Timely and important. The segment I produced and directed for public television’s Arab American stories featuring the Mother Mosque in Cedar Rapids, the oldest standing mosque in North America.
In Usama Alshaibi’s autobiographical documentary, the director recalls watching the popular comedy/adventure “Back to The Future” (1985) in a movie theater in Iowa City. He recounts how the appearance, out of nowhere, of a gang of “Libyans” determined to kill Doc, the movie’s loveable mentor, forced him to confront his own divided and complicated identity. The event abruptly dislocated Alshaibi from his role as an American teenager (something he longed to be) into the Other – the caricatured, malevolent, and despised Arab.
Watching “Back to the Future” in movie theaters in Pittsburgh and Houston, this reviewer and her brother experienced similar reactions, coming to regard such moments as flash points for those both American and Arab, in whatever ways individuals choose to define themselves. As Alshaibi demonstrates in this personal film, these flash points have become more numerous, troubling, and dangerous for American Arabs/Arab Americans in the 14 years since 9/11.
Baghdad, Iowa will have its world premiere at the prestigious Internationale Kurzfilmtage Winterthur in Switzerland, this will be part of the program: Iraq – Redefining Identities.
My film will be playing twice: Wednesday November 4 and Friday November 6, 2015.
In NICE BOMBS filmmaker Usama Alshaibi returns to Baghdad to reunite with his family after nearly twenty-four years. This documentary navigates through his unique relationship to an Iraq that is much different than the country of his childhood. Usama captures the conflicting reactions to the conditions of life in Baghdad. Through a wide range of opinions and experiences he provides a broad panorama of voices long neglected under Saddam’s regime. His cousin Tareef enters the room upon hearing an explosion. “It’s a bomb. A Nice Bomb,” he explains. The phrase is indicative of his family’s nonchalance about their situation. As one young boy put it, “We’re Iraqis. It’s normal.” With humor and resilience NICE BOMBS explores Usama’s dual role as both Iraqi and American.
“The origin, or the seed, of this invisible city was planted shortly after my brother died at the age of 28. He was a writer, a religious man, a husband, a criminal and drug addict. When they were preparing my brother’s tombstone they asked my mother where he was born, and she said he was born in Iraq. Even though he was born in Iowa. Where are we? Perhaps his death birthed this place.
It’s that spell that has lit up the cornfields.”
Excerpts from Usama’s notebook for Baghdad, Iowa (featuring drawings, collage, and a short story) will be featured in MIDWASTE, a forthcoming publication.