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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)

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!

Sincerely, 
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.

WHY
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.

HOW
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.

Sincerely,
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! 

THE HIGHLIGHT OF THE EVENING!

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!

 
 

SCREENING ANNOUNCEMENTS

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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!


ALL UPCOMING SCREENINGS

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.

ACTION #1

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! 

 
 

ACTION #2

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".

 
 

ACTION #3

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 @ katreneecole@gmail.com.

We look forward to celebrating with you all!

The Animation of From Baghdad to The Bay

Kat Cole

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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.

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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