WINNER AT IDFA: When Nori Sharif is given a video camera by director Zaradasht Ahmed to record life in a small Iraqi town, following the US withdrawal at the end of 2011, he decides to film people who “nobody knows about.”
One of these is a truck driver who lost both his legs in a car bombing yet feels that things could have been a lot worse. “I could have run someone over with my truck or be in jail, but I still have my kids,” he says, as one of his daughters helps him into the wheelchair.
The truck driver’s surprising expression of gratitude is just one startling and moving moment in Nowhere to Hide, a documentary which describes the last four years in Iraq as seen through the eyes of Sharif, a hospital nurse in his late thirties and father-of-four. Sharif’s compassionate and poetic documentation, told with unflinching honesty, presents a humanistic portrait of a troubled people very different from the news images broadcast around the world during the last few decades.
Sharif’s narrative is remarkable in many respects: he provides an eye-witness account of the deteriorating political situation; his unobtrusive presence gives us access to the daily lives of ordinary people caught up in the ever-changing conflict; and because Sharif’s own life is so dramatically transformed during this period – as he himself becomes a refugee – his personal story takes on the dimensions of a Tolstoyesque novel, in which we profoundly sense and feel the events of war through the tragic details of a single life.
The film begins with Sharif describing his life “as good…my house with my beautiful wife and four kids.. is an oasis.” He presumably thinks that the film project will merely consist of presenting the untold stories of people around him. Indeed, if Sharif was only to offer us a picture of his fellow townspeople we would still come away from the film a lot wiser. Sharif introduces us to a shepherd boy with whom he has fun teaching a traditional dance; he sensitively describes a crippled woman whose “bed has become her only friend”, and he reflects on the condition of his neighbours for whom the war continues “to go on inside.”
“I don’t understand this war, it’s an undiagnosed war…you only see the symptoms.”
But, by 2013 Sharif’s focus changes. The newly formed independent Iraqi government has become corrupt and dysfunctional. Waves of terrorism, including those generated by Al-Qaeda, ISIS as well as local tribal rivalries soon bring a path of destruction. The hospital where Sharif works in his hometown of Jalawla is destroyed and by 2015 his own home is devastated. Sharif notes that he is no longer just “documenting other victims of war, now I am documenting myself.”
Yet, Sharif remains deeply involved with the people around him. He does the work normally performed by the doctors who have fled, and shares in the agonies of his friends, such as when a neighbour confides in him that he is unable to send his young son to elementary school because the child needs to collect and sell plastic bottles in order for the family to survive.
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