Life, Unscripted

BY DAN-CHYI CHUA
Mar 18, 2009
*Special to asia!

Two Americans bring an Iraqi boy maimed and blinded by the war back to the United States for treatment. Filmmaker Abdullah Boushahri tells a side to this true story that questions their good intentions.

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ahmad, life, unscripted

Ahmad, accompanied by his father at the Kuwait-Iraq border, heading to the US for his second round of medical treatment.

 

There are two types of people in this world: those who shut the door where opportunity presents itself as an unwelcome visitor, and those who cast aside all to meet the stranger at the door.

Director Abdullah Boushahri is one of the latter. He was on a flight back to his native Kuwait, where he had planned to make a new film. He started chatting to two American women sitting next to him and before he knew it, he had discovered a great subject for a documentary. A couple of phone calls later, he was off to meet the subject of his new film, but this decision he made rather quickly, literally with his head in the clouds.

One of the women he met on the plane was Elissa Monsanti, founder of Global Medical Relief. She was going to pick up an Iraqi child with her associate. The child, seven-year-old Ahmad, was blinded and maimed when he got caught in a crossfire while walking home after school. Global Medical Relief was going to take Ahmad back to the US for medical treatment.

From the moment they met, Abdullah began filming the women. He went with them to the Iraqi-Kuwaiti border where they met for the first time, Ahmad, and his brother, Saad. Saad was much older than Ahmad, and was like a father figure to the child. He was going to chaperon Ahmad on the US trip. On the plane, the two brothers teased each other excitedly about going to America, all of which Abdullah captured on film. Also featured was Monsanti haggling with an American journalist on just how the press release about Ahmad should be worded. The journalist wanted an exclusive on this cross-border relief mission, but Monsanti wanted credit from more than one news outlet.

It was when the group reached New York that Monsanti dropped the bombshell on Abdullah. Although she had agreed to let him film Ahmad's entire treatment process, her partner at Global Medical Relief, also a filmmaker, wanted to make the documentary himself. Sorry, but Abdullah had to go. This was after he had given Monsanti a copy of what he had shot so far because she had asked for it, saying she did not have a camera herself.

Monsanti took with her Ahmad, Saad and the footage, and vanished. There Abdullah was at the JFK International Airport, facing a filmmaker's worst nightmare. He had lost Ahmad, his subject. He had lost his film.

Abdullah searched the US, Kuwait and Iraq for Ahmad but to no avail—until 12 months later, when he finally managed to track down Ahmad in Iraq. He learnt then that Ahmad too had lost something in that past year.

Saad.

After the treatment, the brothers went back to Baghdad. There, they met with an accident in which Saad was killed. Ahmad would now be accompanied by his father for his second round of treatment in the US instead.

Reunited with Ahmad, Abdullah again travelled with him to the US. Naturally the Americans were not pleased when he re-emer

ged but this time having snatched his film back from oblivion, Abdullah was not going to let them rid him a second time.

Had calmer heads prevailed, Abdullah would have cut his losses and moved on. Instead he persisted and in the end, faith won out. A film that came to him out of the blue (sky) re-presented itself when most would have given up.

And what resulted is a thought-provoking film on how altruistic missions by charities sometimes exploit the very ones they claim to help.

Here, director Abdullah Boushahri takes us on the improbable of this timely documentary, in his words, from the beginning.

 

The way I started the film was by total coincidence. I didn't even know about a child called Ahmad.

I was on a plane, going back to Kuwait from the U.S. and I found these two women sitting next to me. Just an hour before we arrived, they woke up. We had a normal conversation and I was curious about their visit to Kuwait, whether it was for work or for pleasure. They told me about their purpose of being in Kuwait, that they are going to the Kuwaiti-Iraqi border to pick up this child who is called Ahmad who is seven years old, who came back from school, and got struck by an American bomb that was targeting terrorists.

I got really interested in Ahmad's story itself, as a seven-year-old child who can't see because he lost his sight after being struck by a bomb. I wanted to see how such a child would be behaving in life and how he would be handling himself and reacting to everything in life, as opposed to a normal person or a normal child, and how he would develop this relationship with them or with me or with anybody around him.

From then I decided I wanted to make a film and I took this decision in two minutes. I cancelled all plans for other things. I was planning to go make another film, a fiction film with nothing to do with this issue. I told the women that I was a film-maker, that I wanted to follow them and I wanted to follow their story and they agreed. I had my camera with me on the plane. I picked up the camera, I started rolling and that was how things got started.

 

ahmad was blinded in both eyes

Ahmad was blinded in both eyes, shrapnel punctured his body, and he lost an arm when a bomb exploded close to him on his way back from school.

 

The Filming

.. by the time I finished the film, I ended up on a very different path from what I started with. Other things jumped in and surprised me.

dan-chyi chua

Dan-Chyi Chua was a broadcast journalist, before forsaking Goggle Box Glitz for the Open Road. A three-year foray led her through the Middle East, China, SE Asia, Latin America and Cuba, and she's now grounded herself as a writer for theasiamag.com, content with spending her days in Jerusalem.

Contact Dan-Chyi