April 17, 2007
Baghdad Blogger Salam Pax: Part 2


Salam Pax

Watch the program: Part 1 | Part 2

This week's program features "The Battle for Women’s Rights in Baghdad" and "Making It Rich in Baghdad."

The first thing that has to be said about these two films is that they were made more than a year ago. Things were not as gloomy, I felt safer while filming and there was still a general sense of optimism in the air.

In my opinion, we rarely get to hear the voice of Iraqi women in the news that comes out of Iraq. Most of the time they are just figures dressed in long black robes in the background of bombing scenes. In "The Battle for Women's Rights" I wanted to show that we had and still have women who are feisty and will stand up for their rights.

The focus for me was an activist my mother had been watching on various local programs and made me watch one night. With her confrontational style she was like a prizefighter delivering punches. Unfortunately for her, and us really, her head-on collisions with political and religious figures meant that she made more enemies than friends and when the death threats became too loud to ignore she had to leave Iraq.

The other highlight was the couple of days I filmed at the Baghdad School of Ballet. You need to understand how chaotic life in Baghdad is to appreciate what the dance tutors were able to achieve for these kids inside the school walls. It was an oasis of calm and beauty.

There aren't many places like this in Baghdad anymore and what they had in this school was only achievable through the virtually heroic efforts of women who decide to leave the madness of our lives out of the dance studios. The school is still open but neither the boys nor the girls stay more than the age of 12. Many have been transferred to regular schools closer to their homes.

While the ballet school still has its doors open, many of the shops you see in the second film have closed. The whole street scene has changed as shop owners don't even bother with repairs anymore. Why spend money on repairs when the next bomb is inevitable?

It is obvious that you don’t get rich in Iraq by opening a grocery store. We all know the big money is made by those who wield the guns and power -- army, terrorists, private security, politicians, call them what you want -- and by those who are dealing with oil legally or through smuggling.

But making a film about these things as a local freelancer isn't easy. I actually got laughed off the Dora Oil Refinery grounds when I went there to ask for filming permission. My reaction to this was the decision to focus the film on the small man on the street and hopefully poke a little stick in the ribs of the big guys.

What still needs to be thoroughly investigated is the widespread corruption by Iraqi and American officials which resulted in the loss and theft of millions of dollars which should have bee spent on reconstruction.

-- From Baghdad Blogger Salam Pax
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