(documentary) Iraq - "Baghdad High" (2008) (part 1/4)

"Views the current war in Iraq through the eyes of four Iraqi teens as they enter their senior year of high school. Filmed by the boys themselves, the documentary follows their friendships during the entire academic year and offers unique insight into ordinary adolescent Iraqi lives.

"The daily news about Iraq was so relentlessly depressing for so many years," says Ivan O'Mahoney, who directed and produced the film with Laura Winter. "It was therefore fantastic to realize while making this film that there is normality amidst all the violence, and that people do lead normal lives, despite the mayhem around them. It gave me a lot of hope to see kids be kids."

Collectively, the teens recorded more than 300 hours of tape, which were woven into the final project by the supervising producers. A mix of religious and ethnic backgrounds, the young men featured in BAGHDAD HIGH include: Hayder, who yearns to be a singer-songwriter; Anmar, who thinks he is a stud with girls and plays soccer like David Beckham; Ali, who dreams of being an architect; and his best friend Mohammed, who doesn't yet know what he wants to be, and is content being the joker of the bunch. They could be teens in any city around the world, talking about celebrities like Britney Spears, debating who has the best-ripped jeans and discussing whose hair is a disaster. But their lives are actually very different: Every day, they are surrounded by suicide bombings, mortar attacks, kidnappings and citywide curfews.

Notes co-director and co-producer Laura Winter, "One of the things I was struck by was that all these documentaries coming out of Iraq were done for, or by, adults. Iraqi children had not been more than a UN statistic about the dead, kidnapped or injured."

The first day of school - Oct. 1, 2006 - marks the beginning of the most violent month since America invaded Iraq. That month, 2,722 men, women and children die, many because of their religion. However, the boys don't let religious, ethnic or economic differences come between them.

They often miss school because leaving the house is too dangerous. They debate whether they can hang out with each other after school, because the short journey home afterward means running the risk of being injured by a roadside bomb or a stray bullet. Even if they want to study, concentration is difficult in a war zone, and the electricity often goes out unexpectedly for hours or days at a time. As the city is torn apart by sectarian violence, each of the 17 year olds and his family struggle to make a critical decision - stay in Baghdad and risk their lives, or flee to safer areas. Every day, nearly 2,000 Baghdad residents leave, joining some four million refugees who are already relocated around the country or live in Jordan and Syria.

"The fact that the kids are all from different backgrounds, and yet remained friends as their city was torn to bits by sectarian violence, was one of the most satisfying parts of making BAGHDAD HIGH," states Laura Winter. "It filled us with great hope for Iraq's future - and maybe ours, too."

BAGHDAD HIGH is a Renegade Pictures and StoryLabTV Production for HBO, BBC & ARTE; produced and directed by Ivan O'Mahoney & Laura Winter; editors, Richard Guard & Johnny Burke; executive producers, Alan Hayling, Karen O'Connor (for BBC), Hans Robert Eisenhauer (for ARTE); co-producer, Alex Cooke; associate producers, Fallah Al Rubaie & Zaid H. Fahmi (Baghdad). For HBO: consulting editors, Victoria Ford and Geof Bartz, A.C.E.; supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins."