all that different from your own teenagers or the kids you went to school with. The kids of Baghdad High also open us up to a very different sense of life in Iraq than what we've been seeing on the nightly news for five years. They permit us to appreciate that Iraq isn't populated merely by statistics, but the boys still have to deal with what one of them calls "no good news" every day of their lives. Though they frequently express their fear and hatred toward the perpetrators of the horrendous acts of violence that have been tearing their tortured nation apart, the solid friendship of the four boys gives some occasion for hope. But by the end of the film, two of the boys, their families, and half the students at their school have had to flee, reflecting the similar fates of more than four million refugees the cataclysmic war has dispersed throughout Iraq and into neighboring countries.
Director's Statement Collapse
We set out to give a voice to those people you never hear and see on the evening news. Presidents and prime ministers, generals and militants always make it onto the airwaves, claiming they know something of Iraq's future. With this film we wanted to push the story forward. We wanted this film to cut through the spin and go to the real source of Iraq's future: the teenage generation. Through contacts in the country we found a fantastic school whose student body still reflected the ethnic and religious mix that made up pre-war Iraq. As Baghdad was rapidly being divided into segregated Sunni and Shia zones, Tariq bin Ziad High School for Boys was holding on to the notion of a united Iraq for all Iraqis.
After discussions with the school's headmaster and some serendipity we enlisted four 17-year-old boys—one Shia, one Christian, one Kurd, and one from a mixed Sunni-Shia background—who span the socio-economic range. We gave them cameras and trained them to film their own stories at home and at school. As they were sending us their tapes, which totaled more than 300 hours, we toiled like worker bees, translating and transcribing, sifting through their sequences until we found their narrative threads, which we then wove into the film you see today.
At the start of the project we might have hoped for but could not really have imagined just how profound the boys' film work would be and how much it would teach us about Iraq. This has been a truly collaborative effort between different ethnicities, different religions, teenagers and adults, Iraqis and Westerners. And the fact that the kids are all from different backgrounds, and yet remained friends as their city was torn to bits by sectarian violence, was one of the most satisfying parts of making Baghdad High. It filled us with great hope for Iraq's future and maybe ours too.
Film Information Collapse
Cast & Credits Collapse
Executive Producers Alan Hayling, Karen O'Connor, Hans Robert Eisenhauer, Sheila Nevins
Supervising Producer Lisa Heller
Co-Producer Alex Cooke
Editors Richard Guard, Johnny Burke, Victoria Ford, Geof Bartz, A.C.E.
Associate Producers Fallah Al Rubaie, Zaid H. Fahmi
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About the Director(s)Collapse
Ivan Mahoney founded StoryLabTV Ltd. He holds degrees in international law and journalism. In a former life he was a UN peacekeeper in Bosnia and an attorney in the Netherlands. Ivan's 2006 film How to Plan a Revolution won the Prix Europa at Hot Docs. Other gongs include the RFK Journalism Award, the Amnesty International Media Award, and a Golden Nymph. Laura Winter makes her directorial debut with Baghdad High. She has worked as a freelance producer for CNN, 60 Minutes, and CBS Evening News and as a CBS radio correspondent in Kabul. She has filed stories and shot photos in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Prior to becoming a journalist, she was an English teacher in Taiwan and China. She earned her BA in International Relations from New York University and her MS from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.