Winter in Baghdad
Javier Corcuera, Spain
It started, explained director Javier Corcuera at the Emirates Film Festival in February, from ordinary Spanish people who mobilized before the Iraq war began: Regular people--housewives, professors, nuns, war veterans--traveled to Iraq and acted as human shields at water, oil, and all other types of production plants.
The idea was that, with civilians present, perhaps the bombing and war would not commence.
Corcuera took his cameras to follow these people and in turn found the real activists and victims, the Iraqis themselves. And so he discovered four young 14-year-old boys who came to represent the hope, innocence, destruction, and future of Iraq. “Winter in Baghdad” focuses on these boys on the eve of the war in 2003 and extrapolates from their lives to show the simple act of what happens when war is thrust upon a country.
The four boys sit on a wall overlooking the Tigris river at the start. One simply states what they all feel: “I do not want this war to happen. I hope nothing happens.” After that interview Corcuera returns to Spain. And the bombings begin, and Baghdad falls, and the director discovers that that very wall where the boys sat was destroyed by a bomb.
Corcuera returns, determined to find the boys. But with no point of reference and a country in ruins, the search yields countless other tragic stories, until he finally finds them again—selling black-market petrol, shining schools, and searching for bricks. This is not the proverbial “coming full circle.” This is an entire population with varying opinions on the whether the fall of Saddam was a good thing.
But they do seem to agree on one thing: The war, which wages on, has stripped them of hope. Faith in Islam, faith in humanity, faith itself is a lost commodity, says one elderly Iraqi who lost his entire family. Or as the mother of one the four boys sadly says, “His soul is tired.”

Roy Westler, Israel
To watch “Shadya” is a frustrating lesson in the sustaining power of clichés—how a “typical” Muslim Arab male treats women, what marriage does to a woman’s independence, what befalls brash youngsters who are completely self-motivated. The tragedy is that "Shadya" doesn't force these clichés for cinematic sensationalism. They are truly a way of life for the film’s star.
Shadya Zoabi is a young Israeli-Arab Muslim and the 2003 World Shotokan Karate Champion. She brims with self-confidence and is supported by a doting father in spite of her macho brother’s obvious disapproval for her lifestyle. “I’m different. This is the way I am,” she says at the beginning of the documentary. “But the bottom line is I’m an Arab Muslim, right?”
Being Muslim doesn’t mean much to Shadya, but it does to her judgmental brother. He may justify his thinking with conservative Islamic principles (that she acts immodestly, she doesn’t pray), but he truly outs himself as an Arab male cliché when he says that women must serve men and they must stay at home to cater to the family.
Shadya is confident that this won’t be her life after marrying her fiancé, Morad, who early in the film say he will support her karate. But he also turns into the cliché of a macho married husband when, immediately after their wedding, he forbids Shadya from competing and tells her coach that she must take care of him first.
It’s all extremely exasperating to watch. I know there must be more to the story. How does Morad explain his about-face? How can Shadya so quickly and completely change into a meek housewife? And most disturbing, why does her formerly supportive father cast her off after marriage and start focusing on her younger sister, who also is a karate champion?
There’s no narrative explanation from director Roy Westler; no insight into why Shadya chose to let this happen to her. The large-than-life Shadya is reduced to a shrinking violet, telling the filmmaker to turn the cameras off because her husband’s getting mad. “So that’s it,” she says, smiling hollowly for the camera.