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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