In our country, it's easy to get an inside view on the lives of others, their interactions, and the motivations behind their choices. Biographies, interviews, and even personally interacting with our fellow Americans gives us a pretty good understanding of who we are as individuals and a country.
To gain that kind of insight into other cultures, however, is more difficult. Our most basic line of information is the news, and in the case of Iraq, what the news depicts and what life is really like over there don't often equate. To help bridge that gap, two recent documentaries, My Country, My Country and Iraq in Fragments, offer brilliantly contrasting insights on what it is to be an Iraqi.
In a Ground Truth Interview, filmmaker Laura Poitras offered a fascinating first hand perspective on what life is actually like for the citizens of Iraq. Her movie, My Country, My Country, depicts is exactly that: life. With a backdrop of the 2005 Iraqi election, it chronicles the family of Dr. Riyadh as he prepares to move from the medical profession into the political sector. Poitras showcases complex nuances, as well as how Dr. Riyadh's story fit into what was happening in the broader scope of Iraq.
When focusing on his decision to join the Iraqi Islamic Party and persuade the organization to participate in the 2005 Provincial elections - the only local voting yet - his contemplative nature is always at the forefront of the screen. I was fascinated to not only see how his professional decisions are effected by conversations within his family, but to be privy to his ongoing introspection as well. It's the inner, day-to-day struggles we go through in life that connect us as humans, and My Country My Country helps us relate to Iraqi citizens in this more personal way.
Iraq in Fragments takes a different angle. Broken up into three parts - each showing Iraq's respective sects - the film has a broader narrative. From chronicling a young Sunni boy's decision of whether to stay in school or continue working with an abusive friend of his Grandmother, to the extent of Moqtada al-Sadr's influence on his Shia followers, the film touches on a variety of dispositions in Iraq. The third and final part of the documentary depicts life in a Kurdish brick maker’s home. While an odd way to end the piece, it leaves you with a sense of hope - as if the more peaceful Kurdish North could somehow provide a blueprint for the rest of the country.
Starting off in such an eccentric fashion, and ending in much the same way - leaving only the middle to offer footage familiar to our understanding - Iraq in Fragments leaves you yearning for just a little more. But that's the brilliance of it; before you're able to discern exactly why they chose to concentrate on these particular stories and not explore more traditional avenues, it's over. It leaves you wanting an insiders' view on more Iraqis' lives. As with My Country My Country, we are offered a unique perspective on regular citizens instead of suicide bombings and tragedy.
Through both films, I came to understand how Iraqi citizens make it through the day. I understand why they are hopeful. And ultimately, that's the key: an understanding. Until we understand the situation, we cannot solve it.
These two documentaries let us in on Iraq’s best kept secret: its people.