By Anthony Kaufman | ReelPolitik August 17, 2006 at 2:01AM
Among the many Iraq docs I've seen over the last few years, Usama Alshaibi's "Nice Bombs" offers a refreshing new perspective on the quagmire. Opening the Chicago Undeground Film Festival today as a world premiere, "Nice Bombs" was inexplicably rejected by the Tribeca Film Festival last spring -- inexplicable because the festival's All-Access program had championed Alshaibi's project the year before. Without support from other A-list festivals, "Nice Bombs" has found a welcome home in the filmmaker's backyard, but I hope other festivals -- and maybe even a distributor -- embrace it, as well.
What I like about the film -- and what sets it apart from most of what's out there -- is Alshaibi's point of view. Both Iraqi and American, and constantly oscillating between the two, he's visiting a homeland he hasn't seen in 24 years, and coming along for the ride is his very American-looking Caucasian wife, who looks deathly afraid half the time. While I've watched dozens of documentaries about the conflict from the soldiers' point of view and from Iraqi civilians' point of view, Alshaibi is easier to identify with than both camps. He's an excellent stand-in for us ordinary dumb Americans. But because of his background, he's got better access.
He also comes from a well-to-do family, which defies the stereotypes of impoverished Arab amputees that we often see in documentary accounts -- the very same depictions that rather than bring us closer to the subjects on the ground in Iraq allow us to view them as Other. While watching "Nice Bombs," Westerners will likely sympathize with Alshaibi and his family in a much deeper way. Because, after all, he is one of us, too.
There are some fantastic vignettes (a little boy offers one precious word of advice to Bush: "Quit") and a gender-split discussion about women's rights in the country is illuminating and funny. But most of all, "Nice Bombs" gets right the many contradictions and conflicting points of view of the country, the war and Alshaibi himself.
I should say that, personally, I'm a fan of Alshaibi's work, having interviewed him for this 2005 Creative Capital grant.