Monday, August 04, 2008

Baghdad High: BBC/HBO documentary about school in Baghdad


"The Boys from Baghdad High" aired on HBO Monday, Aug. 4. The 82 minute film from the BBC and HBO is directed by Ivan O’Mahoney and Laura Winter. It traces four teenagers in Bagdad with different religious backgrounds through a year of school. BBC has a link for this film here.

Unlike many documentary films, this film has no narrator. It is just a sequence of scenes that builds up an increasing sense of intimacy with teen life under the war conditions in Baghdad. One boy wants to be a songwriter. One just wants to hear from his girl friend. Gradually, we learn that the unstable conditions around them seriously affect their ability to focus on schoolwork. Rotating power outages make homework impossible.

In the middle of the film, a couple of the boys watch the trial of Saddam Hussein on television in their home, and then his sentence to death on Dec. 30, 2006. The film then moves toward a final phase. The boys sometimes exchange kisses, which is surprisingly accepted in their culture. One boy worries that his beard is not growing heavy enough. He also says that in Iraq kids can depend on their parents until age 24, rather than 18 as in the U.S. At the end, they have their final exams, and most boys fail one or more subjects. The report cards are simple handwritten cards, not computerized reports as in the U.S.

The film certainly makes an interesting comparison to "Hard Times at Douglas High", reviewed on this blog in June, about a low-income area high school in the United States.

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