In Sept. 2002, six months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, director James Longley crossed the western Iraqi desert to Baghdad to begin pre-production on Iraq in Fragments. He recalls, "As the invasion approached, the Iraqi officials became less and less interested in an independent filmmaker like me running around the country with a camera." Longley waited out the war in Egypt and returned to Baghdad in April 2003, "this time without need of a visa or filming permissions of any kind," he continues. "The Iraqi border hung open like a door off its hinges. Baghdad had descended into a regime of looting, kidnappings, shootings, bombings, and a deep uncertainty about the future of the country."
Iraq In Fragments delves into the larger political issues afflicting the country through three very personal stories. Part one follows Mohammed, an 11-year-old auto mechanic in the mixed Sheik Omar neighborhood in the heart of old Baghdad. With his father missing, Mohammed idolizes his domineering boss, working feverishly for approval and affection. Several years behind in school and waylaid by war's intervention, he's torn between education and apprenticeship. Through Mohammed's eyes the film captures a growing disenchantment with the U.S.-led occupation, as well as tensions between Shia and Sunni Iraqis. Mohammed's Baghdad is a city caught between an idealized past, a dangerous present, and an uncertain future.
Part two was filmed inside the Shiite political/religious movement of Moqtada Sadr, traveling between Naseriyah and the holy city of Najaf. As tensions mount inside the country, Iraq In Fragments reveals the inner workings of Iraqi local politics, as the Sadr movement pushes for regional elections and enforces its interpretation of Islamic law. Assuming control over the region, armed Islamicists storm open markets and imprison merchants suspected of selling alcohol, while the detainees and their impoverished families plead for mercy from this new authority. As the U.S. provokes an armed uprising among Sadr's followers, moderate views are swept aside.
Part three follows Iraqi Kurds as they assert their bid for independence, rebelling against past atrocities of Baghdad rule, viewing these developments through the eyes of brickmakers and childhood friends on a farm south of Arbil. An elderly farmer ruminates on his family, his people and God - mindful of the legacy they share - while his teenage son tends sheep and dreams of medical school, despite his father's desire that he serve God. Iraq In Fragments captures voices of independence and nationalism, sentiments both secular and religious, revealing a community where politics and faith are personal, public and forever closely intertwined.
Iraq in Fragments premiered at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival, where it was awarded prizes for Best Documentary Directing, Best Documentary Editing and Best Documentary Cinematography, marking the first time in Sundance history that a documentary received three jury awards. It went on to win the Nestor Almendros Award at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Nesnady + Schwartz Documentary Film Competition at the Cleveland International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI International Critics Award at Thessaloniki, and the Grand Jury Award at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. Iraq In Fragments was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar® this year.
Director James Longley traveled to Palestine in 2001 to make his first feature documentary, "Gaza Strip," which takes an intimate look at the lives and views of ordinary Palestinians in Israeli-occupied Gaza. His short film "Sari's Mother" premiered at the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival.
Iraq in Fragments was directed by James Longley; producers, John Sinno and James Longley; editors, Bill McMillin, Fiona Otway and James Longley; camera, James Longley; post coordinator, Basil Shadid; sound/music, James Longley. For CINEMAX Reel Life: supervising producer, Sara Bernstein; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.