With his moving new documentary “The Wind Of Al-Amal” following several refugees from Iraq in the US, director Fredric Lean offers a completely different perspective about this monstrous war. Smartly using the textures of b roll and gorgeous animation, Mr. Lean takes us on an “edge-of-your-seat” journey. By the end, you really want to join the freedom fighters of democracy anywhere around the globe!
Emmanuel Itier: Tell us about some of the other Iraqi refugees you were able to interview for the film.
Fredric Lean: The second person I met was Haider. He’s my hero! He is a humanitarian and a pacifist with a knock-out kick! He’s a black belt in taekwondo. He’s like a Jedi in “Star Wars” for me. Do you remember the 80’s song “Alive and Kicking”? That’s him! His story is incredible. He spent 7 years in one of the worst refugee camps at the time at the border of Iraq and Saudi Arabia. His application to be resettled to another country kept pending for years and years. After all the trauma he went through in his camp and the horrible things he saw there, he kept his sense of humor. He now lives in the US and has a son who, ironically, was born on September 11th.
His story is very important because (like Laith) he’s helping Iraqis in his own way. Haider and his friend, Kathy Murphy, an humanitarian activist, have created a humanitarian organization which ships medical supplies, water filters and other things that Iraqis from Basrah need desperately (which is shown in the movie). He was the only Iraqi I found who was willing to go back to Iraq and film.
EI: Why didn’t you personally go and film in Iraq?
FL: To hire private security staff over there is very expensive and I did not have a budget. Iraq is still one of the most dangerous places for foreigners. I would have had to have a budget for my security, the security of people helping me over there and then be accepted by the locals. It is very complicated…even today.
EI: Tell us about Alaa,
FL: Alaa was introduced to me by a friend of mine, Melissa Wrinkler. Alaa is an amazing woman; A real inspiration! The first time I met her I knew she was special. She has so much charisma and is so strong but, as the same, she is so fragile. After the first few minutes of our first interview, it all became very emotional. I was moved not only by her tragic story but also by her amazing kindness and devotion to other people. At the time, she was a case manager at The International Rescue Committee (THEIRC) and I saw a lot of refugees considering her almost like their personal guardian angel. I needed a woman’s voice to contrast Haider and Laith in the film. She was perfect.
EI: Was “The Wind Of Al-Amal” a feature project from the beginning?
FL: I did not want to make a 52 or 45 minutes doc. The relationship between the audience and the characters needs time to grow. There’s so much information on the subject like this that I felt a shorter doc would have not been enough.
EI: You have other people involved (like the famous American intellectual and activist:Noam Chomsky] as well as diplomats, scholars, and journalists. All these people were against the invasion from the beginning. However, why didn’t you include pro-war people?
FL: I don’t like to trick people when I film them. Unlike some other filmmakers who make you feel you’re a friend at the beginning of the interview then become aggressive just to get tension moments for their film, that’s not me. I always explain to my subject how the interview will progress before the shoot and how it will be connected in the film. I did try to get pro-war people on screen. But guess what? They all turned me down.
EI: What do you want the audience to remember from your film:
FL: I guess I’d like them to see “The Wind of Al-Amal” as a film about underdog stories, and a film about change, struggle and hope. Because of Saddam’s relationship with the rest of the world, people in the West have been bombarded by negative images about Iraq. Saddam was suppressing the voices of his own people yet somehow, the media focused only on Saddam with the wars, the oil crisis, violence and genocide. However, we very rarely heard the perspective of the Iraqi people themselves. These people went through a lot of terrible situations. They went through a dictatorship. They went through the Iran/Iraq War. The First Gulf War. The economic sanctions in the 90’s (which probably killed more children than the 2 invasions combined). Then the war with the West and now the sectarian violence.
Can you imagine how to survive all this and not go nuts? I’d go nuts! For me, I;d say the message is that we are all refugees. These stories are simply stories of hope and rebound after being abandoned and losing almost everything. Alaa, Laith and Haider’s stories can speak to anyone, regardless if you are a refugee by necessity or by choice,.It is a story about change, struggle and hope.
By Emmanuel Itier