about the film
Adnan Ghazi’s life was ruined by a tragic sequence of
events that landed him in Iraq’s criminal justice system
under foreign occupation. At the end of 2003, Adnan was arrested
for stealing two meters of electric cable. This type of crime
is widespread throughout the country. Cable is looted and
melted down for scrap metal, hindering efforts toward reconstruction.
It is considered a serious crime against the state.
Adnan was arrested, he was brought to the police station in
a small town just outside Baghdad. There, he claims to have
been beaten by the police until he confessed to the theft.
He was moved to the Karkh Juvenile Detention facility to await
his trial. Almost two hundred boys are incarcerated there.
The inmates range from small time felons to murderers and
Adnan had been imprisoned for two months, two of the inmates
attempted to escape by starting a fire. A number of boys were
trapped in the fire. Twenty-one were taken to the hospital.
Three died from smoke-inhalation. The others had severe burns
ranging from thirty to eighty percent of their bodies. Of
the survivors, Adnan was the most badly burned. He lost his
ears and the flesh on his hands and scalp. On a slow path
to an incomplete recovery, Adnan’s greatest desire was
to be released from prison, return to his family and reconcile
with his father.
filmmaker, I entered the story two weeks after the fire. I
had been trying to gain access to the prison for about three
weeks, but the secrecy of the American contractors overseeing
it, the bureaucracy of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, and
the unfortunate event of the fire, all contributed to the
fact that I would never be permitted inside the facility.
Instead, I tracked down Adnan and the other victims of the
fire a few blocks away in Al-Karkh Hospital. By filming Adnan
and then visiting his family, I became a conduit between them,
carrying video messages back and forth.
Adnan was first imprisoned, out of anger for his disobedience
and bad behavior, his father Abu Mustafa swore to Allah he
would never visit his son in jail. But, upon learning that
Adnan had been burned, Abu Mustafa was moved to visit him.
Adnan’s plight is only one of numerous worries for his
father. Abu Mustafa is unemployed and lives on a pension of
roughly thirty-five dollars per month. He has a wife, three
sons and four daughters to feed in a poor town where water
is scarce. Abu Mustafa would almost prefer to be rid of Adnan,
going so far as to say, “it would be better if he died
in the fire.” Abu Mustafa often seeks refuge in his
interpretation of Islam. Shirking responsibility, he attributes
every hardship to the will of God.
is no such thing as an ordinary or typical Iraqi family. The
Ghazis are neither. They are dynamic, quirky, abusive and
amusing. Their days are spent collecting water when it is
available and preparing the little food they have, all the
while laughing together, fighting with each other, but somehow
managing to maintain a strong family unit. Some of the most
touching moments of the film show intimate moments of the
family’s daily life: the baking of bread, strange Sufi
rituals, and an unsettling undertone of domestic abuse. I
had privileged access to their home, their life, and their
thoughts. I was even permitted to spend time with and film
the women in the family, including those of marrying age.
This access is rare in Iraq and important.
Meanwhile, Adnan continues to suffer in the prison wing of
the hospital. The facility is filthy, understaffed, and undersupplied.
The care he receives is inconsistent. He is fortunate to undergo
skin-graft operations by a very competent Iraqi cosmetic surgeon.
But often he goes for days without his bandages being changed.
He is afraid and alone. Only with occasional visits and nurturing
from his family does he gradually show some signs of physical
and emotional recovery.
are also moments of joy within the family. Adnan’s brother
Mustafa and his new wife Ahlam eagerly await the delivery
of their first baby. When she arrives, Mustafa names her Noor
before leaving the delivery room. The name “Noor”
means light and she indeed brings new light into the family’s
dwelling. But, his brother’s blessing only torments
Adnan further. “My brother had a baby. I should be there
to share this joy with him.” So he waits and prays to
spite of the prison’s negligence and the failures of
the American contractors responsible for its oversight and
rehabilitation, no compensation has been made to Adnan or
his family. As months go by, the story builds toward Adnan’s
official trial. The family seeks to navigate a corrupt and
Kafkaesque justice system. At times, there are high hopes
for Adnan’s release. Even Abu Mustafa finds himself
making efforts to help secure his son’s freedom.