Reviews

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.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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