Nice Bombs Re-release

On March 20, 2003 the United States began it’s “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq. Usama and I had been married for one year and ten days. It suddenly occurred to him that, with the Ba’ath party dismantled, he could return to his birthplace in Baghdad. Now, after receiving political asylum and then U.S. citizenship, he could go back and see his family who had been living there under harsh sanctions and a brutal dictatorship. My husband came out of the shower and said that he heard a voice in his head telling him to go and it would be ok. It was kind of a crazy reason to jump into a war zone, but somehow I trusted that voice too. I told him I wouldn’t let him go alone.

me shopping in iraqBy January 2004, Usama and I found ourselves walking the streets of Baghdad. Our families in the U.S. didn’t want us to go. Usama’s mom was so upset that she temporarily disowned him. And as I breathed in the air thick with kerosine and gasoline, and nervously eyed the tanks and hyper-alert soldiers as they went searching for car bombs just a block away, I wondered just how I got there and why I was being so casual. Journalists wore bullet proof vests. I was in a jean jacket, shopping for DV tapes and mementos to take home.

When I heard the first massive explosion my instincts made me duck and then run for my newly found family in the next room. Usama’s aunt Samaha laughed at me, smiling painfully. She didn’t even budge from her chair. And at that point I realised that this had become the new normal for Iraqis. And that’s when I realised how important it was for us to be there, documenting what was going on for those who had no clue. The stress of it made me terribly ill.

HameedDancesLater Usama and I would be riding in a cab on our way home to our loft in Chicago. The cab driver bonded with Usama over their Arabness, as happened often in that diverse city. Usama introduced me as his wife and the cab driver commented that he couldn’t marry an American girl, because, as he put it, “they can’t take it hard.” Having been to the Middle East I knew what he meant on so many levels. I discovered a lot about my Americanness – about my privilege and lack of understanding – while I was there. The roles expected of women were unnerving to me. I didn’t know that as Usama’s wife there were certain actions I was expected to fulfill, and it led to Usama’s aunt saying that I thought I was “better than” them. Add that to the stress of electricity always going out, perpetually clogged toilets, blockades, curfews, the sound of guns shot in celebration and confrontation, bombs shaking the ground, being barred from certain places for being female, a bunch of socializing and being asked if I was pregnant constantly. No, I could not take it hard. As much as the family tried to make it fun, this was no vacation.

[We chronicled our trip in an on-line blog, found here.]

But what I remember most is the generosity of Usama’s Iraqi family and also how, through it all, they maintained a sense of humor and a sense of hope that things would get better. When I was sick I was attended to by kind doctors within their own homes. Usama’s cousin Tareef and his wife Luma gave up their bed to us for two weeks! We were fed and looked after and shown around like tourists. We were warmly welcomed guests even through the roughest time of our hosts’ lives. And I came away, not really wanting to return to Iraq, but appreciating and loving the Iraqi people, and the culture, so deeply.

So it’s with great pleasure that I’m able to share with you a bit of their lives. It’s my hope that it may solidify your understanding that what we do here – the policies we create, the politicians we elect – have an impact on those other than ourselves. Our country’s violent quest for the Weapons of Mass Destruction was both a wrecking ball, and a moment of hope for Iraqis. Beyond the political upheaval that comes as a result, it is the everyday lives of ordinary people who we tend to forget when when we decide to invade, or “liberate” another place.

Now, on the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the War in Iraq – the war our leaders voted for, and the war we saw plastered on our TV screen daily as some kind of abstract spectacle – we are re-releasing Nice Bombs – My Journey Back to Iraq for streaming rental or download. The voice in Usama’s head was right. We went and we came back fine, if a bit changed by the once-in-a-lifetime experience. And we came back to make an award-winning documentary. But Iraqis are still struggling, and that’s something we need to keep in mind as we watch what was only the beginning of the long road into Iraq.

WATCH THE ENTIRE FILM HERE. Included in your rental or purchase are a number of outtakes from the film, including a visit to a bombed out school where children still attended, as well as interviews with many Iraqi women that had regrettably been cut from the film.

*Nice Bombs is also available as an educational edition for schools and libraries.


Student and Amateur Filmmaker Clichés

Dear film students and first-time filmmakers: Every year in every single film school all over the U.S.A. film students are doing the same things over and over and over, and their poor film instructors have to sit through it dozens upon dozens of times. I’m not making this list to poke fun at your ideas or disparage you in any way, but rather to challenge you to be aware that your first instincts may not always be the most interesting. And, I admit, I want to save film production teachers everywhere from terrible boredom.

Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day

1.) The Protagonist Wakes Up: The alarm clock goes off, she hits the snooze button, or her eyes flutter open and she rolls out of bed. Maybe she’s late and has to rush to get ready! Makes sense, right? That’s how most of us start our days, so what a logical way to start a film! The problem is everyone has thought of it. A film is much better at sucking you in immediately if you start in mid-action, or hey, even mid-sentence of dialogue! Or with something else that is uniquely yours. The first ten minutes of a movie are critical to grabbing your audience. Don’t waste time on “He gets out of bed, showers, etc., etc.” Unless you’re making Groundhog Day, don’t make your film instructor watch this scene again, and again, and again…



2.) Parents Just Don’t Understand: I get it. You’re 19 or 20. Almost everyone at that age thinks his parents are in opposition to him. But by the time you’re 25 or 26 that plotline becomes increasingly played out. The conflict between parents and young adults is only truly engaging if there’s a twist or it’s taken to an odd extreme. Like in the movie Dogtooth, for example, where the father controls his teenage children by conditioning them throughout their entire lives to believe that if they step beyond the walls surrounding their home their faces will be torn off by cats. Now that’s pretty interesting! Just being nagged to go to college or get a job? Not so much. Coming of age stories can be good, but only when they offer something enlightening, funny, surprising or horrifying to the audience.

A Streetcar Named Desire

A Streetcar Named Desire

3.) Meaningless Mirror Shot: Unless the protagonist is going to fall through the looking glass, watch herself transform in a surprising way, or it plays a critical role in the plot, shots in the mirror are pretty ubiquitously meaningless. It’s fun to compose and looks kinda cool, but is it really necessary?

CSI4.) Ripping Off TV: You know the tropes, right? The heavy-handed music that punctuates tension-filled scenes where the protagonist is about to uncover a critical plot point. A gunman stands right around the corner ready to take someone down. If you want a career in bad TV, by all means go for it! But if you don’t, please don’t mimic it. While I’m at it, let me just point out that while mimicking your favorite director’s style is a great film exercise, it does not a great film make. You can’t do Quentin Tarantino as well as Quentin Tarantino, so why not just be yourself? So… bad TV is already terrible. Doing it on a student film budget with all actors under 20 just makes it so much worse. Which brings me to….

Dazed and Confused

Dazed and Confused

5.) Age-ism: All your friends want to be in your movies! That’s great! If they can act. But also be aware that most good films have characters in them that are not all your own age or your same ethnic and socio-economic background. Cast those hardworking actors out there who’ve been at it for a while! Create great parts for them! Don’t be intimidated by directing someone older or different than you. Don’t get me wrong, a movie about all young adults can be great (just look at half the films made in the 1980s)! But don’t cast a 20 year old as a hotshot lawyer. Don’t cast a 25-year-old woman as the mother of a teenager. Expand your reach. Hold auditions. Don’t just depend upon your immediate circle of acquaintances.

Bechdel Test

Bechdel Test

6.) Sexism: Have you heard of the Bechdel Test? Get to know it. What is now known as the Bechdel test was introduced in Alison Bechdel’s 1985 comic wherein an unnamed female character says that she only watches a movie if it satisfies the following requirements:

  • It has to have at least two women in it,
  • who talk to each other,
  • about something besides a man.
  • If you are going to write a female character, please make her fully human and not just an object of desire or placeholder for a generalized archetype. And also be aware of what Filmmaker Thomas Keith calls ”The Bro Code.” “…the message Keith uncovers in virtually every corner of our ‘entertainment’ culture is clear: that it’s not only normal — but cool — for boys and men to control and humiliate women. Along the way, The Bro Code makes a powerful case that there’s nothing normal, natural, or inevitable about this toxic ideal of American manhood, and challenges young people to fight back against the resurgent idea that being a ‘bro’ — and a man — means glorifying sexism, bullying, and abuse.” Check out The Bro Code.

    1492069_orig7.) Gratuitous Guns: Unless you’re making a movie about militia or cops or soldiers, why do you need a gun? Ask yourself, why? Can your movie do without it? And, actually, before the film geeks balk, Godard never said that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun. (

    Now this is not to say that you can’t use all of these clichés in one movie in a tongue-in-cheek, funny or ironic way. But consider that this has also been done. Many times. And if you don’t have the comedic chops of the Wayan Brothers, maybe you should hold off on that for now. Again, be yourself. Find your unique story, your own style (if that means brazenly including one of the above clichés with the full understanding that you are doing so, then so be it). Be aware of what came before you and watch everything with a critical eye. And don’t always trust your first idea. Tweak it. Twist it. Shape it into something that excites you and will grab your audience – and not bore your poor film instructor to tears. Also, don’t expect your first film or any of your student films to be your greatest work. But do take the opportunity now to take lots of creative chances and find out what you are capable of. Good luck!

    Read more here, at D.U.M.P.S.: Directing Unsuccessful Motion Picture Shorts:

    “I’ve made it a point never to watch anyone’s student film. I usually tell people, ‘I’ll hire you–as long as I don’t have to watch your student film!’ Most student films feature two things–a not particularly attractive girl running towards the camera, and a suicide. If it’s a comedy, it features a not particularly attractive girl and a dog. I should know. I made one, and so did my son…”

    Chuck Workman
    Chairman of the Director’s Guild of America’s
    Academic Liaison Subcommittee