'Baghdad High': Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter

The Boys from Baghdad High / Baghdad High (TV, 2008)

Dir.: Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter. Featuring: Hayder Khalid, Mohammad Raed, Anmar Refat, Ali Shadman


Baghdad High by Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter


Baghdad High by Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura WinterWhen I sat down to watch Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter's Baghdad HighThe Boys of Baghdad High in the United Kingdom, where it was initially shown – I didn't know what to expect.

Baghdad High is a documentary about four Baghdad male youths entering their final year of high school. They have each been given cameras and asked to document their experiences. The year is 2006, which was a grueling time for Iraq. In October '06, the month they began school, 2,722 Iraqis were killed – most of them because of their ethnicity and/or religious backgrounds.

Each of the four boys – Hayder, Anmar, Ali, and Mohammad – belong to a different ethnic/religious group (Christian, Kurd, Shia, and Sunni). After taking a crash course in filmmaking, they set out to record their day-to-day lives: a total of 300 hours of footage compiled and eventually edited down to just under ninety minutes. (Johnny Burke was credited for the film's editing.) As a result, Baghdad High focuses on the lives and families of the four young men rather than on Iraqi or world politics (though Saddam Hussein's trial verdicts are shown).

While beginning to watch Baghdad High, I was expecting to be enlightened, awakened, maybe drop a few tears, and develop my empathetic qualities. When introduced to a documentary that explores the lives of young men in a war-torn country, in a city where bombings, shootings, and curfews were a daily occurrence, I assumed that I would see something completely unfamiliar; for that reason, expectations were raised to delirious levels. Instead, what I found in Baghdad High was something close to my own experiences, to my own memories of my friends, but with an added backdrop of war that had me wondering about my “problems” growing up.

In those days, I tried to understand the doctrine that everyone suffers from something different and that degrees of suffering are relative to one's own surroundings. This belief is supposed to allow an individual to both forgive and forget his suffering. Baghdad High, however, does not allow one to forgive or forget. That's not because the film offers an overly violent and traumatic look at the teenagers' lives; in fact, it's because Baghdad High does the very opposite. It shows a background of unrelenting violence while the boys' continue living their lives. That approach makes whatever muddy waters we run through seem like clear spring streams.

Baghdad High covers a period of about one year, from fall to summer, the beginning and end of their final year of high school. It is separated by short intertitles giving bits of information, and the rest is narrated either visually or orally by the boys' handheld digital cameras. The cameras, in fact, become a part of the boys' personalities, as they need them as outlets for their ever-rising emotions and worries. The cameras aren't just objects – they are us, the viewers to whom they are speaking. The teenagers are fully aware of their audience and are eager for us to both see and get to know them.

Therefore, the boys use the cameras as mini confessionals that offer insights into their thoughts and passions. As their personalities shine through, I was instantly swept up by their charm and honesty. Their cameras reveal fears, joys, family struggles, special moments between friends, thus creating an incredible portrait of Iraq as seen through the eyes of that country's youth – those who are not concerned with the politics behind what is happening, but only that what is happening must stop.

Their lives are constantly measured by bombings and attacks, and yet, at times they are as afraid of facing their final exams as of being shot at. In other words, they are not desensitized to the violence around them; they understand it as something that is relative to the rest of their experiences.

What most amazed me is how similar those teenagers were to my friends and myself. Now, I should add that my finding that amazing amazed me. After all, why shouldn't they be similar to me? It makes sense that teenagers anywhere are going through similar problems and changes. O'Mahoney and Winter's film, in fact, is about people who are similar to us, even while going through something entirely different.

I know people who worry about violence happening. Those boys do not worry about violence happening because it is happening all the time. They worry that it might happen to them, or to their friends and family.

Baghdad High has reached North America through HBO Documentary Films and will be airing on Monday, August 4 at 9 pm. For more information, check out HBO's website.

© Keith Waterfield

'Baghdad High': Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter © 2004–2018 Alt Film Guide and/or author(s).
Text NOT to be reproduced without prior written consent.

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3 Comments to 'Baghdad High': Ivan O'Mahoney and Laura Winter

  1. Freddie

    This film was a true eye-opener. It gives the TRUE feelings and visions of the youth in Iraq. While watching this film, I noticed that despite the differences in each of their lives/beliefs, these young men lived each day to the fullest with a smile. Even though there is so much going on around them, they still keep their love and friendship for one another strong. Everyone should see this film to get an inside look at a part of what the youth around the world hopes/fears/and deals with each day.



  3. Kathleen

    Baghdad High was an incredible documentary. This film touched my heart in so many ways. I think it is wonderful for citizens of America and from all over the world to see the struggles the citizens of Iraq have to face everyday. A large majority of Americans have decided that everyone from Iraq are the enemy. It is really great that this documentary showed the lives of the innocent people stuck in the middle of all this hell. I hope that all Americans who have watched this wake up and realize just how great they have it in life. I have always known how lucky I am to wake up every morning feeling safe, and this documentary opened my eyes even more. The lives of those young men and there families have touched me in such a way that I will remember them for the rest of my life. Those young men are such lovable, sweet people. I have not been this excited over a documentary in a long time. After being glued to the T.V through out the whole film, I was very sad when it came to in end. I want more. I want to see how they are doing today.

    To all the people who took part in the making of this film, I would just like to say THANK YOU. I am so touched by this and I hope everyone else who watches it has the same great experience that I did.

    27 yrs, Massachusetts U.S.A