Boy from War (in-development) is an animated coming-of- age story of a young Arab American punk ricocheting between a war-torn Middle East and 1980s American Midwest. From LSD fueled encounters with Darth Vader and Saddam Hussein, to military pilots shot down into Iowa classrooms, Usama Alshaibi blends images and memories to give the audience a taste of what it was like living between two starkly different worlds, while never really fitting into either.
Boy from War has received a developmental grant from AFAC the Arab Fund For Arts and Culture.
Animated documentary is a fairly new genre of film, but leaves a lasting impression. Films such as Persepolis and Waltz with Bashir have had a huge impact on audiences everywhere.
We watch as Usama navigates his tumultuous youth while moving around – Iraq, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Abu Dhabi. Woven throughout the narrative is the boy’s dog that gets left behind in Basra, and at one point is abandoned in the war torn streets.
The protagonist’s road to adulthood has some of the usual bumps and wrong turns of most young people. There are sex, drugs, bullying, family tensions and finding ways to make friends. However, this coming of age story is repeatedly shaken by war and steered through a myriad of geographical and cultural turns.
By using animation, while extracting the stories from interviews with family members and the director’s own recollection, this film is attempting to make sense and find meaning in a scattered childhood filled with war, migration and the struggles of finding oneself in the world.
Every day in the news, we are seeing the impact of civil wars, uprisings and outside bombings on populations forced to emigrate, creating hordes of refugees. As the crisis in the Middle East grows, it becomes more and more important to keep a human face on those most affected. This is part of the goal of Boy from War – to be a reminder that those whose lives are rocked by constant danger, especially children, are just trying to live life and get through the challenges of growing up.
The subjects and themes explored throughout Boy from War could not be more timely or urgent, given today’s socio-political climate. Right now is the critical time to have frank and candid conversations about the identities and perceptions of Arabs, Muslim-Americans, immigrants, and refugees. Communities throughout the Unites States experiencing a rise in Islamophobia in recent months, stemming from negative political rhetoric of the recent Presidential election, is reminiscent of the intense spike of anti-Muslim and anti-minority attitudes seen following 9/11. In January 2017, within a week of taking office, President Donald Trump issued an Executive Order banning legal Visa holders, dual nationals, and refugees from Muslim-majority countries to enter the Unites States. Included in this E.O. are banning those seeking refugee status from Iraq, where director Usama Alshaibi hails from.
This glimpse into Usama’s childhood in the Middle East and American Midwest is as just as relevant and universal a story today as it was for him in the 1970s and 80s. The boy is not only representative of every child that has grown up in — and has been affected by — conflict, but also of every child that has endured great trauma and found a way to make it through the hardship into their adulthood, and beyond.
These are stories from my childhood about being lost in the night with my dad, the war in Iraq with my dog, and dropping acid.