Rare documentary from inside Iraq follows the daily struggles of a nurse called Nori
The Human Rights Watch Film Festival closed with the screening of a brave and moving documentary, Nowhere to Hide (Zaradasht Ahmed). I took a friend as I had a feeling it would be too heart-breaking to watch alone. The film is entirely in Arabic and specifically in the Iraqi dialect, which being of Iraqi origin, made it so much more personal to me. I felt really connected to the characters, like they were part of my family. It was also strangely refreshing to be watching an Iraqi documentary on a western screen.
It is a documentary that follows the life of one individual, Nori Sharif, a male nurse who works in one of the most dangerous areas in Central Iraq, Diyala, dubbed the ‘triangle of death’. Diyala is a mainly Sunni region in Iraq, which during Saddam’s reign was relatively peaceful. Some Sunni communities enjoyed protection under Saddam Hussein, and were living comfortably. After the fall of Saddam in 2003, they felt hard done by as they lost a lot of their privileges. This created an increasing resentment and opened the doors to insurgent cells forming in the region. Initially they targeted Coalition forces as a sort of resistance, and this later evolved into sectarian violence. To contain these groups, the area was continually targeted by the Iraqi army.
Filmed by Nori himself in the first person, he is surprisingly good at videography. He has a friendly demeanour and is easy to watch. It feels like we, the audience, are there with him as he invites us into his world. The film begins with the withdrawal of the American forces in 2011 and we witness the jubilation and hope of the Iraqi people in becoming an independent nation. The film follows the everyday life of Nori as he works in Jalawla General Hospital. Nori explains to us how he has had to adapt his skills as a general nurse, from dealing with routine injuries to having to deal with much more complex ones due to the escalation of violence in the area.
Nori himself is a very sociable and giving person. A father of four, he introduces us to his wife and children. His family life is simple, but a sanctuary that allows him to deal with the rollercoaster of emotions his job takes him on. Nori shows us the resilience of the community around him, where one day they are dealing with the aftermath of a bombing and the next they are attending a wedding. This life of extremes is made possible due to the adaptability of the Iraqi people. They show their resilience by sharing their highs and lows with their family and friends.
We travel with Nori in the ambulance and we witness his courage as he is often first on the scene after a suicide bomb. We are visually introduced to the utter carnage of the aftermath, but we are spared the very graphic scenes as the director tastefully blurs the lens. This keeps the identity of the victims confidential. The viewer experiences the chaos and the fear of the moment, with people running around trying to locate loved ones.
Nori then heads to Jalawla General Hospital directly after a suicide bomb. We see the floor covered in blood, and the dead bodies piling up. The basic facilities in the emergency department mean that many people will lose their lives waiting to be treated. Having worked in hospitals in the UK, I can appreciate just how lucky we are to have the high standard of medical care we do.
Away from the hospital setting, Nori is keen to tell the story of the forgotten people whose lives have been entangled in this vicious war. Nori introduces us to a young woman that was caught in cross fire and was shot in the spine, leaving her partially paralysed. Nori comments that “her bed has become best friend”. The young woman looks at the camera hopelessly as her ambitions in life have been snatched away from her. She has become another victim to this senseless war.
As Nori tries to make sense of the dire situation ranging from abductions to beadings, we are left confused, as there is no logic to the war or the escalating violence. We hear news sound bites being thrown about, such as ‘sectarian violence’ or ‘tribal violence’, but it is clear that there is no way you can categorise Iraq’s turmoil in one box.
Another sad reality of Iraq is the decline of trust even within small communities. We witness this first-hand at one point when Nori recognises the suicide bomber’s accomplice at the scene of an explosion, and at another when Nori himself starts to suspect his own neighbours when a car is detonated near his home. We see him under great strain as he tries to comprehend the situation.
In 2014 the violence escalates and the doctors at Jalawla hospital are forced to flee. Nori is torn between being a selfless healthcare professional and protecting his family. Being in this professional myself I can understand his immense pain. The hospital represented a safe haven, a refuge, a hope and healing for everyone. He has played a big role in that, and this was his life the past 13 years.
After the film, we had an opportunity to speak to the director Zaradasht Ahmed. I am grateful to Ahmed for letting Nori show us his world, without the influence of the filmmaker. We see the stark truth of this brutal war from the inside.
Nori explains that the purpose of the war is to paralyse the will and determination of Iraqis. But despite this the Iraqi people’s will is not that easily broken. We live in a bubble in the west, where watching this film makes it feel almost impossible to cope, but as the director reminded us, “humans have power of adapting to anything”.
An old saying that Ahmed shared with us is “hell is good with people”. He added, “This idea of having a collective feeling helps you tackle the war. The Iraqi people are very good at sharing their sorrow and grief as well as their joy. This is their strength.” Nori’s sentiment in the movie is that “the will to build will always be stronger than the force of destruction”.
You may ask yourself, how do we help Nori and the Iraqi people? The simplest way is to get as many people as possible to watch this film. That includes getting people in power to watch it, be it in London and Washington. We need them to do more to protect civilians caught up in the violence.
I left the cinema feeling very unsettled with the state of the world. But every cloud has a silver lining, and I pray that this film highlights the plight of the people of Iraq and other regions of conflict. I hope it sways public opinion to have more empathy towards refugees. This film clearly demonstrates that to uproot yourself and your family, there must be a dire situation that you are escaping from. Just because we lead privileged lives here, it does not mean we should turn our backs on refugees.
See more reviews from this year’s HRWFF London as they are published.
Photo: London Human Rights Watch Film Festival
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