a documentary film by Andrew Berends

about the film
press kit
storyteller productions

about the film

Sixteen-year-old Adnan Ghazi’s life was ruined by a tragic sequence of events that landed him in Iraq’s criminal justice system under foreign occupation. At the end of 2003, Adnan was arrested for stealing two meters of electric cable. This type of crime is widespread throughout the country. Cable is looted and melted down for scrap metal, hindering efforts toward reconstruction. It is considered a serious crime against the state.

When Adnan was arrested, he was brought to the police station in a small town just outside Baghdad. There, he claims to have been beaten by the police until he confessed to the theft. He was moved to the Karkh Juvenile Detention facility to await his trial. Almost two hundred boys are incarcerated there. The inmates range from small time felons to murderers and rapists.

After Adnan had been imprisoned for two months, two of the inmates attempted to escape by starting a fire. A number of boys were trapped in the fire. Twenty-one were taken to the hospital. Three died from smoke-inhalation. The others had severe burns ranging from thirty to eighty percent of their bodies. Of the survivors, Adnan was the most badly burned. He lost his ears and the flesh on his hands and scalp. On a slow path to an incomplete recovery, Adnan’s greatest desire was to be released from prison, return to his family and reconcile with his father.

As filmmaker, I entered the story two weeks after the fire. I had been trying to gain access to the prison for about three weeks, but the secrecy of the American contractors overseeing it, the bureaucracy of the Iraqi Ministry of Justice, and the unfortunate event of the fire, all contributed to the fact that I would never be permitted inside the facility. Instead, I tracked down Adnan and the other victims of the fire a few blocks away in Al-Karkh Hospital. By filming Adnan and then visiting his family, I became a conduit between them, carrying video messages back and forth.

When Adnan was first imprisoned, out of anger for his disobedience and bad behavior, his father Abu Mustafa swore to Allah he would never visit his son in jail. But, upon learning that Adnan had been burned, Abu Mustafa was moved to visit him. Adnan’s plight is only one of numerous worries for his father. Abu Mustafa is unemployed and lives on a pension of roughly thirty-five dollars per month. He has a wife, three sons and four daughters to feed in a poor town where water is scarce. Abu Mustafa would almost prefer to be rid of Adnan, going so far as to say, “it would be better if he died in the fire.” Abu Mustafa often seeks refuge in his interpretation of Islam. Shirking responsibility, he attributes every hardship to the will of God.

There is no such thing as an ordinary or typical Iraqi family. The Ghazis are neither. They are dynamic, quirky, abusive and amusing. Their days are spent collecting water when it is available and preparing the little food they have, all the while laughing together, fighting with each other, but somehow managing to maintain a strong family unit. Some of the most touching moments of the film show intimate moments of the family’s daily life: the baking of bread, strange Sufi rituals, and an unsettling undertone of domestic abuse. I had privileged access to their home, their life, and their thoughts. I was even permitted to spend time with and film the women in the family, including those of marrying age. This access is rare in Iraq and important.
Meanwhile, Adnan continues to suffer in the prison wing of the hospital. The facility is filthy, understaffed, and undersupplied. The care he receives is inconsistent. He is fortunate to undergo skin-graft operations by a very competent Iraqi cosmetic surgeon. But often he goes for days without his bandages being changed. He is afraid and alone. Only with occasional visits and nurturing from his family does he gradually show some signs of physical and emotional recovery.

There are also moments of joy within the family. Adnan’s brother Mustafa and his new wife Ahlam eagerly await the delivery of their first baby. When she arrives, Mustafa names her Noor before leaving the delivery room. The name “Noor” means light and she indeed brings new light into the family’s dwelling. But, his brother’s blessing only torments Adnan further. “My brother had a baby. I should be there to share this joy with him.” So he waits and prays to be released.

In spite of the prison’s negligence and the failures of the American contractors responsible for its oversight and rehabilitation, no compensation has been made to Adnan or his family. As months go by, the story builds toward Adnan’s official trial. The family seeks to navigate a corrupt and Kafkaesque justice system. At times, there are high hopes for Adnan’s release. Even Abu Mustafa finds himself making efforts to help secure his son’s freedom.