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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)

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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