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Iraqi Women Capture Their Lives On Film

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Iraqi Women Capture Their Lives On Film

Arts & Life

Iraqi Women Capture Their Lives On Film

Iraqi Women Capture Their Lives On Film

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In a new documentary, 12 Iraqi women gather in Damascus, Syria, with a goal: They intend to learn photography, decide what stories to tell, then return to Iraq and tell those stories with their newfound camera skills.

Open Shutters: Iraq is the latest documentary from filmmaker Maysoon Pachachi. She tells NPR's Guy Raz that it was no easy task finding the women and getting them all to Damascus for the photography workshop.

"It was through a sort of network of acquaintances," she says. She worked with a partner, British photojournalist Eugenie Dolberg, to organize the workshop. Pachachi says she "had to travel up and down the country and convince people's families that it was OK for them to go and spend a month in a house with a lot of other strange people, learning photography."

Pachachi's father, Adnan, was Iraq's foreign minister in the pre-Saddam Hussein era and briefly a member of the Iraqi Governing Council after the U.S. invasion. Yet Pachachi hadn't been back to Iraq in decades when she returned in 2004 to open a film school and make documentaries about life in Iraq.

She says the group of women in Open Shutters was wildly diverse — different ages, different ethnicities, even different religions. But they all had similar stories of loss and grief to tell. At one point, the women made "life maps," big posters illustrating the ups and downs of their lives.

"This was an extraordinary experience for everybody," she says, "because through 35 years of sanctions, war, dictatorship and so forth, nobody really had a chance to speak, really, or to think about the people that they'd lost and what had happened in their lives.

"They had just run from pillar to post, just trying to survive and keep their children alive." The life maps also helped the women learn to write captions for their photos that drew on their experiences.

While the women had much in common, Pachachi says their individuality came through in their final photo projects. One participant, the 6-year-old daughter of one of the organizers, documented her friends playing on the streets of Baghdad. Another woman took photos of her day-to-day struggle to keep her children safe and fed.

A third photographer, Um Mohammed, chronicled the destruction of her beloved home city of Basra. "The photographs are very beautiful," Pachachi says. "They're suffused with this kind of extraordinary light, and it's kind of slightly nostalgic. But it's full of ruin. And her captions are very sharp."