Hometown Baghdad is a Chat the Planet production. Like Alive in Baghdad, Hometown Baghdad is a joint effort teaming American producers and other crew with Iraqi filmmakers to shed light on the every day reality of living in post-Saddam, post-Shock and Awe Baghdad. The series follows the hopes, fears, frustrations, and aspirations of three brave young Iraqi men – Adel, Ausama, and Saif – who long for normal lives.
Whereas so many American-made Iraq War documentaries examine the experiences of U.S. soldiers serving on the front lines, Hometown Baghdad goes into the oft ignored private hells of average citizens who must contend with Islamic militias, American military, infrastructure breakdowns, and the onset of despair for their country and their own livelihoods. Hometown Baghdad captures all this and more, much more: its portraits are simultaneously sad and absurdist, bleak pictures that perfectly translate the sense of impossible dislocation that comes from attempting to live as safe and sane an existence as possible in an urban battlefield. The very first episode, “Brains on Campus,” documents the destruction visited to Adel’s school by extremists poised to wipe out modern academics. The title refers to the brains of a murdered student that were covered over by an incongruous marble structure because they were irremovable from the ground. Episode seven, “Symphony of Bullets,” has multiple subjects cowering in their homes, afraid to leave due to the ceaseless cacophony of gunfire. Over the course of the series we not only learn a virtual taxonomy of pain and fear from Adel, Ausama, and Saif, but we learn about them, how Saif reacts to being forced to give up his dream of finishing dentistry school, or how Adel expresses his anger through heavy metal. It’s a terrific tapestry, though one that should ideally not exist.
The most engaging episodes of Hometown Baghdad are, unsurprisingly, the most emotionally wrenching. In “Mentally F’ed Up” Adel uses a camera (a good amount of footage was shot by the subjects themselves) to interview his younger brother after the child had just witnessed a man dying on the street from a gunshot wound. It’s harrowing viewing, especially when Adel comes to a crushing conclusion about such pernicious influences.