Life, Unscripted

BY DAN-CHYI CHUA
Mar 18, 2009
*Special to asia!

Two Americans bring an Iraqi boy maimed and blinded by the war back to the United States for treatment. Filmmaker Abdullah Boushahri tells a side to this true story that questions their good intentions.

Shooting between four countries, between Iraq, Kuwait, London and the U.S., over a year and a half, in deserts, airplanes, snow, big cities, borders, airports, on the ground,, and above the ground. All these things were obstacles we faced. Especially at the borders and on the planes, I shot without permission. I didn't know what was going to happen. I only knew that I had a camera and I had characters that were living their lives and I was following them. Based on their moves I would do my filming.

When I was in New York, I was captured by the FBI. I was held almost an hour by around twenty cops. I was questioned, had my background checked and they kept asking me questions about my purpose of being there.

As soon as the policeman knew I was from a Middle Eastern background, when he got my ID and read my name Abdullah, he told me that he had all the reasons to detain me. I told him that he was doing his job and I was doing mine as a film-maker; I am not doing anything wrong. He suggested I was shooting high buildings, which to me was funny. That's all there were in New York. But I couldn’t tell him that. He was trying to be a tough cop, but in the end he couldn’t find anything against me and they let me go.

To me it wasn't an easy film to shoot. It was unique to me because as a film-maker, I am used to either writing my story on paper, organise it, have everything scheduled and shoot; or maybe find my subject and go produce a documentary about it. That means easy access for me to my subject or at least I know where to find it or where to go to look for it.

In Ahmad's case, what made it interesting—and also difficult at the same time—was that I had lost the child for almost a year. I kept trying to find him and his family for almost a year, so that issue of trying to find my subject became a challenge for me as a film-maker, and at the same time, as a human being because you see I was ditched by an American organisation, a non-profit organisation.

I had a film and then somebody took it from me. It was incomplete, it was unfinished. I met somebody, with whom I had a nice relationship but after which I didn’t know what happened to this person: was he dead or alive, could he see? So I was stuck. I myself was lost as a filmmaker, I was lost between four countries, I was lost in my film, I was lost in what to do, in what to say and what to film. I even filmed trees for this film, believe it or not. I filmed these trees that were in Washington DC, where I was looking for Ahmad, and somebody told me that these trees were from Japan and they only become like this, have white flowers two weeks in the year and then they fall.

To be honest it is risky because you are spending money and time, filming something that you don't know if it’s going to end up in the film. Or you might end up with nothing. But to me that was more exciting. I was discovering everyday that there was a new thing, that there was a surprise, a new ending to the film, unlike a regular film where you have stories on paper and your characters and you know what is going to happen.

Lots of people put up walls for me not to continue this film, for reasons such as business, for competition, and restrictions and laws.

 

border security

A security official stopped filmmaker Abdullah Boushahri from filming at the Kuwait-Iraq border when he was on his way to meet Ahmad for the first time with the American aid workers.

 

I think it was just a feeling inside that made me not give up. I felt that there was always hope out there to continue the film and I had a feeling that I can finish it and the story wasn't just that, when I lost Ahmad.

Another reason was that I had made a promise to Saad that I would tell Ahmad's story, that I would finish it. He wanted to help his brother and he wanted me to.

He did the impossible. He actually died trying to help his brother. The meaning of losing was spread throughout the film while I was doing it, and in the story itself. I, the film-maker, lost Ahmad for a year, Ahmad lost his sight and lost the meaning of life in many ways—he lost his brother Saad during the making of the film; the father lost his son and almost lost Ahmad.

 

The Children

I ended up seeing how a child like Ahmad is an example of an Arabic child or any child in the world, who is a victim of any war that happens to any society.

The ones in society who are the most vulnerable are children and in any war situation or any after-war situation, they could be victims to any of these societies or even just to war itself. They could be affected physically, psychologically, socially in many ways and that we should be aware of.

We should really take attention too because a child at this age is what is going to make him later. This is what he is going to become, what he goes through at this age so we are raising a society when we raise these children. We are raising a generation when we are raising these children.

Some people asked if I was suggesting that they are not helping these children and that they are abusing these children. I said no. They are helping children but they might also have other intentions as well. I left it to the audience.

I developed a very close relationship with the family and with Ahmad himself. They still telephone me once in a while, and he is doing OK, in fact better.

 

abdullah boushahri meets ahmad's father

Filmmaker Abdullah Boushahri met Ahmad's father (right) who was taking Ahmad to the US for his second round of treatment because Saad had been killed.


I learned that even in the most difficult situation, a child like Ahmad was laughing and cheering and sharing great moments with me. He lost his sight, he lost an arm, but he was still able to joke and laugh—even in the most difficult of situations.

He was seven when I started filming so by now he is almost nine. He developed his character and charisma and personalities during and even after making the film. He has become different, grown up into a funny guy and to me that was “wow”, how someone his age facing such a situation (with war and everything) can become such a funny spirit.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi