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Hometown Baghdad: Living in a War Zone | The Nation

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Hometown Baghdad: Living in a War Zone

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Emily Freeburg

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April 3, 2007

Adel is showing me around his college campus in Baghdad, and we stop in front of a round cement platform covered with red plastic. "Two years ago our school was attacked by a missile and a student was killed here, and his brain was right there. They tried to wash it way but they couldn't, so they put that (the plastic) on it to cover it."

But I am not in Iraq, I am on YouTube, in the safety of my living room.

For three months, Adel, Ausama and Saif have been filming their friends and their lives.

The "webisodes" were launched on March 19, on the four-year anniversary of the Iraq war, and will continue to be released three times a week through the end of May of 2007 on HometownBaghdad.com. Some of the footage will also be aired on mtvU, MTV's 24-hour college network.

The project is a partnership between Iraqi filmmakers Ziad Turkey and Fady Hadid and Chat the Planet, a New York-based youth dialogue media company. Chat the Planet has previously produced shows where young Americans "chat" via live video link to Iraqi students, both before and after the beginning of the war.

Wiretap's Emily Freeburg caught up with Fady Hadid, age 23, the producer of the series and a student at the University of Baghdad.

WireTap: It's amazing that right now, despite everything, you can work with an American media company, Chat the Planet. What forms does your collaboration take, and what does the relationship mean for you?

Fady Hadid:

I became in contact with Chat in a previous project that I co-produced for them, which was an episode for Chat the Planet called Baghdad 2-Way, and we made that episode without even meeting each other in person.

I learned about Chat through the website of TakingITGlobal.org, since they are partners, I was excited to work on that project with them. After finishing [Baghdad 2-Way] we stayed in contact through emails and instant messaging, and we became friends. It is overwhelmingly amazing for me to make such projects while we are half a world apart. This just emphasizes to me how humans can interact despite different backgrounds, tongues and long distances.

WT: Do you know of other groups working with Americans on projects -- would you say it is unusual?

FH:

I personally don't know other groups working with Americans on such a project, and even if there are other groups, they would be as careful and discreet about it as we are, because such works probably become life-threatening to the Iraqis who are living here.

WT: You said it is more dangerous to stand on the street holding a camera than to stand on the street holding a gun. What challenges did you face filming?

FH:

It is always a challenge to shoot some footage in the streets of Baghdad, because film crews have always been targets of assassinations and kidnapping. Fortunately we didn't have such incidents during the shooting of Hometown Baghdad, because we were so careful, and we have become more experienced in dealing with such matters.

One time though, the crew had to go to one of the most disturbed and dangerous area in Baghdad to shoot one of the casts. We were all afraid of going there because even ordinary people can be targeted in such areas if they're not from these areas. The streets were deserted and the walls were full of graffiti of insurgency slogans. The Iraqi army was there, too, patrolling the streets, and they stopped us several times and frisked us and checked the car before they let us go.

WT: From the videos, it seems most young Iraqis want to leave Iraq. What does that do to your culture? Do you know many Iraqis who have left? Are you in touch with them?

FH:

The violence here has pushed millions of Iraqis to flee outside Iraq in order to save their own lives and to try to find proper lives somewhere else. I believe that distorts our sense of belonging in some way. It is hard for most of us to leave, because we had our lives here, but it's even harder to stay and not to have any lives at all. I've known a lot of people who already left, most of my friends, some of my family members and all of my co-workers. Being alone here is also hard. Yes, I am in touch with them from time to time.

WT: What is your hope for Iraq?

FH:

I hope that Iraqis can get their own peaceful lives back, and to get their homes back. I hope things would settle down so we can start rebuilding our country and civilization.

WT: What is your hope from this project?

FH:

I hope that this series would give a good insight about the lives of young Iraqis and how they're dealing with daily difficulties in a way that other people in the world can relate to. I hope that it will balance out the stereotypical images of Iraqis that are shown in the media and make people consider us as humans and not just numbers in the news.

To watch all of the latest episodes, or to subscribe to video podcasts, visit HometownBaghdad.com.

More about the cast:

--Adel
--Ausama
--Saif

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