Samir, famous Iraqi piano player, and Sean McAllister, documentary film maker, at the al-Hamra hotel. Baghdad, Iraq. 01/05/2004 Photo © J.B. Russell

Phone calls and arguments

Set out today with hope for filming the court room appearance of Saddam Hussein which takes place in Iraq tomorrow. Finally the project I originally came here to set up in January 2004 looks set to happen; A behind the scenes documentary of the trial of Saddam Hussein. At the same time I am filming the final installment of my film about ‘the pianist’ Samir Peter who hopes to follow his dream and live in The States.

Today was fraught with phone calls trying to get through to my contact, the President of the Iraqi Tribunal who has approved the documentary. Finally I get through to him, he tells me he is unsure whether he can get me into the court room tomorrow where Saddam will appear in front of a judge, shackled in chains. We hear that only 4 journalists will be allowed in. I’m told to call back at 4 this afternoon but as normal the Presidents phone is constantly engaged. I keep trying as I write this now anxious as what happens tomorrow would make a great opening for the film.

Amidst agonised attempts at calling the President I have been filming ‘the pianist’ at his home. His daughter has been visiting from The States but is now preparing to return home. Samir is waiting for his papers to come through after being given a Green Card.

It is an agonising wait for him. He is torn about leaving his daughter and son here in Iraq but hopes to get them to The States one day soon. His anti-American daughter Saha, has always resisted, a proud Iraqi she wanted to stay here, but seeing her sister and hearing news of her mother also living in America has made her reconsider things. She seems willing to give The States a go. It is Samir’s dream to gather his family there after years of struggling in Iraq. “Things have to get worse here before they get better” he insists, and he is getting on in life now, he wants to spend his last few years in peace. He is also concerned for his 25 year old son Fadi, also a talented pianist, but who now refuses to play, not wanting to end up like his father playing in an empty hotel bar to earn money to get by. Fadi wants money, but in a country where the only work available is putting your life on the line as a policeman he prefers to stay at home, although he’d heard of a Safeway’s supermarket opening and hopes to work there.

The house was tense today. Fadi wasn’t talking with his father or his American sister. his sister had insulted him by insisting that he should not marry his Muslim girlfriend. He should find a Christian girl instead. It is a sore point, Samir doesn’t mention it much, but is does disturb him. As a Christian family they are a minority in Iraq and Fadi would have to convert to Islam to marry his girlfriend. In the end a good argument cleared the air and Samir slipped Fadi $20. Then I spoke with his daughter about her mother, and whether Samir would get back together with her when he goes to the states. I put my foot in it though, Samir hadn’t told the kids that they had separated…. and I did. The daughter left the scene in tears. I didn’t know what to say. I hope Samir can patch things up. Half of him hopes to get back with his wife but the other half knows that their love is dead.

Now I must get back on the phone to try see Saddam tomorrow.

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