Gar Smith / Environmentalists Against War – 2005-09-15 01:02:44
Hayder Moousa Daffar had never made a film before but, inspired to try his wings after the US invasion that toppled the controlling presence of the Baathist Party, Daffar acquired a digital videocamera, linked up with some friends who ran a neighborhood video store and set about documenting his street-level view of post-Saddam Baghdad.
The result is a fearlessly honest and open-hearted film that it begins with infectious hopeful spirit and concludes in a remarkable and wrenching soliloquy of utter despair. The trajectory of this unforgetable documentary is a measure of how powerfully Daffar has succeeded as a filmmaker and how disastrously the US has failed the Iraqi people.
“The Dreams of Sparrows” begins with the initial euphoria that promised new freedoms under the banner of “liberation.” Daffar’s lens captures Iraqis dancing on torn posters of the toppled leader and grinning children cursing Saddam for the camera. And yet, Daffar also locates and acknowledges a few hold-outs who stubbornly insist that Hussein was a hero and still, in their minds, remains the “legitimate president” of Iraq.
A shopkeeper recalls “We all hate Saddam” but remembers that, after the brutal bombing of Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War, “Saddam was capable of rebuilding our country in three months: but the US, with all of its greatness” has failed to restore even basic access to clean water and dependable electricity.
Slowly, as the occupation grinds on, the voices of Daffar’s Iraqi neighbors grow more desperate and the tone of this video diary grows darker. Daffar visits a bar that is a hang-out for rebels, writers, poets and intellectuals and discovers impatience with the Occupation festering. He meets a writer who survived death under Saddam’s regime by feigning madness —for four long years, until the Coalition Forces arrived. But his love of Americans has dimmed. His assessment of the US today? “They want to force democracy on the world,” he says, but that is something you cannot do. The tanks were needed to topple Saddam, he says, but for the tanks “to stay in the streets now, that demands an explosion.”
Daffar’s cameras capture one of those explosions as a bomb detonates on a nearby bus leaving bystanders shocked and angry. Daffar’s camera pans across the bus’ shattered windows, peering in at the blood-soaked seats, emerging to locate a dead body arrayed on a sidewalk beneath a sheet that fails to cover the sandaled feet and the bloodied remains that used to be someone’s head.
Bystanders demand to know why Iraqis are killing fellow Iraqis. “Fourteen Iraqis die for every American,” one indignant onlooker yells. Another camera captures a dazed Daffar tossing his eyes at the sky. We hear his anguished voice-over: “I am so confused.”
A former Iraqi soldier rails against the Occupation and calls American troops “the real terrorists.” A former Iraqi Army soldier, now working for ‘the American forces” says he experiences “the smell of freedom,” insisting that “I believe Americans came to liberate us and nothing more.” The soldier notes that the US invasion violated international law and asks “How many innocent people died?” As he speaks the camera pans over a roadside ditch where two discarded Pepsi cans lie atop the rotting carcass of a dead animal.
Daffar visits artists: one fills his canvasses with skeletal images of Saddam’s victims, consigned to mass graves; another creates ceramic sculptures inspired by the hooded prisoner of Abu Ghraib tortured by US troops.
From Asylums to Schoolyards to the Streets
With his small crew, he takes his camera inside Baghdad’s Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane looking for people driven mad by the abuses of Saddam’s government. But even here, Daffar finds people divided — some hate Saddam; some still revere him.
He visits an impromptu schoolhouse for Iraqi orphans. Even in this refuge from street life, the young boys are not safe. The volunteer who runs the place recalls with distaste the wealthy foreigner who visited the school and offered to buy several of the boys who he hoped to feature in child pornography films. One of the boys will only say he was asked to do “terrible things.”
Taxi drivers complain about the water shortages, power outages and the long lines waiting to obtain gas in a country that is rich in oil. “Every American is an occupier. They wouldn’t occupy if they didn’t benefit. One day we will have to kick them out.” And still Daffar manages to find voices who offer a more optimistic take on things, like the Iraq businessman who is working for the US-backed government.
Daffar even pauses to interview American soldiers guarding the streets. There are several face-on shots of young, smiling US soldiers that are absolutely stunning — their innocent beauty makes you proud to be an American — you almost want to reach out and embrace them. And then there are scenes of other US troops breaking down doors to homes and terrorising the women and children cowering inside.
“US troops is very hard-hearted, confused and very scared from anything. They are like cowboys. Like in a Western movie. Like Clint Eastwood. Like Charles Bronson. They just shoot — bam-bam-bam. Why, I don’t know.”
Ultimately, the growing evil of the Occupation strikes the film-crew as one of their friends, a gentle lute-playing Elvis-maned man named Sa’ad Fakher, fails to show up for a meeting. His friends hear that he was cut down in a blaze of US bullets as he unknowingly drove toward a hidden US sentry post. Sa’ad’s friends find his car and the camera records the aftermath of the murder. Blood is smeared over the car seats like streaks of dark syrup. One tennis shoe remains behind, a bullet lodged in the sole. “He was hit by 15-20 bullets. He was hit in the heart, the lung, the liver and the leg. We counted the bullet holes in the car. There were 122.” With tears in his eyes, one of Sa’ad’s friends recalls ironically: “He was the first one to be happy at Saddam’s fall…. He was not supposed to die.”
As the film closes, Daffar is alone, nervously smoking a cigarette, covered in sweat in a dirty undershirt, interviewing himself in a bathroom mirror. His initial optimism has been shattered. He looks drained, agitated, lost as he groups desperately for a message to send out to the American people — a single sentence. Finally, he simply sighs: “Baghdad is Hell, really is Hell.”
This amazing film needs to be seen by every American, every member of Congress, every member of the Bush administration, and every think-tank and policy-making organization in Washington.
The film is available from Harbinger Media Productions.
The Dreams of Sparrows will be featured in the Ninth Annual Arab International Film which runs from September 23-October 2 at theaters in San Francisco, Berkeley and San Jose. Dream of Sparrows screens on Sept. 23 (1PM in SF) and Sept. 30 (4PM in Berkeley.
For the complete festival schedule, see: www.aff.org