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From Baghdad to The Bay is a documentary that follows the journey of an Iraqi refugee and former translator for the US military. Wrongfully accused of being a double agent, tortured by the U.S. and ostracized from his family and country, Ghazwan Alsharif struggles to rebuild his life in the United States while coming out as an openly gay man.

Educational Licensing

Photo Credit: Max Godino

Photo Credit: Spark Photography

Photo Credit: Spark Photography

Photo Credit: Caity Ussery

Educational & Community Licenses

Full Synopsis

Subject Areas: Arab and Arab-American Studies | American Foreign Policy | Civil Rights | Conflict, Peace, War Studies | Ethnic Studies | Film Studies & Theory | Human Rights | Immigration and Refugee Studies | International Relations and International Policy | LGBTQ+, Gender, Sexuality, Studies | Middle Eastern Studies | Military Studies | Psychology & Psychiatry | Social Science | Social Justice Studies, among others

Details: NTSC DVD, 68 minutes | English & Arabic w/ English Subtitles | Spanish Subtitles | Closed Captions

Pricing: Tiered pricing options are available. If you cannot afford the fees listed below, please contact us. Likewise, if you would like to make a tax-deductible contribution to help us offer free community screenings.

We independent filmmakers rely heavily on public support to produce films and make them available to the public.

“…a mandatory educational tool…” Jasmina Bojic | Educator, Stanford University

“ …not only necessary, but life-saving.” Dr. Ramzi Salti | Lecturer, Stanford University

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Colleges | Universities | Businesses | Government ($300 - $350)

A film purchased under this category may be circulated and screened at higher education institutions, including public and private colleges, universities, community colleges, graduate schools, advanced degree programs, medical education institutions, events hosted by government agencies, and commercial businesses. Use of the film must be in-house for educational purposes only, not open to public and free of charge. For public fee based screenings, see Single Use Public Performance Rental below.

Shipping & Handling: Domestic, $6 | International, $12

*Digital Only does not include CC or subtitles. For these, the DVD must be purchased or those files can be provided separately.

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Secondary Education | Non-Profit | Community Groups ($125)

A film purchased under this category may be circulated and screened publicly in secondary education classrooms, community organizations (such as church groups and civic organization) and other non-profits. Purchase effectively means lease for the life of the videodisc. Use of the film must be in-house for educational purposes only, not open to public and free of charge. For public fee based screenings, see Single Use Public Performance Rental below.

We have screened for select middle school groups, high school groups, senior centers and others.

Shipping & Handling: Domestic, $6 | International, $12

Single Use Public Performance Rental ($250 - $1500)

Anyone or any groups/organization can host a screening event once with this purchase. The hosts can charge admission or collect donations. The event can be outside the premise of the hosting organizations. We can also supply a high quality digital version by request. The DVD disc or digital file must be returned to our address after the event, or can be purchased with the additional price of a DVD without PPR.

We love to attend screenings to engage with our audiences in Q&As and panel discussions. If you would like to arrange for representatives of the film to be present, please reach out to us at

Shipping & Handling: Domestic, $6 | International, $12

Sliding Scale

To submit purchase orders for qualifying institutions, please contact us. Our Federal ID #: 45-5211778. Terms are net 30 days from ship date.



“From Baghdad to the Bay” follows Ghazwan, offering a holistic account of a young man's path as a refugee from Iraq to resettlement in the United States. By detailing the experiences of Ghazwan's life as a translator for the US military, and following his life story through various expressions of sexual orientation as a gay man in a heterosexual marriage, a father, and eventually as a queer Arab activist, the film offers a complex - and thus impressively realistic - glimpse into queer Arab refugee lives. The film avoids typical tropes essentializing the refugee experience down to moments of trauma, but also tackles ongoing issues posed by PTSD. Viewers are asked to think critically about what persecution means - the legal basis for refugee status - as both Iraqi militias and the US military are implicated in human rights abuses portrayed in the documentary. While resettlement is posed as a "durable solution" by the UNHCR, this characterization is questioned in the film as the protagonist doesn't necessarily find safety in America, and must deal with the history of torture imposed on him by his resettlement country. Nevertheless, new opportunities and challenges are posed in the resettlement context, and Ghazwan, like any community member, learns to navigate this landscape sometimes adroitly, while at others ending in disappointment. The film brings together an impressive cast of characters, from Ghazwan himself, to his military compatriots, family and friends. It is beautifully shot, incorporating hauntingly stark artwork to revisit memories. From Baghdad to the Bay would be an important addition for film libraries and coursework in Middle Eastern Studies, Critical Refugee Studies, Migration Studies, and Gender and Sexuality Studies.

Lindsay Gifford | Assistant Professor and Undergraduate Director, Department of International Studies
Coordinator, Middle Eastern Studies Program, University of San Francisco

“From Baghdad to The Bay” is a groundbreaking work that sheds light on the often taboo subject of marginalized sexualities in the Arab world. I was truly moved by the film’s humanity, courage and poignant cinematography. The director has bravely chosen to broach a topic that is currently playing a central role in academia and elsewhere and she has managed to do so via the film’s main character, Ghazwan, whose personality, humor and resilience are truly inspiring. I believe that the film, having chronicled Ghazwan for nearly eight years, will move diverse audiences worldwide. Discourse centering on LGBT issues in many parts of the Middle East is urgently needed due to the so-called Islamic movements that are seeking to increasingly silence any activists—gay or otherwise—and prevent them from gaining any visibility or human rights. This film is therefore not only timely, but also long overdue. From Baghdad to The Bay is a film that is not only necessary, but life-saving.”

Dr. Ramzi Salti | Arabic Lecturer, Stanford University

“From Baghdad to The Bay successfully engages the viewer to participate in a journey into the ambiguities inherent to war through the eyes of translators, who are sometimes victims of both sides - a problem which is too often not obvious. The film presents an introspective challenge to those who have a need for truth and internal consistency. It forces us to rethink the distinction between patriotism and the general principles of right and wrong, and how these complicated answers work both for our adversaries, and for ourselves. Matters are further complicated by complex  individual identities that figure in this example. By juxtaposing our impulses for human rights and our responsibility to world peace, while challenging our notions of loyalty, through her inspiring film the director and producer Erin Palmquist is offering us a mandatory educational tool, which presents an excellent starting point for several interesting classroom discussions. The film was successfully presented at the 21st United Nations Association Film Festival.”

Jasmina Bojic | Stanford Lecturer and Founder/Director, UNAFF (United Nations Association Film Festival)

“From Baghdad to the Bay is an essential addition to any Middle East Studies library collection. It can facilitate teaching and learning of undergraduate courses in LGBT studies, gender and sexuality studies and/or cultural studies. The documentary film is unique and unlike the very few documentaries on LGBT issues in the Middle East that exist. It follows the story of Ghazwan, a gay Iraqi man who finds himself working as a translator for the US army during the second Gulf war. Ghazwan has to navigate a hostile environment on numerous fronts, including familial rejection, asylum-seeking and the culture shock that accompanies banishment and exile. In documenting Ghazwan's journey from Iraq to the San Francisco Bay Area, the film fosters cross-cultural understanding and deepens our understanding of complex identities.”

Dr. Samar Habib | Associate Researcher in the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London,

How can a love for the United States be tantamount to a kiss of death?  Iraqi Ghazwan Alsharif loves American culture and the freedom to be an openly gay man but his service as a military translator during our occupation there was the start of a horrific nightmare that only his extraordinary spirit could overcome. Here is a film that tells in microcosm why the Iraq War was a disaster for Iraqi's who believe it to be their liberation and for American's who believed it to be the arrival of democracy in a backward land. Heartfelt and captivating, this film is destined to be among the classic depictions of a misguided war and its unexpected consequences.

Bill Nichols | author of Introduction to Documentary

From Baghdad to the Bay follows the traumatic but ultimately uplifting life story of Ghazwan Alsharif, from serving as an interpreter for the US army during its invasion of Iraq, through death threats and then imprisonment and torture by the U.S. military police, to becoming an exile in the United States, a working chef (who even appeared on a Food Network television contest), a long-distance father, and an openly gay activist.  Although held together by Ghazwan’s articulate and honest reflections, this award-winning documentary by director Erin Palmquist weaves archival footage, interviews, live events, and even animated re-enactments into a multi-layered narrative, which continually unfolds new aspects of a complex personal and cultural history. More than just a “human interest” story (although it is certainly that too), it addresses a variety of contemporary issues that may be of educational interest, including questions of cultural identity, cultural difference, and LGBT+ issues within Islamic culture.   

 Prof. R. L. Rutsky | School of Cinema, San Francisco State University

"There are so many layers of meaning in this movie that resonated with our students and caused them to be deeply affected by the movie and the Q&A that followed. Each table group mentioned that Ghazwan’s message, “Never hate; always go with love” meant so much to them, especially in these troubled times."

Gail Siegel | Founder ForWords Literacy Lab

“From Baghdad to The Bay succeeded with my students in reflecting and refracting a remarkable range of political and social concerns—both local and global—through the journey and character of its subject Ghazwan.”

Michael Fox | Osher Lifelong Learning Institute



“Most Americans have never met a refugee, much less had a personal connection with one. But many veterans' lives are intertwined with those of refugees in profound and deeply personal ways. From Baghdad to The Bay powerfully captures Ghazwan’s life, providing a personal connection to his experience that can move audiences in ways beyond facts and statistics. At a time when Islamophobia continues to degrade our country’s ideals, we continue to advocate strongly for the protection of Iraqi refugees. In this environment, films like From Baghdad to The Bay are all the more needed to showcase the lived experiences of refugees like Ghazwan.”

Lt. Col. Scott Cooper, USMC (Ret.). | Founder, Veterans for American Ideals, Director of National Security Outreach and Human Rights First

“The film makes an important artistic contribution to widespread conversation and debate regarding refugee resettlement, LGBTQ discrimination, and illegal behavior by the US and UK during the war in Iraq. These are topics that are too rarely discussed and too seldom reflected on screen. Exploring issues of sexual identity--especially those exacerbated by cultural norms--torture of detainees by US and UK forces during the Iraq war, and feelings of trauma that often accompany the refugee experience, this film serves as a platform for us to engage in critical and constructive dialogue. As a record numbers of refugees seek asylum, this film provides a timely perspective on the realities refugees face as they assimilate into new locales and adeptly uses Ghazwan’s story to translate the faceless data points we see in the news into palpable experiences of people how live in the very same places we live in.”

Jen Haile | City Director, San Francisco, Human Rights Watch



“Ghazwan Alsharif’s comfortable yet constrained way of life ceased with the invasion of Iraq. His tortuous journey from U.S. Army translator to Bay Area chef is the stuff that nightmares—and dreams—are made of. Erin Palmquist’s loose-limbed, free-flowing and endlessly unpredictable character portrait, From Baghdad to the Bay, movingly mirrors its subject’s persistence and generosity.” Michael Fox | KQED Arts

“Grips viewers from beginning to end.” cineSOURCE Magazine

“A film that traces the remarkable journey Alsharif was lucky to survive.” SF Arts Magazine

An incredible story.” San Francisco Chronicle

“Powerful, sad, inspiring. Ghazwan is an amazing man. You just want to give him a hug
after seeing what he’s been through.”
Your Call with Rose Aguilar, KALW

"Excellent and engaging" Roger Walker-Dack, EDGE Media Network

“A necessary and life-changing film that is a groundbreaking in managing to broach a variety of themes
and topics in a courageous yet sensitive manner.”
Dr. Ramzi Salti | Arabology Blog & Podcast



“Erin Palmquist has created a portrait of an individual richer and more fascinating than fiction could invent. FROM BAGHDAD TO THE BAY appeals to audiences on so many levels-- as a film about the Iraq war, as a coming out film, and even a food film— all centered around this charismatic, unforgettable individual named Ghazwan Alsharif.”

Richard Herskowitz | Artistic and Executive Director Ashland Independent Film Festival

“Erin Palmquist’s award-winning documentary From Baghdad To The Bay delicately stitches together a refugee story that reaches to the core of what it means to survive amidst devastating circumstances.  As Ghazwan’s story develops, and as various points of his story unravel simultaneously, Palmquist’s artful employment of layered narrative time evokes the process of remembering, much less the process of healing, as a reminder that one's personal history can never be relayed through a singular trajectory, but, in fact bespeaks a kaleidoscope of feeling that moves and morphs across the turbulent landscape of memory.  Winner of Cinequest 2018’s Best Documentary Feature Award and OUTShine 2017’s Programmer’s Award for Best Film.”

Alexander Farrow | Programmer Arab Film and Media Institute

“The Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival prides itself on bringing the best in documentary film to our audiences and this year's presentation of 'From Baghdad to The Bay' proved that we have continued to do so.  Our audience was educated and engaged by Ghazwan's story and by the care and beauty with which it is told. Erin Palmquist's exquisite cinematography and powers of observation allowed the many threads of this man's life to be woven into a vibrant rich tapestry which touched everyone who saw it.”

Cynthi Stefenoni, Co-Director | Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival

“FROM BAGHDAD TO THE BAY is one of the most compelling, heart-felt, conscious raising films we screened at SIFF22!  Our audience give it a thunderous applause when the credits came up.”

Kevin W. McNeely | Executive Director Sonoma International Film festival

"KPBS was proud to showcase From Baghdad to The Bay as part of the 2018 GI Film Festival San Diego. Filmmaker Erin Palmquist brought to life Ghazwan's story in a way that left our audiences inspired and transformed.  The film is an excellent example of what the festival is all about: showcasing authentic and compelling stories for, by, and about America's military and veterans."

Nancy Worlie | KPBS Associate General Manager for Content and Communications

“Could you live happily in a country that brutally tortured and imprisoned you? What if that country was the United States? Erin Palmquist's "From Baghdad to The Bay" follows Iraqi immigrant Ghazwan Alsharif as he attempts to reconcile his horrific experience in an American-run detention facility with his new life in San Francisco as a rising chef and a gay man just out of the closet. With the precision of a journalist and a novelist's love of a gripping plot, Palmquist charts Ghazwan Alsharif's struggle to rebuild his life while navigating the memories of his past and the reality that he probably can't go home again.”

Chris Holbrook | Rough Cuts

“FROM BAGHDAD TO THE BAY is a powerful testament to personal courage and perseverance which not only moves audiences, but reminds us all of the importance of sharing these remarkable stories through film. Director Erin Palmquist's impressive and timely documentary captures all the key moments and emotions to place you right at the heart of Ghazwan's epic journey.”

Jamie Rich | Festival Director OUT HERE NOW



So many emotions arose while watching. I felt like I was holding my breath through half of it, and welling up with tears during the other half.”

Victoria Shepherd

“From Baghdad to The Bay ripped my heart open. Here I am, holding a sodden ball of a handkerchief and generally trying to recover. I can list lots of specifically nice things about it, its structural integrity, the editing on all levels, the compelling, recreative graphics, etc., but maybe those things don't matter. What matters to me right now is the wave of feeling that picked me up and carried me through to the end, the mingled fear, anger, compassion, and ultimately, love for this man. A documentary filmmaker can ask for no greater achievement than to humanize their subject, and the greater problem they represent, so effectively, to create a connection this strong.”

Shirley Gutierrez

“From Baghdad To The Bay portrays a journey of identity that is not only unique to Ghazwan but also 100% American. There are so many layers to this story that can represent millions of stories of people who also have to reconcile with their identity internally, politically, with family, religiously, with fellow countrymen, and with other citizens of the world. Ghazwan shows that it is possible to overcome and endure, step by step, year by year. That is why you must see this film. Prepare to be challenged on what you think is right and wrong!”

Tina Zhu

“From Baghdad to The Bay, touched me so deeply and I have spoken about it many times. In conversation with a friend, she said to me, "How could you have known?" I did not know about a dynamic in her family and it was purely serendipitous. Suffice it to say, knowing that "From Baghdad to The Bay" exists provided great comfort to her and might become a root of empathy as this family embraces the future gracefully, gradually accepting a new norm and preserving the caring that exists in relationships between a man, a woman and their son. Like Ghazwan, the husband is gay, Muslim and conformed to family and societal expectations while leading a dual life.”


“The memory and feelings I took away from this film continue to be very haunting in a good way. For me, that is the sign of a successful film.”

Peggy Russell

“From Baghdad to The Bay, above and beyond its artistry and excellent storytelling, is an important tool for teaching and expanding understanding, particularly within cultures, environments and families that have not come to terms with the extraordinary diversity we humans evidence, particularly with respect to the gender and sexuality continuum beyond binary.”

Sasha Soheili