Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Iraqdoc 2007- some additional thoughts

afp photo joseph eid
AFP-Joseph Eid

First of all, thanks to Micah Holmquist and Rob Payne and Fatina Salaheddine on your support and words of encouragement. Sorry I haven't mentioned these fine folks sooner but I've been under the weather for about a week now. I'm grateful also to journalist Nir Rosen, author of In the Belly of the Green Bird, who wrote back to me this past week regarding my plans. From his e-mail:
dear jonathan, thanks for contacting me. unfortunately your plan is impossible and suicidal. I don't even think the iraqis would let you across the border, since they would assume any westerner attempting to cross into iraq by land is crazy. you would be kidnapped and beheaded shortly after entering iraq. likewise in iraq, assuming you flew in to baghdad, you could not travel around any more. even iraqis cannot, they are restricted to their own neighborhoods where their militias protect them. a white person or an obvious foreigner would be kidnapped and killed very quickly, and even the wrong kind of iraqi would not survive the checkpoints.

Now, I am not particularly white nor am I necessarily an obvious foreigner, but naturally his words give me pause. (Rosen did suggest that just visiting Kurdistan might be less problematic.)As you may already know, Rosen spent the better portion of 2003-2006 in Iraq, tracking the disintegration that occurred and is still occurring to Iraqi society, often under exceptionally dangerous conditions. (Undoubtedly I would have been better off if I'd gone in 2005, or even earlier.) I noted in the comment exchange in the previous post that if I didn't raise enough money to go to Iraq this fall I would contribute the funds I'd raised to an outfit propagating "citizen documentaries" in Iraq. Said outfit is "Alive in Baghdad" which I heard about from the BBC:

"Alive in Baghdad:
Personal films about life in the war-torn capital - made by Iraqis themselves
" The founder of Alive in Baghdad is Brian Conley, a 26-year-old American journalist and film-maker. He went to Baghdad and gave equipment and training to the small team of Iraqis who now produce a new short film every week. [Conley said] he wanted to escape what he calls "live from" journalism. "Essentially, there's something lost when you send someone from another part of the world, or with a specific audience in mind, to tell another individual's story. "We are striving to build journalism in the voice of locals, so that people in different parts of the world can communicate almost directly to their audience around the world." The footage is shot by Iraqis and edited in the United States. The website has survived until now on donations from foundations and individuals. Staff in Iraq receive a small salary. US staff are not paid.

There's no doubt his fledgling organization deserves a chance to succeed and to be heard.

I'm still going, in some fashion; even if I can't get in the country, many options exist: I could go to Jordan, and/or Syria, to try to talk to displaced Iraqis there, and document their experiences. From what I've seen of US television news, the 50,000 people a month who are being forced out of Iraq are pretty much invisible on MSNBC and CNN, etc. Or I could go to Kurdistan. At this point my intention is to try to raise funds until mid-September, at which point I'd donate them to if I fall substantially short of where I need to be. (Interestingly, round trip tickets to Amman or Beirut or Van in southeastern Turkey are all about the same, around 1400-1450 bucks.) I still don't have a passport($97.00), but since that is an item of intrinsic use to me apart from the project, I don't think it's reasonable for me to devote Iraqdoc funds to that as opposed to paying for it myself.

A note on distribution: one of the admirable things about Conley's project is that all the films (over 50 at this point) are freely available to download at his site. Last week Arvin told me he was concerned about my raising funds for a commercial venture, and how sticky that could get. When he said this to me I realized that I'd been expecting people to magically read my mind all this time and automatically infer that I meant to make the finished product of Iraqdoc 2007 freely available under a creative commons license, which is my intention. This is in part because I was also concerned about potential legal(and tax-related) difficulties, and because I don't have much use (or any reasonable hope) for the arty film festival scene, partly because going that route may reinforce in many peoples' minds the stereotype about how being against the war is a "limosine liberal" preoccupation, as opposed to something we should all care about and hope to realize.