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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.


Keeping Up With Ghazwan (blog)

We are back in Oakland! Oakland International Film Festival

Kat Cole

We're elated to be bringing the film back to Oakland, CA., as part of the Oakland International Film Festival!

From Baghdad to The Bay has real roots in this city! Ghazwan spent the first year of his life in the U.S. living in Oakland, Director Erin Palmquist has lived there for over 20 years, and the film was edited by Oakland native Eli Olson's in her Oakland edit suite! That's a lot of Oakland in one sentence!

We hope you can join us!

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team

Wednesday, 9/25 at 6:15pm | Jack London Regal Theater


Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would love to help make this happen.

Our 6th Award!

Kat Cole


We've received our 6th film festival award!

The Celebration of Courage Award for Outstanding Documentary Film is the highest award from OUT HERE NOW: the Kansas City LGBT Film Festival! Screening details below.

We are grateful for the wonderful community of support that has emerged around Ghazwan's story and thankful that we can continue to share this film with new audiences.

In this newsletter we're highlighting several of the folks in our FBTTB community, including Ghazwan and his ongoing event, ASHEq, and some awesome students in Chile who made possible our Spanish captions.

We're also happy to share From Baghdad to The Bay's new official trailer! And, there's more. The film has just been released for educational distribution. Watch the trailer and see more details below.

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team



As many of you know from the film, Ghazwan is active in our local LGBTQ community, founding and organizing ASHEq. Ghazwan hosts ongoing events for the Middle East North Africa LGBTQ community in San Francisco and the Bay Area.

ASHEq first started in November 2014 at a small neighborhood club in SF with about 65 supporters. It's grown significantly over the years, with over 400 guests in attendance at their last event!

Ghazwan invites you to come and get your shake on -"We are all colors, all genders, all religions and none believers. We LOVE dancing and ENJOY life. WE WELCOME ANYONE!"


Ghazwan cheering for the fabulous Sophia when she performed at the very first ASHEq!


"Date a Middle Eastern"
Saturday, 6/15 at SF Oasis
*No Cover charge from 4-7pm

Queer Dance Party
Friday, 8/23, 10pm - 3pm at SF Oasis

Follow ASHEq on Facebook to learn more and hear about other upcoming events.


Check it out and pass it along!

Editor: Eli Olson | Music: William Ryan Fritch | Motion Graphics: Matthew Baldwin of Bay
Area Film Company | Audio Mix: Dan Olmsted


Ghazwan's story will soon be available in Spanish!

A warm thank you to Professor Patricia Quezada and her students at UNIACC University, in Santiago, Chile.

As part of the student's final degree projects, they provide pro-bono subtitles for selected films. They prioritize independent films (like ours), who often struggle with having a budget for translation.

We are very grateful for Professor Quezada and her students' hard work over these last several months. Without their help this would not have been possible. We are thrilled to make this film more widely accessible.

Left to Right: Vicente Araujo, Patricia Quezada, Ricardo Lienlaff and Raimundo Aldunate

Left to Right: Vicente Araujo, Patricia Quezada, Ricardo Lienlaff and Raimundo Aldunate


We just passed a major milestone - we have finally released the film for educational distribution!

This was a challenging learning process for us. Huge thanks to Associate Producer, Kat Cole for helping drive this along and keeping us on time and Assistant Editor, Scott Schwerdtfeger for helping tackle some technical snafus! Also, thanks to Drew McGaraghan for helping us design our beautiful disc and case art. So glad DVDs are alive & well in the educational market, or this would be a lost art.

After much discussion with other filmmakers and several distribution houses, we ultimately decided to self-distribute the film. After navigating the technical minefield of closed captioning, subtitling and what it takes to master a DVD, we have finally arrived! Today we launched an email campaign to librarians across the country to encourage them to add the film to their libraries for educators to use in their curriculum. We hope this film will have it's greatest impact with the students of today, who will be shaping our tomorrow.

Over the past year at festivals, in classrooms, and at community screenings, the film has sparked important and life-changing reaction from viewers. Not only for those who relate directly to one or more facets of Ghazwan’s story, but also for those who live on the outside of his experiences harboring misconceptions and stereotypes.

Beyond film festivals, we have screened in secondary school classrooms to senior centers and the emotional reactions are universal. Our young generation, many of whom struggle with mental health issues, is particularly inspired by Ghazwan's ability to overcome his suicidal thinking and believe in himself regardless of the adversity that he has faced. Older generations reflect on personal experiences with past wars and are engaged to learn about the progress made by, and the struggles of, the generations that have followed theirs. We are particularly excited to be bringing this film to colleges and universities where the next generation of influencers are being cultivated.


We could use your help!

Because we are self-distributing, we would be grateful for your help spreading the news. If you know of any educators who would be interested in the film, please feel free to pass this along to them.

a mandatory educational tool
— Jasmina Bojic | Lecturer, International Relations, Stanford University

Educational distribution sounds great, but when can I get it?

We are working hard and hope to make the film available to the public in early 2020. Stay tuned, this will be a triumphant milestone that we look forward to celebrating!

In the meantime, if you or someone you know would like to host a screening, please reach out. We would love to help make this happen!

San Francisco Screening

Kat Cole

From Baghdad to The Bay returns to The Bay! We're excited to be bringing the film home to San Francisco for a FREE community screening next Thursday May 23rd. Details below.

A special thank you to Francisco Buchting and the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center for this opportunity.

Your feedback matters! If you were able to join us at a screening over the past 18 months and were inspired by Ghazwan's story, we would love to hear from you. As we work hard to make this film more accessible to people, your opinions can help ensure this film reaches the largest possible audience. Sharing your thoughts about the film on our IMDB page is a wonderful way to share with Ghazwan what his story means to you and to encourage others to see the film as well.We would be grateful if you would consider taking just a few minutes to write a short review. Further instructions below.

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team



Thursday, 5/23 at 5:30pm | Koret Auditorium, San Francisco Main Library
With Ghazwan Alsharif & Director Erin Palmquist.

Co-sponsored by the Buchting Family Fund and the James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center.

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would love to help make this happen.


If you have a moment, we would love to hear your thoughts about the film.
Please consider creating a review on our IMDB page

How? Under the "User Reviews" section, select "Review this Title"




Thanks to the incredibly organized and passionate team at AIFF, we had a fantastic time! We were especially impressed with the audience engagement at each of our 5 sold-out screenings. Huge thank you to everyone!

One of our most treasured moments was being interviewed by Teen Press. We were not expecting that Ghazwan's story would resonate so deeply with middle schoolers. We are saddened by the struggles that many of our young people are facing but also deeply inspired and encouraged by their strength and level of awareness. These young people are changing the world of tomorrow in profound ways through their strength, determination and great courage. It is an honor to have been able to support them on their journey by sharing Ghazwan's story with them.

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Associate Producer Kat Cole and I are working hard to prep the film for DVD production and to launch a summer campaign to bring the film to universities and colleges. We are finalizing all the assets for the DVD and educational streaming, which includes things like Closed Captioning and even Spanish subtitles! Thanks to Patricia Quezada and her students at UNIACC University, Santiago, Chile who are generously providing the Spanish subtitling pro-bono! We are deeply grateful for their dedication to making this film more broadly accessible.

After we launch our educational campaign this summer, we will then work to find the best digital distribution platform in order to release the film to the general public. We are more eager than ever before to reach this milestone. We have some mountains to climb yet, but we are well on our way!

Meanwhile, we are continuing to screen in film festivals and hope to squeeze in some time to coordinate more community screenings as well.

Thank you for continuing on this journey with us!

Best Documentary Award + Ashland screenings

Kat Cole

This past weekend was full of exciting SOLD OUT screenings at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival and the Sonoma International Film Festival. Thank you to everyone who joined us at the screenings and to everyone who worked to make these festivals such a success! Extra special thanks to our hosts Gary & Claudia!

We're excited to announce that we've been awarded our 5th award!  The qFlix Philadelphia Film Festival honored us with the Jury Award for Best Documentary!

All of us found this film to be an original, powerfully told, complex and compelling story, and it came full circle for us. It received the highest overall score among the categories.
— qFlix Philadelphia jurors

We're honored to receive this award, and so happy that Ghazwan's story continues to be shared with our communities nationwide.

Today, we are heading up to the Ashland Independent Film Festival for 5 consecutive screenings in Oregon! This is our official Oregon Premiere and we are thrilled to be having it with AIFF. The communication, hospitality and organization has been above and beyond so far! We can't wait to meet the AIFF team, participate in our Q&As and catch some great films! If you're nearby, please join us!

Three of the five screenings are already at Rush! Meaning the shows are SOLD OUT but some tickets will be available at the door on a first-come-first-serve bases. 

And behind the scenes, we've been working closely with legal students from the University of California, and are happy to highlight their work and incredible contributions to the film below.

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team


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4/11 - 4/15 | 5 screenings! Ashland Independent Film Festival, Oregon
With Director Erin Palmquist.

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would love to help make this happen.

Follow us on Facebook to hear first about screening announcements and more!


L to R: Oluwatobi Agbelemose, Kristina Martinez, and Jack Lerner from UCI's IPAT Clinic

L to R: Oluwatobi Agbelemose, Kristina Martinez, and Jack Lerner from UCI's IPAT Clinic

Thanks to Producer Neva Tassan who was responsible for introducing us, since 2016, we've been working with professor Jack Lerner and students of the University of California Irvine'sIntellectual Property, Arts, and Technology Clinic. 

Their wonderful team provides pro bono legal services for films like ours, some who otherwise could not afford the necessary legal expense. They have helped us with contracts, Fair Use claims and other invaluable nuanced guidance. They even connected us to two other fabulous lawyers, Marcia Hofmann & Kendra Albert of Zeitgeist Law PC, who helped us file our FOIA requests with the U.S. government in relation to Ghazwan's past.  Their work was phenomenal, meticulously thorough, returned results and was also provided pro bono. We can't thank them enough!

This semester Kristina Martinez and Oluwatobi Agbelemose have joined our team from UCI's IPAT. They have been vetting our due diligence research in trying to track down owners of footage used in the film that we have not been able to license yet. We are in the final stages of attempting to locate the owners. This process has taken over a year and the whole core FBTTB team has worked hard to get here. We have a few final leads to track down yet but if nothing is fruitful, we will be making a claim for Orphan Work status in order to begin distribution on the film. We are so grateful for their invaluable work, and could not have finished the film without them! 

Who knew filmmaking was this complicated, right?! And this is just a small slice of the pie! It truly takes a village and none of this would have been possible without the support provided by many of you receiving this newsletter!

3 Festival Screenings This Weekend!

Kat Cole

Our 2019 screenings continue with 3 different festivals this weekend! This Saturday we'll be sharing the film in Philadelphia at qFlix and at the Sonoma Film Festival. Then on Sunday, we head to the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival. Director Erin Palmquist and special guests will be at both of the California screenings - so please say hello if you're there!

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We're excited to announce our Oregon Premiere at the Ashland Independent Film Festival. Taking place from April 11th - April 15th, From Baghdad to The Bay will screen FIVE times!

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We hope to see you at a theater soon!


Saturday 3/30, 12pm |  qFlix Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Saturday 3/30, 5:30pm | Sonoma International Film Festival, California
With Director Erin Palmquist.

Sunday 3/31, 2pm | Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival, California 
With Director Erin Palmquist & Ghazwan Alsharif !

4/11 - 4/15 (5 screenings) | Ashland Independent Film Festival, Oregon
With Director Erin Palmquist.

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would love to help make this happen.

Follow us on Facebook to hear first about screening announcements and more!

We're Back - 2019 Screenings!S

Kat Cole

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Our 2019 screenings are already starting to line up and we can't wait to see you at one soon! We are excited to say that we are expanding our reach to New Zealand with a special screening at Doc Edge Pride! Then it's back to the states to Colorado's Durango Film Festival, and we are especially excited to share two more screenings close to the Bay Area: Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival and Sonoma Film Festival. See below for more details and help spread the news!

One of the most common questions filmmakers are asked at festivals is, "So, what are you working on next?" For some filmmakers who are lucky to secure large distribution deals, much of the hard work is in the past at this stage. However, for the majority of filmmakers, what happens after a film is finished for festivals is far more complex. So, below I've provided a production update to give you a peek behind the curtain at what the From Baghdad to The Bay team is working on now. We hope you enjoy the tour.

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team


Saturday 2/16 |  Doc Edge Pride Auckland, New Zealand
Sunday 2/17 | Doc Edge Pride Auckland, New Zealand
Friday 3/1 | Durango Film Festival Durango, Colorado 
Saturday 3/2 |  Durango Film Festival Durango, Colorado 
Saturday 3/30 | Sonoma International Film Festival Sonoma, California
Sunday 3/31 | Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival Sebastopol, California. With special guests: Ghazwan Alsharif, Director Erin Palmquist & Composer William Ryan Fritch

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would love to help make this happen.

Follow us on Facebook to hear first about screening announcements and more!


Below are just a few highlights of the many tasks in progress by the team!


Editor Eli Olson

We are excited to share that, thanks to the talents of our wonderful editor Eli, an official trailer will be available soon! The edit is complete, next phase includes: music composition by our incredible composer William Ryan Fritch, text graphics and a sound mix. FUN FACT: The teaser you see online now was actually edited before the film was! It's time to get legit!

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Associate Producer, Kat Cole

Without Kat, we would be lost! Kat is helping with everything left, right and center! She is managing our festival submissions - which is a far bigger task than one would think. She is also: supporting our many efforts to prepare the film for broadcast & distribution, coordinating Spanish translation for the film (more on that in coming newsletters), working on community screenings planning, ensuring we stay on track, etc, etc!

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Assistant Editor, Scott Schwerdtfeger

Scott has just finished the huge task of creating an exhaustive multi-tab spreadsheet that lists every detail about each image and sound that you see and hear in the film. We use this log to ensure that we have properly licensed everything in the film that was not recorded, and thus owned, by Erin. In order to be able to broadcast the film, we must pass a legal review and obtain Errors & Omissions Insurance. This log is part of that process. More interesting information on this to come in the next newsletter.

Archival Consultant, Emily Calhoun

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We are very excited to be working with Emily again to finalize all the details around our use of archival footage in the film! For example, footage provided by various news organizations taken during the Iraq War. She brings invaluable experience to the project in two parts. First, she is helping us upgrade our current festival-only contracts to contracts that allow us to distribute and broadcast the film. Also, we have 8 clips of footage from the Iraq war for which we are still trying to find the owners for. For the past year we have been doing our due diligence trying to track down leads on potential owners and we have made great progress. Emily has joined us again to apply her keen sensibilities and deep knowledge of archival footage to find the end of the winding trail our research has taken us on since we worked with her last. We have three paths we will ultimately have to choose from: 1) We will find the owners and license the footage. 2) If we find the owners but are unable to license for some reason, we will have to find replacement footage. We feel this particular footage is so important that this will be the least desirable outcome. 3) If we are unable to find owners of the clips, we will claim Orphan Work. We will also share a bit more on what this means in the next newsletter. Welcome to the Filmmaking Rabbit Hole!

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Director Erin Palmquist

As a first-time feature filmmaker, I thought the hard part was making the film. As I explore the world of distribution and broadcast, I now see that film production is just the tip of the iceberg! For independent filmmakers, the process of ensuring that your film gets seen is far more complex and consuming than I ever imagined it would be. Ultimately, I made this film not only to help Ghazwan share his story but also to help bring about change for many people. In order for that to happen, the film must get seen. So, these days, among other tasks, I spend my time finalizing the film to package it for broadcast, educational and digital distribution, outreach to potential broadcasters and distributors, finding creative ways to bring money in to support the work, meeting with consultants and fellow filmmakers to learn as I go, and strategic planning for outreach & engagement to ensure this film makes it into the hands of those who can benefit from it most. It is like learning three new careers! As I go, I am also doing my best to pass on my learnings to other filmmakers who are embarking on the journey of making their first feature length documentaries. 

We hope to have much news to share on the outcomes of all this work in the year ahead. Thank you so much for following along and making our work meaningful!

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much
— Helen Keller
We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.
— S. Kelley Harrell


Last month From Baghdad to The Bay was invited to screen at Stanford as part of the Camera as Witness Program's HUMAN DIGNITY series. 

It was a fantastically rainy Tuesday night and still the seats were all filled!

Special thanks to Jasmina Bojic,  Lourdes V. Andrade, Matthew Alexander Clarke, and Alejandro Andrade for making this possible.

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Taste Chef Gs Food & Help Us Make 2019 a Year of Impact

Kat Cole

What an incredible year 2018 has been! We have screened 23 times for over 2,000 people and won four awards! With each screening, people approach Ghazwan and myself to share the impact the film has had on them. It has been a deeply moving experience!

Ghazwan's story is changing lives in profound ways and we are eager to make 2019 an even more impactful year. Will you help us maintain our momentum and reach audiences who need this film most? Make a year-end tax-deductible donation today to help bring this film to communities across the country.

No amount is too small, every dollar will have impact.


While we complete the necessary steps to prepare the film for a release on platforms such as iTunes and Amazon, we are also in the process of creating a strategic community screenings campaign that will bring this film to audiences across the country, and we need your help to make this possible. You can read more about our campaign on our Go Fund Me page.

As our immigrant and LGBTQ communities face great threat, Ghazwan's story becomes more and more relevant and important. Wearea country that embraces diversity, ingenuity, compassion and love, but this message and way of living is being buried by fear and turmoil. A true embodiment of therealAmerican dream, Ghazwan illustrates the hope and spirit that this country still inspires at a most pertinent time.

For those of you who have supported us in the past, thank you for your past and continued support on this journey. We could not have come this far without all of you! For those of you contributing today, thank you for supporting independent film and ensuring that Ghazwan's story and the sacrifices he has made continue to make change for years to come.

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team

Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much
— Helen Keller
We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.
— S. Kelley Harrell


We are thrilled to share with you that Ghazwan is the new Executive Chef at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco! You can taste his latest creations 7 days a week, 365 days a year at either The Academy Cafe or The Terrace Restaurant!

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Were you inspired by the film? We would love to hear from you and share your feedback with others. You can respond directly to this email thread. Your thoughts can help us get the word out!

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Thanks to CFI's Community Cinema Program, over 300 people joined us on a Monday at noon for our SOLD OUT screening! A standing ovation for Ghazwan and one of our best Q&As yet.

Huge thank you to those who continued to come up to us in the streets (and while we ate lunch nearby after!) to share how much the film meant to you!

Stay tuned, more screenings to be announced in our January newsletter.
Follow us on 
Facebook to hear first!

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would love to help make this happen.

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Ojai Award & Free Holiday Screening!

Kat Cole

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It is with very mixed emotions that I share with you all that From Baghdad to The Bay has been awarded with our fourth award! The Ojai Film Festival selected us to receive their very special Festival Theme Award for Enriching the Human Spirit Through Film. We are thrilled for the honor. You can read more about this below.

We spent a wonderful weekend with the people of Ojai just before the mass shooting took place in Ventura and the fires began to rage. While there, we heard traumatic and inspiring stories about the last wildfire that swept through the region and we were heartbroken when news hit about the recent fires that have devastated so many.

Our hearts go out to all those affected by the mass shooting and the California fires. Living in the Bay Area, our air is saturated with smoke and the horror of the destruction that still continues. It is a constant reminder of those we have lost and those who must now find ways to rebuild. We fear for people's safety and we hope for swift containment. Contributions are needed. Here is how you can help.

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team



Monday, December 3rd, 12pm - 2:15
Smith Rafael Film Center, San Rafael, CA
Admission is free, butseats must be reserved through Eventbrite
Post Q&A with Ghazwan Alsharif & Erin Palmquist

Watch this short clip of the festival's Founder and Artistic Director Steve Grumette, who gave us a wonderful introduction to the award. This award is particularly special as it truly honors Ghazwan's incredible spirit. Thank you so much Ojai!

Watch this short clip of the festival's Founder and Artistic Director Steve Grumette, who gave us a wonderful introduction to the award. This award is particularly special as it truly honors Ghazwan's incredible spirit. Thank you so much Ojai!

“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, Ojai Resident

Ellen Kuras was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award that day as well! What an honor to have been on the same stage as her!

Ellen Kuras was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award that day as well!
What an honor to have been on the same stage as her!

While I am continually frustrated to hear that young women are still facing the same issues that my generation has, it is thanks to women like Ellen forging a path for women in the industry, that this generation is growing up more emboldened than ever. Their belief in themselves and their understanding of what they are up against means major change will come! I was thrilled for the opportunity to sit down with the next generation of women filmmakers in Ojai to share my experiences in the industry and converse about their challenges and triumphs.

While I am continually frustrated to hear that young women are still facing the same issues that my generation has, it is thanks to women like Ellen forging a path for women in the industry, that this generation is growing up more emboldened than ever. Their belief in themselves and their understanding of what they are up against means major change will come! I was thrilled for the opportunity to sit down with the next generation of women filmmakers in Ojai to share my experiences in the industry and converse about their challenges and triumphs.

Ghazwan Hangs with High-schoolers

Thanks to CFI's Filmmakers Go to School Program and ForWords Literacy Lab, we had two incredible screenings with some of San Rafael High School's first-generation students. There were tears and hugs shared! They LOVED Ghazwan. He inspired them with encouraging words about believing in yourself and delighted them with his culinary passion - sharing his favorite dishes to cook. Our future is in good hands with these bright minds!

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"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

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From Baghdad to The Bay wins our 3rd Award for Best First Time Filmmaker

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Photo credits: Scott Schwerdtfeger, Suneel Padmaraju, George Lazarus, Caity Ussery, Spark Photography & GI Film Festival San Diego

Kat Cole

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What a month! We closed the Mill Valley Film Festival out with two incredible screenings last weekend and this week we are screening with the United Nations Association Film Festival (UNAFF) on Sunday!

We are honored to say that we kicked everything off with a special screening of From Baghdad to The Bay at UNAFF's press conference in September and that we are now about to close this run of our local Bay Area screenings with UNAFF once again! 

Please join us THIS Sunday at 4:30pm in Palo Alto at Mitchell Park Community Center for our LAST local screening (for now anyway). Don't miss this. It may be a while before we screen again in the Bay Area.

UNAFF is a particularly important festival, as it was founded in 1998 by Stanford educator and film critic Jasmina Bojic in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The festival's theme this year could not be more aligned with Ghazwan's intention in life and our film's goals. The UNAFF theme this year is TOMORROW? Films have been selected with the intention of emphasizing the complexity of our current moment and exploring possible paths emanating from it, into the future.

We hope you will join us and also explore some of the other incredible films we are fortunate to be programmed alongside. The full program can be found here

We also hope you will join us for UNAFF's Opening Night - this Thursday at 6:15 in Palo Alto!

Ghazwan, Erin and other special guests are attending each of our screenings! See you at the movies!

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team


TUNE IN at10am THIS MORNINGto catch the Executive Director of the Arab Film & Media Institute, Serge Bakalian, and (me) Erin Palmquist live onKALW's Your Call with Rose Aguilar!

LISTEN NOW toKWMR's R. Gallyot's interview Erin Palmquist on independent filmmaking andFrom Baghdad to The Bay.

LISTEN NOW to Stanford Lecturer + Arabology radio hostDr. Ramzi Salti's interview with Erin Palmquist on KZSU!

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Sadly, Ghazwan was not able to join us for these interviews, as he just started a new job as the Executive Chef at San Francisco's California Academy of Sciences! But, he will be with us for all the upcoming Bay Area screenings! So, please come to a theater this week, congratulate him on his success, and hear about his experiences making this film!


Friday 11/2, 4pm - Ojai Film Festival
Saturday 11/10, 10am - Ojai Film Festival

Director Erin Palmquist will also be giving two presentation for the Ojai Youth Filmmaker Program:

Advancing Women Directors and Underrepresented Voices
Building Strong Film Scenes with Visuals and Ethics in Documentary Filmmaking

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out by emailing
We would be happy to help make this happen.

A few pics from our UNAFF Press Conference screening!

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Award Winner, GI Film Festival!

Kat Cole

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Last Friday we had a very special screening at the GI Film Festival San Diego and on Saturday night we received the Best First Time Filmmaker Award! This is From Baghdad to The Bay's forth festival and third award!

Receiving this award is quite an honor. The making of this film has been a very complicated journey. I was challenged ethically, physically, financially and emotionally at lengths that I could not have imagined when we first started back in 2008. Looking back over the past 10 years, there were countless moments when I wanted to give up. In those moments, I always thought about Ghazwan and his incredible perseverance. If he could endure the traumatic events of his life, without losing faith in himself and others, then I most certainly could not give up. Additionally, I had the incredible support of my family and friends as well as my dedicated team. They were my rock. Especially my Executive Producer, Frances Reid, who was there for me on every step of this journey.

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While the process of arriving here today has been one of great sacrifice and struggle for everyone involved, it has also been one of the most rewarding gifts. With each screening, we see people's lives changed in profound ways. Ghazwan's story is making a difference and it will continue to do so for years to come.

While this award honors the filmmaker, singular, it would not have been possible without everyone involved. And so, it was a great honor to accept this award with Ghazwan on behalf of not just myself and Ghazwan but also on behalf of everyone who dedicated their time, resources and talent to make this film possible. A full list of these incredible people can be found here. I could not have done it without everyone one of them.

If you have not been able to join us for a screening yet, over the next month you will have six more opportunities at the Mill Valley Film FestivalArab Film FestivalUnited Nations Association Film Festival and Ojai Film Festival! Screening details can be found below and on our website.

This is the wonderful culmination of 10 years worth of work and so much more, please come and celebrate with us!

We hope to see you at a theater soon!

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team

UP NEXT: Mill Valley Film Festival! 

Purchase your tickets while they are still available!

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October 13th, 2pm, San Rafael
Co-presented by Human Rights Watch &
LGBT Asylum Project

October, 14th, 2:15pm, Mill Valley
Co-presented by International Rescue Committee &
Horizons Foundation

Ghazwan and much of the crew will be attending one or both of the screenings!

Our GI Film Festival screening was extra special as Tom Stewart joined us! Tom and Ghazwan met in Iraq while serving. He plays an extremely important role in the film, so much so that we can't imagine how we would have told the story without him. This was his first time seeing the film! We were honored to also have his family with us.

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10 years later and 10 minutes before showtime!

We were fortunate to catch two incredible films at the GI Film Festival.
Keep an eye out for opportunities to watch these must-see films.

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The Weight of Honor

 Filmed over five years, The Weight of Honor follows the lives of the caregivers of veterans who have been catastrophically wounded in America’s longest war. Their lives are transformed overnight to 24/7 caregivers tasked with caring for their war-wounded. The film reveals the family dynamic, their relationships before the wounds of war, and now, the uncertainties that lie ahead. Nominated for Best Documentary Short.

Directed by Stephanie Seldin Howard

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We Are Not Done Yet

Grappling with PTSD, Ten U.S. veterans share fears, vulnerabilities, and victories that eventually culminate into a live performance at Washington D.C.’s Lansburgh Theatre. Under the direction of actor Jeffrey Wright (HBO’s “Westworld”), the warrior poets take their stories to an audience of five hundred civilians, family members and fellow warriors to tell too often hidden truths about the consequences of intimacy with war and death. Winner, Best Documentary Short

Directed Sareen Hairabedian

San Francisco Premiere is Here!

Kat Cole

The much anticipated and long-awaited day has finally arrived! We are deeply honored to share that From Baghdad to The Bay will have its San Francisco and Oakland Premieres with the Arab Film Festival! Co-presented by Human Rights Watch and the International Rescue Committee, these two very special screenings are not to be missed. And, stay tuned for after-party details coming soon! Screening details below.

When Ghazwan arrived in 2008, he spent his first year living in Oakland in an apartment with a group of other Iraq refugees, all were assisted in their resettlement by the IRC. They bonded over their common ground and worked together to survive and rebuild their lives during the lowest point of our Great Recession and against the backdrop of the aftermath of 9/11, with anti-Arab sentiment permeating the air.

That first year for Ghazwan was filled with hope and excitement tampered by struggle and violence. However, no matter the challenge, Ghazwan persevered. He is a survivor. Against the odds, he held steadfast to his belief that he could succeed in making his dreams come true and today, many of those dreams have come true.

Nine years ago Ghazwan decided to make San Francisco his home. He conquered this wonderful city, built by immigrants like himself, by walking every inch. Anyone close to Ghazwan knows he loves to force his unwitting friends to walk miles - from bay to ocean and back again. Most recently he took these same walks with his 16 year old son who came for a month long visit, a decade after their separation. Throughout the Bay Area, Ghazwan has built up an incredible community and contributed so much to this city he calls home. You can read more about his incredible contributions in this past newsletter.

And, so it is with great pride that we celebrate the past 10 years of making this film in the two cities that have shaped the last decade of Ghazwan's life. Please join us in celebrating the strength, fortitude and sacrifice it took Ghazwan and the crew to make this film, the community that made it possible with their support (that's you!), and the countless contributions that Ghazwan and so many other immigrants have made to the Bay Area and beyond!

Erin Palmquist and the From Baghdad to The Bay Team

The Nation’s Oldest and Largest Festival of Arab Films

Wednesday 10/17, 6:15pm, Roxie Theater
Co-presented by Human Rights Watch

Friday 10/19, 5pm, The New Parkway  
Co-presented by International Rescue Committee
*Tickets available soon

Ghazwan and much of the crew will be attending one or both of the screenings! After-party details coming soon.

Circa 2008! Director, Erin Palmquist, Ghazwan Alsharif and Ghazwan's Army friend Tom Stewart who is also in the film and will be joining us for our San Diego premiere!


Mill Valley Film Festival!

Kat Cole

We are very excited to share that From Baghdad to The Bay is an Official Selection at the prestigious Mill Valley Film Festival!

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Set yourself a reminder, as tickets go on sale Saturday and may go fast!

We are honored to have been selected, along with six other powerful films, for Mill Valley's Active Cinema Initiative. Join us and four of our incredible community partners who will be co-presenting and sharing about the extremely important work they are doing.

Saturday, 10/13, 2pm in Mill Valley 
Co-presented by Human Rights Watch and LGBT Asylum Project.

Sunday, 10/14, 2:15pm in San Rafael 
Co-presented by International Rescue Committee and Horizons Foundation

*Much of the crew and Ghazwan will be attending one or both of the screenings!

In our last newsletter, I requested that you join me in taking just a 2 minutes of your time to help save lives. At the end of this email are 3 very simple automated actions that, if you take them, will have an impact on our administration's decision to help or deny hundreds of thousands of refugees in need.

With just two weeks left before decisions are made, please consider taking a few minutes of your time to act. For those of you who already took action, thank you! Consider sharing these actions with your friends, family and colleagues.

Thank you and see you at a theater soon!

Erin Palmquist at The From Baghdad to The Bay Team

Exciting News & an URGENT Request

Kat Cole

We have so much wonderful news that it is hard to know where to start. We even have some exciting news that we can't share just yet... So, stay tuned for upcoming newsletters!

Before we share the good news, I would like to make an urgent request. Please join me in taking just 2 minutes of your time to help save an unprecedented number of lives. We promise it won't take more than 2 minutes.

According to the International Rescue Committee, the organization that helped resettle Ghazwan, "More people have been forced to flee their homes by conflict and crisis than at any time since World War II. At the same time, the U.S. is slamming its doors on refugees."

By the end of this month (just 24 days away), the administration will determine the maximum number of refugees that could be allowed into the U.S.. Currently we are falling shamefully behind our last commitment. 45,000 refugees should have been allowed entry this fiscal year, a fraction of those in need of resettlement, and with only a month left, less than half (18,738) have been allowed entrance. An unprecedented number of lives are at risk.

You can impact this critical decision if you act now. Scroll to the bottom of this email to read more about the urgency and to find 3 easy ways to make a difference in just 2 minutes or less.

Thank you for supporting From Baghdad to The Bay and the countless people with stories just like Ghazwan's.

Erin Palmquist at The From Baghdad to The Bay Team

Ghazwan Helps Raise $16,000 to Stop Hunger

For the past two years, Ghazwan has been the Executive Chef for the Stop Hunger's annual fundraising dinner. Last year, the event raised in $14,000 and this year $16,000! 


Ghazwan had a special guest at the event, his son! The two had not seen each other in 10 long years. This Summer, they spent a month reconnecting and traveling across the U.S.. In honor of his son's childhood love for Ghazwan's Chocolate Fudge, Ghazwan created a special desert and named it "Memories."

Check out this touching video of Ghazwan announcing the evening's menu to his guests that was edited by our incredible Assistant Editor, Scott Schwertdfeger!

The watermelon salad with balsamic walnut mint pesto and aged feta, topped with micro arugula was a show stopper!

The watermelon salad with balsamic walnut mint pesto and aged feta, topped with micro arugula was a show stopper!



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We are honored to be an official selection at the United Nations Association Film Festival and to have been selected to kick off the Festival's 21st year! 

UNAFF will host a very special screening of From Baghdad to The Bay at their press conference at the World Affairs Auditorium in San Francisco.

Screening: Tuesday 9/18 at 6:30pm
Tickets on sale now!

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We are also excited to share that From Baghdad to The Bay is an official AWARD NOMINEE for the BEST FIRST-TIME FEATURE FILMMAKER AWARD at the GI Film Festival, San Diego! 

Screening: Friday 9/28 at 6pm
Tickets on sale now!


Thursday 9/6, 7pm (TODAY!) - DOCUTAH Film Festival Screening 1
Friday 9/7, 3pm - DOCUTAH Film Festival Screening 2
Tuesday 9/18, 6:30pm - UNAFF Kick Off, San Francisco
Friday 9/28, 6pm - GI Film Festival San Diego
October TBD - UNAFF, Stanford University
Friday 11/2, 4pm - Ojai Film Festival
Saturday 11/10, 10am - Ojai Film Festival

*More Bay Area screenings to be announced soon!

Interested in hosting a screening in your city?
Please reach out. We would be happy to help make this happen.

3 Ways to Take Action in 2 Minutes or Less

In just a few minutes of your time, you could take a small action that can save lives.


Time is running out for many whose lives are in jeopardy.

"Refugees have reinvigorated our economies, brought innovation to our towns, and made our communities stronger. The significant decline in refugee arrivals this year has had a negative impact on communities.” Read more.

This sentiment by hundreds of elected officials and directed at President Donald Trump could not have described Ghazwan more accurately!

The International Rescue Committee has made it easy for you to take action by creating an auto generated phone call and an easy script to read. 

Tell Congress we are still ready to welcome refugees! 



While Ghazwan was wrongfully accused of being a double agent and tortured by the U.S., other Iraqis who assisted our armed forces have been denied rescue based on suspicions triggered by the very work that this country asked of them.

This Reuters article explains: "Iraqis can raise flags for national security concerns for a number of reasons, especially if their work for the military required them to keep tabs on militants and other potential threats. Years after their work for the military has ended, it can be difficult to verify that their contact with suspicious individuals or groups was strictly related to their job."

Veterans for American Ideals, a Human Rights First project has made it simple for you to have impact. This takes less than 30 seconds!

Click the button below and select "Get Involved".



There are many incredible organizations doing amazing work that could use your donations. Check out our website for a list of several that we endorse.


Festival Updates

Kat Cole

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Many of you have been asking if we will be having a screening in our home city of San Francisco and if we submitted to the Frameline Film Festival. 

We had very high hopes that our S.F. premiere screening would take place at the Frameline Film Festival, so we are extremely disappointment to share that we were not selected by the festival.

But, this film is just too "S.F." not to have a local premiere screening. This film was not only made by an entirely local crew but about Ghazwan, a man who fought extremely hard to rebuild his life here after deep personal sacrifice and loss. A man who has contributed a great deal to this wonderful city.

Since his arrival in 2008, his culinary delights have provided nourishment to thousands of residents, from every background - many of whose resources and health have been at great risk. His early years in San Francisco were spent working at Project Open Hand, a nonprofit organization that provides meals with love to critically ill neighbors and seniors.

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More recently Ghazwan has become the Chef for Stop Hunger's annual fundraising dinner. In the last 14 years, these dinners alone have raised a total of $109,000 in the fight against hunger! Chef G will be serving his delicacies at this years event again in August!

In addition to this AND his full-time job as Executive Chef at the Channing House Retirement Community, this year he will also be the chef for the Saffron Road Cycle Team participating in the AIDS Lifecycle Ride as well as the chef for Rainbow Street's and The LGBT Asylum Project's upcoming fundraisers!

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Ghazwan also founded the wildly popular Asheq, a bi-monthly dance party celebrating the Middle East and North Africa Queer community. See below for details on the next event!

These are just a few examples of many. In spite of his countless struggles and in face of extreme adversity, he has always chosen to give back to his communities instead of turning inward.

So, hang tight. We don't have a date yet and it may take us some time, but we WILL celebrate this important man and his story with our community by hosting a San Francisco premiere screening!

We are going to need all the help we can get! If you are interested in volunteering to help organize our S.F. Premiere event, we would love to hear from you! Please email our Associate Producer Kat Cole @

We look forward to celebrating with you all!

The Animation of From Baghdad to The Bay

Kat Cole


From Director Erin Palmquist:

In this post I wanted to share a behind the scenes story about one of my favorite community efforts that went into making this film and provide a sneak peak into the world of From Baghdad to The Bay animation! Yes, we have animation!

We started with a challenge: with no footage or photos documenting some of the most difficult parts of Ghazwan's past, like his arrest and torture, how would we be able to include these events in the film? It took editor Eli Olson and I weeks to weave together a beautiful and compelling story from sound bites selected from hours of interview footage with Ghazwan. Additional refinement took place with our finishing editor Andrew Gersh. Now, we had a lovely...err... podcast. But, what would the visuals be?

These portions of Ghazwan's story were crucial not only to illuminate the political and social climate of Iraq at the time, but also to creatively represent Ghazwan’s experiences in a way that would serve the empathetic tone of the film. This is something I had been thinking about for years. Eventually, it took the work of an incredibly committed group of people to manifest the visuals that would elevate this film to a whole new level.

When the talented Joe Brody joined the team as our Motion Graphics Designer, we decided to take two approaches.

THE FIRST APPROACH required days of sifting through the Department of Defense video archives hunting for footage that could accurately and yet abstractly carry the viewer along a visual journey as Ghazwan's voice retold his story. We selected 29 videos. To create a reflective and dreamlike world as a flashback to Ghazwan's past, we had to then take each of these videos and break them down into still images for every frame of the video. This resulted in roughly 10,000 still images! To achieve the look we were going for, we would now have to hand treat each of those frames in Photoshop and then stitch them back together into a video again!

Joe spent days finalizing a Photoshop script that would mostly automate the process but this script still had to be manually applied to each of the 10,000 images. Over the course of a month, 12 incredible volunteers (listed below) donated over 200hrs of work treating each individual frame of footage. 

We could not have done it without them or without the generosity of California Collage of the Arts who donated one of their state-of-the-art computer labs for the team to work in. The animation team was amazing! After years of mostly working solo, it was so much fun to work with this talented and wonderful group of people! This truly was one of the best parts of production!

Below you can see a before and after example of how the script transformed each frame of footage.

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THE SECOND APPROACH. The footage that we collected and treated was great for some parts of Ghazwan's backstory but it would not get at the heart of what we needed for the really difficult and very personal portions of the story.

Before working on From Baghdad to The Bay together, I worked with Joe on a few small corporate projects. I loved working with him and I knew he would be the first animator I would approach about the project. What I didn't know, was that he was this wildly talented artist as well! Below is a sneak peak at a few of the astonishing hand-drawn illustrations that he produced for our second animation approach.

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For the finishing touches, Matthew Baldwin of the Bay Area Film Company brought these graphics to life! But, to see how everything comes together, well... you will have to join us at the theater!

We look forward to sharing everyone's hard work and celebrating with you in less than one month!

It's All Or Nothing - Join Us!

Erin Palmquist

Today is the day! Our Beacon campaign has launched and we have just released our trailerBeacon is matching your contributions dollar for dollar for the first $10,000 raised. So, don't wait! Let them double your contribution today.

Can you contribute today? 
1) Yes, I will contribute today.
2) I'm not able to contribute today but I will share on Facebook* and/or Twitter.

In order for this film to be made, we need your help! We only have 30 days to raise $30,000 in this all-or-nothing campaign, so the time is right now. If you can afford $1 or $5, please make that contribution today. If you can afford more: $25, $50, $100, $250 that's TERRIFIC! Every dollar counts. Remember your contributions are being matched. Everything raised during this campaign will go directly to the cost of editing the film. You can be part of this very important stage and ensure the film’s completion.

Ghazwan is one of the most amazing people I have ever met, and his powerful and multi-layered story touches on some of the most important conversations of our time: immigration, displacement, the aftermath of war and LGBT rights. For eight years, my team and I have been working hard to make this documentary the best that it can be. It has been a true labor of love and we are now ready to begin the editing process!

For Ghazwan, sharing his most intimate moments has not always been easy. But the journey has been a healing experience for him. For this reason alone, this project has been deeply important to me. But the documentary has a much larger purpose. Ghazwan has taken great risks and has chosen a very vulnerable path by sharing his story so openly. Because of his courage, we both believe that his story has the power to change lives, inspiring many, and, in doing so, help make the world a better place.

Considering the animosities haunting our current political climate, there is potential for this documentary to have a powerful impact. We feel strongly that now is the time for this film to be made.

Please join us in making this film possible by making a contribution today. Any amount will make a difference. But please don't wait! Early contributions are crucial to the success of the campaign. Thank you so much for your support. I am looking forward to entering this next phase of the project with you and to producing a film that has impact and meaning.

Erin Palmquist

"This Is What I Suffered For."

Erin Palmquist

Tuesday, September 23rd 2014 - It is a clear bright California morning when we follow Ghazwan into the historic Paramount Theater in Oakland. Amongst a sea of immigrants from across the globe, what he is about to experience sinks in - like a pebble tossed through clear waters onto a sandy floor, “I’m just overwhelmed.” He says. “I’m really shaking inside. I’m going to be a citizen today! I just really, really cannot believe it - it’s like another dream just came true. It’s a really big relief.” Tears begin to stream down G’s face, “This is what I suffered for.”

Twenty-one times a year 1000-1500 immigrants from 12 surrounding counties gather here to be sworn in by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS). It’s a bit like a graduation ceremony. The streets outside are lined with vendors selling certificate binders, patriotic passport sleeves, and American flags. Family and friends head for the balcony to witness the event and those being “naturalized” find a seat on the main floor of the auditorium.

If you haven’t been in the Paramount Theater, it is something to behold - when its doors opened in 1931, it was the largest venue yet to be built in California. Rosewood from Bali, teak from Malaysia, marble from Italy - like the people gathering in the theater today, materials from around the world come together to form this magnificent Art Deco theater.

As the ceremony begins, I quickly realize that my experience of what is transpiring is far different than those seated in the theater. Looking around, I try to imagine all of the reasons that each one of these people are here today - love, family, work, persecution, war, torture… It’s a room enmeshed in complicated stories of joy and great suffering. Miniature hand-held American flags are waving furiously across the crowd and every emotion known is probably present as the ceremony begins. It is a very surreal experience.

As is customary in these ceremonies, people stand to acknowledge their heritage as the name of each country represented in the room is announced over the loudspeaker. It’s undeniably moving watching small groups and sometimes only one lone individual stand as the countries are called out. But, as “Mexico” is heard, the room erupts with emotional cheers and applause as hundreds of new Mexican-Americans stand. I’m surprised how flooded with emotion I am as I try to restrain unexpected tears. Other than Ghazwan, I have never met the people in this room today, but I can’t help but feel like I am a part of their stories - as I said, it’s a pretty surreal experience.

It is an experience that I very much look forward to reliving with Ghazwan and sharing with all of you when we have completed the film. Your support is very much appreciated.

“During the last decade, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) welcomed more than 6.6 million naturalized citizens into the fabric of our nation. In fiscal year 2013, approximately 777,416 individuals were naturalized, and through May 31 of fiscal year 2014, 414,804 people were naturalized.” ~ USCIS

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"Heck yeah, and I've got a story to tell!"

Erin Palmquist

Some of you may recognize this project as Exiled in America.  Over six years ago when Jennifer Huang, Karena O'Rirodan, and I sat down to discuss making a film together, we started out with a very different film in mind.  

It was Karena who sparked our interest in the thriving Iraqi refugee community living in California.  In 1991 the Gulf War had brought an estimated 12,000 Iraqi refugees to the U.S.  In 2007, displaced by the Iraq War, a new wave of Iraqi refugees had begun arriving.  Our research and work with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) quickly revealed a burgeoning Bay Area community.

This reality revealed a new perspective about the aftermath of the Iraq War.  What would it be like to rebuild your life in the very country whose war with your own country had forced you to flee your homeland?  Resettling is never easy.  Customs, culture, language - these basic concepts that we take for granted can become massive challenges.  Add to that, landing in the US in one of the most politically divided and economically depressed times in its history while still reeling from the trauma of war.  For many of these new immigrants, the battle to survive in a foreign land can seem worse than war.

It was our original intent to capture the experiences of 3-4 Iraqi refugees as they settled into life in the San Francisco Bay Area.  We heard disturbing and inspiring stories from the Iraqi people that we interviewed during the early stages of the project. All were willing to speak openly and in detail with us but none were willing to tell their story on camera.  Most feared the publicity would jeopardize their family's safety back in Iraq.  

 Just as we began to doubt the feasibility of telling this story in the form of a documentary, the IRC called to tell us about an Iraqi man who had just arrived and was willing to speak with us about the project.  When I ask if he would be willing to be on camera, he responded "Heck yeah, and I've got a story to tell!"  Thirty minutes later this man had shared one of the most horrific and amazing stories I had ever heard directly from another human.  This is how we met Ghazwan Alsharif and how the film eventually became From Baghdad to The Bay

With limited resources we were unable to tell the original story that we set out to make but now, over six years later, we have captured over 80 hours of raw footage chronicling Ghazwan's pain and his joy and capturing the determined audacity of one man's dream to simply be himself - against all odds.

 From Baghdad to The Bay is a liberating story full of joy, love, hope, and perseverance amidst extreme adversity. At its core, it is a story of the American Dream, resurrected in the most heart-wrenching, unexpected, and entertaining way.

*Special Thanks to Jennifer Huang's husband Doug Yoshida for coming up with the film's title!

According to the IRC, over a decade after the invasion, there are more than 1 million Iraqis who are unable to return to their homes and tens of thousands of them are in danger because they worked for the U.S. military.  

According to The UNHCR, in Iraq, more than 1.8 million internally displaced people in 2014 have been added to almost a million internally displaced people who had fled violence in previous years.

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