Shot in July 2003 by the D.C.-based collective InCounter Productions, About Baghdad documents the return of Iraqi writer Sinan Antoon (one of the group’s members) to the city after 12 years in exile. Announcing at the outset its intention to “privilege the complexity of Iraqi voices . . . usually marginalized and simplified in mainstream (mis)representations,” the film features interviews with the expected ethnically and politically diverse assortment of Iraqi citizens, sounding off on such topics as Saddam’s regime, the war, the American occupiers, and the country’s future.
The filmmakers get some political points across—several Iraqis mention the devastating effects of international economic sanctions—but what emerges here is far superior to last year’s propagandistic Voices of Iraq. Although About Baghdad doesn’t claim to speak directly for “the Iraqi people,” it cannot escape skepticism insofar as it seeks to build a political argument on their words. Antoon’s screen presence injects some much needed self-awareness into the proceedings; he gets as much face time here as Michael Moore (to whom he even bears a passing resemblance) customarily gives himself. Talking with a cabdriver, Antoon argues that the American government was partially responsible for some of Saddam’s atrocities, to which the driver responds that had Antoon remained in Baghdad he would have wished for the angel of death to rule in place of Saddam. This exchange draws attention to Antoon’s own political slant (and by extension that of his co-directors), while asking how the fact of exile affects one’s right to speak about conditions in Iraq. Those looking for a definitive key to the Iraqi national mind-set will come away disappointed, but the greatest achievement of About Baghdad may be its tacit acknowledgment of its own limitations.