The Boys From Baghdad High - Synopsis


The film brings together the video diaries recorded by four friends and students at the Tariq bin Ziad High School for Boys in Zayouna, a mixed-race, middle-class neighbourhood in the Karrada suburb of Baghdad, Iraq. Entering their senior year in 2006, each has high expectations for the year ahead and hope to graduate so they can have a chance to attend university. At the same time, the boys must also deal with the increasing sectarian violence that is starting to extend into Karrada. They face the threats of roadside bombings, the hassles of security checkpoints on their way to school, frequent curfews, the constant presence of American Apache helicopters overhead, and the deterioration of their neighbourhood which becomes rife with assassinations, muggings and kidnappings. Many of their fellow students, unmotivated and academically underperforming, are absent from school.

Ali Shadman is one of the few Kurdish people remaining in Baghdad. His family are struggling financially and resort to siphoning petrol from their car to run their back-up generator when the power grid fails. When the generator breaks down one night, Ali begins to wonder why he is fixing it against a backdrop of gunfire, instead of studying in peace. Another night, he reports the neighbourhood's news but explains there is nothing to speak of other than the usual explosions, violence, and death. Anmar Refat, a Syriac Christian, tries to remain philosophical and hopes that armed gangs will not attack the school. His family, however, are more nervous about any nearby gunfire, as their Christian beliefs increase the threat to their lives if anyone were to find out about them. Anmar has a girlfriend, whom he can contact only via his mobile phone, but he has not heard from her in several days, leaving him worried about whether she has found another boyfriend, or has been hurt in the violence. Hayder Khalid, a Shia Moslem, hopes to become a famous singer-songwriter. He frequently downloads music videos English pop music so he can learn popular English songs and dance moves. Mohammad Raed, a Sunni Moslem, is the class clown at school, who prefers playing sports and fooling around with his friends to studying. Unaware of his behaviour at school, his mother believes he is hard-working, self-sufficient and mature, and believes he will graduate and go to university.

Halfway through the school year, Ali's family moves to the more peaceful Kurdish region in Northern Iraq but after living there for several months, Ali says that he is homesick and misses the action and noise of Baghdad. Mohammad, feeling lonely, "adopts" a bird with a broken wing and a mouse he finds in the house. This brings him some comfort, but his mother later demands that he get rid of the mouse as she does not want "vermin" in the house. Mohammad's family rejoice when Saddam Hussein is sentenced, and feel that his later execution was justified, as to do otherwise would have made the Iraqi people look weak. Conversely, Anmar's family is upset at his execution, as they feel that the people who came into power were no better than Hussein was. Hyder's mother says that many Iraqi people were hopeful about the arrival of American forces, and that it is wrong to blame America for all of the problems in Iraq. She notes that the bloodshed has yet to stop as the Sunni continues to kill the Shiite, and vice versa. As the film continues, Hyder's family loses its income and they start to sell their furniture to earn extra money.

At the end of the year, the boys must pass seven final exams to graduate. Anmar, Hyder and Ali each fail two subjects, and are given the option to retake the exams. Anmar passes the retakes and aspires to study English literature in college, and his family decide to move to the safer region of Arbul now that he has graduated. Hyder also retakes his exams and passes, but his family can no longer afford to pay for the university fees. Ali chooses not to retake the exams, and his family leave Iraq. Mohammad fails four subjects and must repeat his senior year. He chooses to do so at a different school while working at his uncle's scooter repair shop. As the documentary closes, it notes that during the year of filming, two of the boys' classmates were killed, six were kidnapped, and seventy-five left Iraq.

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