Documentarians Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter give us an eye-opening introduction to the realities of teenage life in Baghdad by presenting four Iraqi lads with digital cameras with which to document their senior year in high school. Baghdad High, cut from the students' footage, is the result of their four-way year-long personal video diary-like shoot.
Who Are The Filmmakers?
In their individual diary-like segments, presented for some inexplicable reason with disquieting chartreuse light, they turn their cameras on themselves and, in full face close up head shots, confess their concerns for their families and the future. We get the idea that they, after passing their high school exams, plan to move to greener pastures in the north of the country, away from the constant conflict--bombings, fires, gunshots--that threatens them in Baghdad.
With their cameras, they take us into their homes, and introduce us to their families. We see their mothers preparing food, and sit down to dine with them. We meet relatives who've moved in with them because they've had to give up their own homes. One of the boys assists his father in draining gasoline from the family car, so that the family generator can be fueled. Their lives are, to put it mildly, stressed.
Mohammed And His Mouse
Does Good Cause Equal Good Film?
Unfortunately, it isn't a very good film. Why? The footage is undistinguished and rough--not because it was shot secretly or under duress or in adverse conditions, but because the hands holding the cameras weren't skilled and the eyes framing the shots were not those of artists or keen observers. The lead characters, with the possible exception of Mohammed, have little charisma. And, oddly enough, this documentary about surviving a war torn environment, suffers from lack of conflict. In fact, it's only tense moments are when an extremely unappealing and grumpy teacher yells at the boys, when one boy from the vantage point of his rooftop directs his camera at a fire several blocks away and when the boys collectively react to nearby gunshots.
Ultimately, the film fails because it doesn't deliver the drama of the boys-cum-cameramen's difficult situations. That's probably because they didn't have a director in place to call the shots and design the coverage. The editor, credited as Johnny Burke, could only cut what he had--and that just didn't provide enough ammunition for an explosive expose of what it's like for kids--in Iraq or anywhere--to walk through war.