“Voices of Iraq” is by turns heartbreaking, exhilarating, and inspiring. The war and its destruction is never far from the surface. One of the opening scenes is of a car bombing in Sadr City, and when a little girl is asked, “What do you want to tell the world about Iraq?” her answer is poignant: “These explosions are hurting everyone.” A mother is seen weeping for her son, killed in the crossfire during a fight between US soldiers and looters. There is even footage – supplied, Drury told NPR, by a sheik from Fallujah – of insurgents preparing a bomb.
But bad as the war is, the horror it ended – Saddam’s 24-year reign – was worse.
In the film, a young Kurdish mother tells her daughter, who is wielding the camcorder, how she would burn herself with cigarettes to prepare for the torture she knew was coming. A policeman recalls what it was like to arrest a member of the Ba’ath Party. “You’d be scared,” he says. “You’d shake with fear.” One man explains that Saddam’s son Uday “used to come often to Ravad Street – every Thursday for the market – to choose a girl to rape.”
A few brief clips are shown from a captured Fedayeen Saddam videotape: A blindfolded victim thrown to his death from a rooftop, a man’s hand getting severed, someone’s tongue being cut out.
It isn’t hard to understand the emotions of the man who answers, when asked how he reacted to the news of Saddam’s capture, “I danced like this! I kept dancing. Then I cried.”
Yet for all they have been through, Iraqis come across as incredibly optimistic, hopeful, and enthusiastic. And above all, normal. In “Voices of Iraq” they film themselves flying on rides in an amusement park, dancing the night away at a graduation party, taking their kids to a playground, shopping for cellphones. A police officer mugs for the camera. Shoppers throng the streets of Suleimaniyah. A scrawny kid pumps iron with a makeshift barbell – and gives a shout out to Arnold Schwarzenegger. (“I like your movies. You’re a good actor. Can you please send me some real weights?”)
The film’s producers distributed 150 digital video cameras to Iraq, and asked ordinary Iraqis to film scenes of daily life in Iraq and then to pass the camera along. It seems that once Western media is out of the way, things in Iraq, while not perfect and certainly still dangerous, don’t seem quite so bleak.