By Samantha Stevenson

Nice Bombs subject matter is intrinsically political. Filmmaker Usama Alshaibi refrains from commenting specifically on American and Iraqi politics, and chooses instead to talk to the people that live their lives stepping around destruction all day. The politics of this film come from the everyday observations and experience of those that live them, and not the ‘outsiders’ that have come to observe and learn. At the heart of this film are the people, who despite living with a soundtrack of destruction and the smell of gasoline, find that the core of their existence is still their friends, their relationships, and their humanity.

It is a portrait of how a culture holds together as a country falls apart. After the fall of Saddam Hussein, Alshaibi returned to the city of his birth – Baghdad, Iraq – to reunite with his relatives after a 24-year exile. He was accompanied on this journey by his wife, Kristie, and his father, Hameed. The result of their travels is a poignant, honest observation of a people trapped by circumstance, and still striving to make the best of it.

One of the major themes of this documentary is Alshaibi’s feeling that he is ‘straddling two worlds’, with one foot in the past and one in the future. The Alshaibis had escaped during the Iran-Iraq war in 1980. Their family had been blacklisted for his father’s refusal to work for the regime. Eventually, they settled in Iowa without Hameed, who remained in the Middle East. Usama Alshaibi remained in the USA until his coming of age threatened to have him deported back to a hostile country. Had he returned to Iraq, Alshaibi would have been forced to join Saddam’s army. He petitioned, was granted asylum, and over time became a citizen of the United States.

The Iraqi protagonist of this film is Alshaibi’s cousin Tareef, who acts as his guide through a war-torn Baghdad. Tareef is “a cynic and a survivor” - the kind of person Alshaibi feels he would have become had his family stayed on in Iraq. Tareef is also credited with creating the title phrase of the film – when asked what the terrifying sounds at night were, he quips ‘It’s a bomb. A Nice Bomb.’ He remains one of the voices of Iraq for Alshaibi throughout the film; from a voice of hope in 2004 to one of skepticism and disheartenment in more recent times.

This film is essentially Alshaibi’s effort to grant a voice to those left behind. The thing I appreciate most about this film is Alshaibi observing both Iraqis and Americans without judgment. The result is a very human look at the incredible resilience of people, and their ability – even in the most dire of circumstances – to find humor in everyday situations.

The Executive producer of this film is Studs Terkel, and the producers are Kristie Alshaibi and Benzfilm’s Ben Berkowitz and Ben Redgrave. As a work in progress, Nice Bombs earned the prestigious Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award for Best Doc, sponsored by Chicago's own Playboy Foundation. Nice Bombs premiered on August 17th at the Chicago Underground Film Festival and received the award for Best Documentary Feature.



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