Order the summer edition here

Need to tell

Nowhere to Hide.
Regissør: Zaradasht Ahmed

A Norwegian film finally won at the world's largest documentary film festival in November – documentation of everyday life in Iraq, seen through the camera lens of an ordinary citizen who ends up as a refugee himself.



When Nori Sharif gets a camera from director Zaradasht Ahmed to film life in a small Iraqi town after Americans withdrew at the end of 2011, he decides to film people who "nobody knows about". One of them is a truck driver who lost both legs due to a car bomb, but who still feels that things could have been much worse. "I could have run over someone with the truck or been in jail, and I still have my kids," he says while one of his daughters helps him up in a wheelchair.

The truck driver's astonishing gratitude is just one surprising and touching moment in Nowhere to Hide, a documentary depicting the last four years in Iraq through the eyes of Sharif, a late-30s nurse and father of four children. Sharif's compassionate and poetic documentation is narrated with unabashed honesty, and presents a humanistic portrait of a hard-pressed people, very different from the television images that have been shown around the world in recent decades.

Darker focus. Sharif's narrative is remarkable in many ways: He provides an eyewitness account of the deteriorating political situation; he gives us access to everyday life as it is lived by ordinary people trapped in the constant conflict; and because Sharif's own life so dramatically during this period – he himself becomes a refugee – his personal story takes on dimensions like a novel by Tolstoy, where we sense and feel the events of the war through the tragic details of a single life.

The film begins with Sharif describing her life "as well ... my home with my lovely wife and my four children is an oasis". He apparently believes that the film project will simply be about presenting the untold stories to people around him. And if Sharif had actually just given us a picture of the townspeople, we would still have gone from the movie far wiser: Sharif introduces us to a shepherd boy with whom he amuses himself by teaching him a traditional dance; he gives a sensitive portrayal of a disabled woman whose "bed had become her only friend" and he reflects on the situation of the neighbors who "have the war going on inside".

But in 2013, Sharif's focus changes. The newly formed independent government in Iraq has become corrupt and dysfunctional. Waves of terrorism, some set in motion by Al Qaeda and ISIS, others by rival local tribes, are leading the country into a devastating trail. The hospital where Sharif works in his hometown of Jalawla is destroyed, and in 2015 his home is also destroyed. Sharif notices that he no longer just "documents other war victims – now I document myself".

The world must know. Nevertheless, Sharif continues to be deeply involved in the people around him. He takes on the duties of the doctors who have fled, and he takes part in the friends' pain – like when a neighbor tells him that he is not able to send his little son to school because he has to collect and sell plastic bottles for the family must survive.

In the midst of all this, Sharif admits that he is confused by the ever-changing religious and ethnic rivalry. "I do not understand this war, it is an undiagnosed war… you only see the symptoms," he says. “And one does not understand what kind of disease is causing the symptoms; the disease is hidden in the body. " He openly admits in a meeting with foreign doctors that it is impossible for him to know whether his own neighbors will turn against him or not.

Still, life goes on. We get to see weddings, and we get to see children laughing when they see planes in the sky. Sharif does not overlook this side of daily life, even though he is constantly drawn to the shadowy sides of the war: His camera lingers by a car full of bullet holes in which a child was killed; he quietly visits the home of a family where two children were kidnapped and beheaded without anyone knowing where or why.

When asked why he is filming all this, he simply answers "because I have to". Like many people who have had their lives turned upside down – and I have seen this among Holocaust survivors as well as after the genocides in Rwanda and Darfur – the need to let the world know what has happened to them becomes a kind of instinctive driving force, far beyond any attempt to win sympathy or get compensation.

In refugee camps. It is also instructive that Sharif's urge to communicate what has happened is combined with a degree of optimism and hope. Even when he and his family end up in a temporary refugee camp in the Iraqi desert with insufficient water supplies – 20 people crammed into two small rooms – he retains the belief that “when it comes down to it, the will to build will be stronger than the power of destruction ». His life-affirming statement brings to mind the famous words Anne Frank wrote in her iconic Holocaust diary: "After all, I still believe that people are good in their hearts."

Just as the story of a girl hiding in a back building in Amsterdam opened the world's eyes to the fate that befell an entire people, we can hope that this story about a nurse and his family can give a large audience a better understanding of who the people behind the term are. "Middle East refugees" really are.

Although the film does not say anything about whether Sharif wants to stay in Iraq or seek a new life in Europe or elsewhere, it is difficult to imagine a better citizen in any country. Hard-working, competent and highly motivated people like Sharif and many of his fellow refugees should not be forced to hide – instead, many, many places should welcome them with open arms.

The film will be shown at the Tromsø International Film Festival (January 16-22)

You may also like