Here are some of the things we’ve experienced over the last 24 hours: Weather.com called for: Widespread Dust. And there was – thanks to a sand storm last night that blanketed everything (including our laptop computers!) in a thin layer of dirt. Lots of masks being worn on the streets today – which have an eerie orange glow. A cockroach in our house was so big, we weren’t sure whether to kill it or charge it rent. Our housemate, Carmen Gentile, did the deed, smashing the beast with his flip flop. Carcass remains at the bottom of the stairs. (As you can tell from our living room below, we do have lots of room for extra house guests.) This afternoon we heard about a killing in Abu Ghraib (the rural farm area, not the city). Information we had linked the victims to America, and we wanted to learn more. Our… LEARN MORE
“Let’s meet at the Winged Man,” or “See you at the Winged Man in 20 minutes,” or “The driver is almost at the Winged Man, let’s go.” Such is the talk around travel to/from the Baghdad International Airport which we did yesterday to meet General Fadel Barwari, the commander of the Iraqi Special Operation Forces (ISOF). The Winged Man is a statue of Abbas Ibn Firnas, Iraq’s very own Icarus. Back in the first century, Ibn Firnas tried to fly by sticking feathers onto a wooden frame (like a glider). He didn’t succeed. But he didn’t die either. And I think that’s the best way to sum up our last 24 hours. We didn’t accomplish much. But we didn’t die either. And, hey, Ibn Firnas had a crater on the moon named after him! After a quick start out of the gate our first day here, we’ve been humbled by… LEARN MORE
There’s a saying here in Iraq that goes something like this, “Money is your country.” What it means is: If you have money, you can feel at home everywhere you go. As soon as we touched down in Baghdad, it was clear that airport employees spend a good deal of time trying to make money their country. And we were an easy target. Too many cameras. Not enough paperwork. It was 119 degrees in Baghdad today. And there is no amount of dryness that keeps that from feeling anything but suffocating. Between the heat, two days of travel, and our extended stay, we thought we’d ease ourselves in. I had definitely led Kevin (D.P.) to believe that today would be a “get yourself acclimated” kind of day. But ten minutes into his afternoon snooze, I pulled the plug on acclimation. Sheikh Moustafa al-Kamal Shabib, a leader in the Sons of… LEARN MORE
There has been a lot going here in Plymouth in the last couple of months! We received a grant from the Cinereach Foundation for our film What Tomorrow Brings, which is still in the early phase of production. Due to the success of working with our interns throughout this year, we’re starting a more structured Intern Program – offering local students the opportunity for a hands-on experience in the world of documentary. The Promise to Freedom is taking form – we are currently cutting a rough cut of the film. As we watch the stories take shape, we are more excited than ever about the project. Stay tuned for more PP news! It’s going to be a busy summer.
Dahr Jamail, an independent U.S. reporter in Iraq, wrote recently on his site about the Iraq war as the ‘Forgotten’ War. As Afghanistan takes center stage in the U.S. media outlets, the occupation of Iraq takes a backseat. Yet, 130 thousand American troops and 114 thousand private contractors still remain in the country and approximately 400 Iraqi civilians continue to die each month. In addition to a lack of electricity and drought in-country threatening 2 million people with the possibility of no power or water, an astounding 4.5 million Iraqis have been displaced as refugees in other countries.
Thanks to support from the Gucci Tribeca Documentary Fund, our new film, The Promise of Freedom, was featured at the latest TED Conference. Mariane Pearl (activist, author and Exectuive Producer of the documentary, Resilient), Trevor Neilson and Michael Massing led a discussion about how filmmaking and journalism can help promote tolerance, hope and progress.
The number of Iraqis and other refugees from Afghanistan, Iran and Burma fleeing to Indonesia has greatly increased from 369 in 2008 to 2,504 in 2009. Refugee candidates applying to the UNHCR for resettlement must wait in a first country of asylum to be processed. Indonesia is a choice location due to the ease with which tourist visas can be procured. Additionally, a thriving human smuggling business provides transport for asylum seekers from Malaysia to Indonesia by boat. When the wait is months or even years, desperate refugees can pay up to $8,000 instead to be transported to the northernmost shores of Australia, thinking the chances of resettlement are better. Host countries struggle to deal with the problem of illegal refugees, while meanwhile refugees labor for freedom and a better life.
Congress has finally fixed a poorly drafted law that had barred Iraqi translators who came to the United States on Special Immigrant Visas from receiving the same federal benefits given to refugees and asylees. Special Immigrant Visas or SIVs were created by Congress in 2007 so that Iraqis whose lives were in danger because they worked for the U.S. military as translators could be quickly evacuated to the United States, bypassing the normal refugee processing. Last year, immigrant advocacy groups discovered that, due to drafting issues in the federal law, many of these SIV holders are legal permanent residents who are now subject to the five-year bar on federal Food Stamp/SNAP benefits, Medicaid, TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), employment services and not eligible for Social Security. For SIV holders, the current federal law permits only 8 months of the Refugee Resettlement Program (RRP) and all other federal benefits, and… LEARN MORE
After a week of much trepidation, I’m happy to say plans are falling into place. Iraqis who are on “the list” are signing up in droves to meet with Kirk Johnson, founder of The List Project, and Chris Nugent, a Holland & Knight attorney who is working pro bono on cases of U.S.-affiliated Iraqis who are in danger. As soon as we hit the ground, we expect to be bombarded by Iraqis who are desperate for help. We’ll be flying, driving and taking buses around the region…
Thanks to major funding from ITVS, “The Promise of Freedom” is coming to PBS! Sean and I had a phenomenal time in San Fransisco last week for ITVS Orientation – thanks Cheryl, Richard x2, Matt, Annelise, Jorge and the rest of the ITVS family! We also had the pleasure of eating the best dessert ever: cheese-based sorbet with olive oil and sea salt. Phenomenal. Now we just have to make a movie!
We do have BIG news to share… soon.
(Pictured: Beth Murphy and Sean Flynn at the TDF pitch table. Photo courtesy of Christian Pena.) Our project, The Promise of Freedom, was the first and only one at TDF to receive on-the-spot funding (for both production and outreach) at the pitch table.** Thank you Judith Helfand, Julia Parker Benello and Wendy Ettinger! (Read my blog entry on Chicken & Egg Pictures site, too.) We also received a commitment for distribution and support for making a pre-sale. It is phenomenally exciting, and I’m looking very forward to our follow up meetings tomorrow with some commissioning editors. There was really only one way to celebrate: meal seven of sushi. And the Ryan Harrington fan that I am, I couldn’t miss the International Premiere of P-Star Rising. I didn’t want it to end. P-Star and her Dad showed up after the film, and, surrounded on the sidewalk under a full moon, P-Star… LEARN MORE
It is a beautiful sunny day here in Boston as I make the final preparations for our trip to Hot Docs. My biggest concern the last few days has been making sure Beth and I have all the materials we need to pitch The Promise of Freedom both in the Good Pitch forum and at the many informal networking events offered by the festival. On the packing list right now are 50 DVDs of The Promise of Freedom trailer and sample scene, 30 DVDs of our previously completed work Beyond Belief , 3 copies of the 4-minute screener we’ll be using during our pitch, and a whole armload of proposals and budgets. Our schedule for the week is packed with film screenings, Rendezvous meetings, panel discussions and of course the big pitch on Thursday, May 7. I’ll try to report back with notes from as many of these events as… LEARN MORE
Reports that “the surge is working” in Iraq have given Americans permission to say, “Thank God. We don’t have to worry about that anymore.” And now the media, too, are off to fight the good war in Afghanistan. Despite the fact that the United States is fighting a war in Iraq, only two percent (often less) of all our news coverage is focused on Iraq. A new Columbia Journalism Review article does a good job outlining what’s going on with our collective conscience.
In another example of the dangers facing displaced Iraqis trying to return home, the U.S. News and World Report has reported on a new tactic insurgents are using in Diyala province: The destroyed homes are the result of one of Al Qaeda in Iraq’s latest strategies—converting homes into bombs, or “house-borne improvised explosive devices,” as they’ve been dubbed. It’s a tactic particular to this province, which is a combustible mix of Sunni, Shiite, and Kurdish residents… Over the past year, some 60 dwellings were destroyed by AQI. Many were demolished as fighters fled when U.S. and Iraqi Army units bore down on their positions. AQI fighters also conceal mines and IEDs in the lush palm and date groves around the area. Efforts are being made to defuse these bombs and reestablish security as some refugees begin to return: In response to the dozens of households moving back to the area,… LEARN MORE
The Chicago Daily Herald has written a nice profile piece of Kirk and the origins of The List Project. Kirk is one of the main subjects of our upcoming documentary The Promise of Freedom. Here’s a video profile we recently did on Kirk as a sample for the Pulitzer Center-sponsored YouTube contest Project:Report…
Elizabeth Ferris and Navtej Dhillon wrote an interesting piece in The Guardian yesterday that explores the demographic effects of the Iraqi refugee crisis. Here’s an excerpt from the article, entitled “Iraq’s Missing Generation”: Youth, not oil, is Iraq’s most precious asset in building a stable and prosperous future. In 2002, before the US invasion, around 60% of Iraq’s population was under the age of 30 – many with high school and university education. Today, too many of those young people are among the 2.2 million Iraqi refugees living in countries such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon. As Iraq takes important steps towards national reconciliation and economic development, no one is paying attention to young Iraqi refugees. Their plight is largely portrayed through a sectarian lens. But when the focus shifts to the age of those uprooted, it is clear that a large number are young men and women, struggling with… LEARN MORE
From the website of Sen. Robert Casey: WASHINGTON, DC- U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced legislation that would require the Secretary of State to develop a comprehensive regional strategy to address the mass displacement of Iraqis. To date, Congress has not passed any significant legislation addressing the needs of millions of Iraqis who have been forced to flee from their homes. “The Bush Administration lacks a comprehensive regional strategy to address the mass influx of Iraqi refugees into neighboring countries,” said Senator Casey. “We have a moral responsibility to help the millions of Iraqis who have been displaced from their homes. It is my hope that this bill will take the necessary first steps to develop a long-term strategy to address the needs of vulnerable Iraqis.” “The lack of planning on the part of this administration and the absence of any long-term comprehensive plan to deal… LEARN MORE