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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.

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Keeping Up With Ghazwan (blog)

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.

WHY THIS IS AN IMPORTANT CAMPAIGN TO SUPPORT
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.

Sincerely,
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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