Canadian Chronicles

By Lynne Rogers

Reema, There and Back

Directed by Paul Émile d’Entremont

National Film Board of Canada Production, 2006

 

Afghan Chronicles

Directed by Dominic Morissette

InformAction Films Inc., 2007

 

BY LYNNE ROGERS

Two Canadian documentary filmmakers left their homeland to practice their art and returned with strikingly different and thought-provoking documentaries. One witnesses a young girl trying to make sense of her Iraqi heritage, while the second pays tribute to the many persevering individuals in the emerging media in Afghanistan.

In “Reema, There and Back,” filmmaker Paul Émile d’Entremont follows the teenage Reema as she treks back and forth from Nova Scotia to reunite with her Iraqi father and sister. In his documentary, which reminds viewers of both Disney’s film “The Parent Trap” and the melodrama “Not Without My Daughter,” Entremont’s subjects share their human pain, misdirected good intentions, justifiable anger and acknowledged self-interest.

The family’s story begins when the congenial and quick-to-laugh Elizabeth meets Ali, a cute, self-admitted liar, in Yugoslavia. She agrees to marry him to get him into Canada in exchange for him agreeing to pay for her education. Instead, the adventurous and attractive Elizabeth finds herself in Iraq with two daughters, unable to live as a “submissive Muslim wife.” As a last resort, she leaves her eldest daughter with the girl’s grandmother and father in Iraq, and she and the younger daughter return to Canada.

The film itself begins 16 years later when Ali contacts his ex-wife in Canada to suggest a family reunion. After an emotional rendezvous at the airport, the four set off for a family vacation in Egypt; they soon discover the difficulties of becoming reacquainted. Both Elizabeth and Reema lament their language limitations as they have conversations with Tamara, the elder daughter previously left in Iraq, and reluctantly admit that they feel “bad” for her. However, from the viewer’s perspective, Tamara, shown attending a co-ed English class, appears to have been spared the angst of Western teenage girls. Unlike Reema, who does not know what she wants to do and does not feel “pretty,” the shy yet self-possessed Tamara wants to become a journalist to inform the world of Iraq’s desire for peace. She innocently confesses to the camera that she does not feel that she has “missed out.” Although Reema praises her up-bringing with her mother, upon high school graduation she decides to return to her father in Amman, arriving with all her adolescent baggage in tow.

Ali, who now sincerely wants to be part of his daughter’s life, feels fortunate to have a lucrative job with an American contractor in Iraq, and he welcomes her. Later, after a long day of shopping, Reema and Ali take his Jaguar to look at his real estate investments (American tax dollars at work?). Ali shows no concern for the Bedouins currently living on the land because they will either move or be moved by the police. Reema herself asks, “If he [Ali] can make money off the Americans, why not? I got a computer out of it.” While Ali’s scheming and his dismissal of the sympathetic Elizabeth paint him as aloof and calculating, we see that he differs little from Western fathers in his sentiments for his daughter. In dealing with an excitable teenager, he waits until the right moment, then urges Reema “to have morals, get an education, a decent job and a good husband.” However, Reema is still dealing with her emotional scarring and, once back in Nova Scotia, cries to her mother about “the son of a bitch.” Despite her inner conflicts, Reema enrolls in an Arabic class at a university, making her mother proud and suggesting some reconciliation with her Iraqi heritage. 

In “Afghan Chronicles,” a Canadian journalist travels to Afghanistan to cover its first election. When the reporter first arrives, Afghanistan is colored by dreams of reconstruction. Six months later, the same reporter returns to a disillusioned Afghanistan and, here, the documentary begins to record the fledgling Afghan media from the conscientious and brave journalists and radio superstars to the impoverished street peddlers.

At Killid, working only with the bare necessities, the staff of the media company produces two magazines and a radio show covering a range of social and health issues. Mursal, the popular women’s magazine, uses pictures to reach the illiterate village women who have no access to television, and addresses controversial topics such as male infertility and interfamilial marriages alongside recipes and makeup tips. As we watch the documentary, we see disturbing trends in Afghanistan: violence against women increases, international aid vanishes into the military machine, and more than 200 schools burn in one year alone. All those involved with the media stoically hold firm, despite receiving threats of physical violence. Civilians, armed with a printing press and hard-earned respect for freedom, volunteer to help rebuild their country through the written word. Their optimism and sense of civic duty make “Afghan Chronicles” an inspiring documentary for any journalism or human rights class. 

This review appears in Al Jadid, Vol. 13, nos. 58/59 (2007/2008)

Copyright (c) 2007-2008 by Al Jadid


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