“Life in Baghdad”: Finding Moments of Joy Amid the Chaos of War

March 11, 2015
by Patrice Taddonio Assistant Director of Audience Development

It’s not the sort of footage we’re used to seeing from Iraq: Laughing boys, on a hot day, splashing around in a canal that’s serving as an impromptu pool. Smiling young girls, wearing fancy pink hats, eating sundaes with their parents at an ice cream parlor. Families waiting in line to ride a Ferris wheel and drive bumper cars at an amusement park.

Yet these are the scenes that unfold in Life in Baghdad, a new FRONTLINE short film that offers a rare and surprising glimpse into the everyday lives of ordinary young Iraqis who are trying to find moments to laugh, celebrate, and even flirt amid the chaos of war.

“They say they don’t worry about the bombs, because … they are just a fact of life,” says Martin Smith, a FRONTLINE correspondent and producer who narrates the film and whose team filmed these moments last summer. “Your only hope is that if a bomb goes off, it’s far enough away, or it’s close enough that you’re gone quickly.”

At the time, Mosul had just fallen to ISIS, and Smith was interviewing leaders and officials about the radical Islamist group’s advance for his film The Rise of ISIS (which re-airs March 17 on most PBS stations).

But what Smith filmed in the moments between those interviews left a deep impression.

“In the Middle East, Iraq is one of the youngest populations of any state,” Smith says. “So you have a lot of kids, a lot of young, twenty-somethings, and they’re looking for fun.”

And finding it, even in unexpected places. In one memorable scene from Life in Baghdad, traffic is at a standstill. But instead of getting frustrated, a group of young Iraqi men climb out of their cars and begin singing and dancing in the street.

In short, even in a city under constant threat of violence, life goes on.

“I see this all over the world — you go to places where people are besieged, but yet, when they can, they express their sense of humor,” says Smith. “You have to survive. You can’t just huddle in your house all day in fear.”

Watch Life in Baghdad below, and subscribe to our YouTube channel for more original short films:

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