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Life in Baghdad

Filmmakers strive to document everyday Iraqi opinion.

George Mason University student Marwa Alkhairo still has a lot of family in Baghdad. When she heard that a documentary film was available that depicted the opinions of everyday Iraqis about the war, she worked with the film's producers to have a screening of the trailer on the college campus. She wanted others to see how the aftermath of the war, sanctions and dictatorship have affected the everyday lives of ordinary citizens.

"It's just really important because they have seen this stuff in the media," the Leesburg resident said of the audience.

Filmmakers with InCounter Productions aired the 14-minute trailer of their documentary "About Baghdad" to the audience of over 140 students and area residents on Feb. 16 at George Mason's Harris Theater. The film was shot and produced by a group of academics and students affiliated with Georgetown University.

The film depicts an exiled Iraqi poet, Sinan Antoon, returning to Baghdad after 12 years in exile. The camera follows Antoon for the month of July 2003 as he interviews Iraqi citizens about the war and the last 35 years of life in Iraq.

"We went to put a human face on war, because it affects people," said Maya Mikdashi, a master's student in the Arab Studies program at Georgetown University and one of three producers with InCounter Productions who answered questions after the trailer's screening. "It's not about electricity grids, missiles."

ALTHOUGH THE FILMMAKERS had been prepared to see strong views against Saddam Hussein or U.S. occupation, what they saw was overwhelming fatigue and weariness from war, sanctions, and years of dictatorship.

"We were confronted with a wall of suffering, or something deeper than that," Mikdashi said.

Mikdashi continued that many of the people they spoke to were relieved that Saddam's dictatorship had toppled but were growing frustrated at the lack of infrastructure and guidance that existed after the war. Some who were interviewed suggested that the decision to set up American military outposts at former strongholds or palaces felt like a transference of power from one controlling body to the next.

"Pretty much, everyone we spoke to said, we just want results. Let's just see what happens," Mikdashi said.

The crew also talked to American soldiers, many of whom felt they lacked direction or had wanted to help.

"Soldiers didn't really understand why they were there," said Suzy Salamy, an InCounter producer and filmmaker living in New York City.

What many audience members took from the screening was the helplessness many Iraqis had felt about their situation.

"It sounds like they have a lot of psychic pain going on," said audience member Doug Graney, a teacher at Herndon High School.

InCounter Productions hopes to finish the documentary for an April release. For the past several months, it has gone coast-to-coast presenting the trailer to audiences. The producers have had 30 screenings so far.

"It's good to see that a small group of people went to make a film," said Jeff Sayed, a George Mason University student. "It's something different that what you see in the media. I was glad to see the people-to-people contact."