PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


The Dreams of Sparrows (2004)

Cynthia Fuchs

Director Hayder Mousa Daffar had a dream, to make a documentary about his Iraq. Not, he says, the Iraq that he sees 'on the internet, on the news... bombs and explosions', but a country where people lived, and survived, and aspired for more.

The Dreams of Sparrows

Director: Hayder Mousa Daffar
Distributor: Harbinger
MPAA rating: Unrated
Studio: IraqEYE Group
US DVD Release Date: 2005-05-24
First date: 2004
Amazon affiliate
[President Bush] speaks of "abroad" as if it is a vague desert-land filled with heavily-bearded men and possibly camels. "Abroad" in his speech seems to indicate a land of inferior people, less deserving of peace, prosperity and even life.
-- Baghdad Burning (1 July 2005)

Director Hayder Mousa Daffar had a dream, to make a documentary about his Iraq. Not, he says, the Iraq that he sees "on the internet, on the news... bombs and explosions," but a country where people lived, and survived, and aspired for more. To achieve this end, he struggled, he scraped, and he assembled a squad of "contributing directors," each taking his or her camera to the areas of Baghdad or elsewhere that seemed especially to need representation. The resulting film, The Dreams of Sparrows, is an astonishing compilation of images that end up being less strictly coherent than provocative and illuminating.

Equal parts excavation and observation, political treatise and moral lament, Dreams -- recently released to DVD, with deleted scenes and a brief but affecting director interview as extras -- is the manifestation of Daffar's belief that art is transformative, or at the least, communicative. "All artists in Iraq," he says, "or in the world, really artists, I mean, don't care about anything, just looking for beauty in this world. And truth. Because truth make from people a good people. The arts is power, because knowledge is power." Committed to the idea that truth is multiple, yet also discernable, Daffar creates gaps between visual and verbal registers, asking you to parse meaning in between, to grasp the many stories of everyday survival, grief, and resilience.

"I couldn't believe I was finally making a documentary about Iraq," he exults, as the film cuts together fleet images of "Iraq," zooms in to a cat glimpsed through broken walls, a dog trotting along the street, chickens scrapping on sidewalk, children looking up at the camera, adults bending to up wreckage, and U.S. troop guarding something, armed and uniformed, from a distance. This brief montage gives way to Daffar's meditation on ideals that have shaped Iraqi culture. "The Iraqi people," he says, "have always had a strong leader," as you see posters of Arnold and Steven Seagal intercut with shots of a young man working out at the gym and Saddam Hussein in his infamous balcony days, waving his gun and posing for obedient crowds.

Just a short time later, 15 December 2003, he hears that Saddam Hussein has been captured: as images of the raggedy former leader with U.S. fingers in his mouth appear on tv, Daffar and his fellow directors interview people on the street to learn their responses, ranging from pleasure to skepticism to dismay. For a moment, it seems that a U.S. promise has been kept -- the dictator has been thwarted and confined -- and even so, reactions are mixed. A boy looks right at the camera, an iris effect exacerbating a fish-eye effect: "We used to like him in the past," he smiles, "but now we don't." The folks on Baghdad streets are as complex and varied as any in the U.S. "Now that Saddam Hussein was gone," sums up Daffar, "many Iraqi people thought that George Bush was the new hero. Other Iraqi people just waited for Saddam to return to take over the country again." Just so, a man wonders out loud what the celebration is about: "You should be filming the gas line, the commotion, and the garbage," he says.

To illustrate in more detail the range of reactions, Daffar visits two sites, a Private Girls School and a nearby Temporary Homeless Shelter for Children. In the first, the girls are well-dressed, studious, and polite; one explains that now she feels "secure." They make drawings of their experiences: one draws people hiding ("The war happened, and people got scared and they ran to shelters to hide"), another a battle ("Here the tank is aiming at the helicopter"), and still another draws people at ease ("Now we draw streets and happy people and pretty colored things"). Their drawings show neatly crayoned tanks and trees and women in bright dresses. "While the girls may be telling the truth," observes Daffar while his camera heads down the street to the shelter, "What they say is not true for all Iraqi children. Five blocks south of the school, I went to find a different truth." Here, kids who have lived here since the American invasion, describe their hardships, preyed on by criminals and pornographers.

Dreams is comprised of dissimilar and also related stories, each related by Iraqis rarely seen in U.S. news reports: college student Susan makes dolls ("To forget the war," she explains, "I'm always sewing," a Michael Jackson poster on her bedroom ceiling); inhabitants of a temporary Palestinian refugee camp in Baghdad ("Each day here is as long as a year"); and a woman in tears over her lost home and family ("Why is this? why America?"). When a U.S. sergeant pronounces, "Our mission is to provide everyday stability for Baghdad," the film starts a sequence on the long gas lines -- stretching for miles and miles (in speedy time-lapse), with attendant observations regarding the irony of this oil-rich country now suffering from a lack of oil. Taxi drivers offer their takes on the situation ("They came to say that they are liberating us from the menace of Saddam Hussein, except they are the menace. They themselves are the menace") and inmates at Sadr City's Mental Hospital for the Criminally Insane (when Daffar asks whether any cases have been "affected by the regime," a doctor answers, exasperatedly, "They are all affected by the regime").

Two different artists declare the need to preserve history in painting and sculpture, one representing the Abu Ghraib abuses by U.S. soldiers, the other marking the horrors of Saddam Hussein's regime. The past is all over Iraq's present, and the overriding question that recurs throughout Dreams is whether Saddam or the current situation is worse. A contributing woman filmmaker responds, "It is not better or worse. The occupation is bad and Saddam is bad. This is the truth. The occupation is bad and Saddam is bad." The camera cuts to a photo of Bush in his Mission Accomplished flight suit on the shelf, which can only seem ironic here.

"I am so confused and so sad," Daffar says at last, speaking through his camera. "If you try to fight America, you just kill Iraqis. If you work with the Americans, you wait, and wait, and hope." In either case, the future remains out of reach and for the time being at least, beyond everyday Iraqis' control.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.