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Home » Archives » October 2006 » "Don't cry, Daddy, we've become birds in heaven."

"Don't cry, Daddy, we've become birds in heaven."

Friday, October 27, 2006 Posted: 12:55 PM JST

(by Jean Miyake Downey - The best and most empathetic global visual window on the American and British led war in Iraq has not been the work of an American or a British journalist, but a film by an award-winning thirty-five-year-old Japanese video journalist, Watai Takeharu.

Watai, who also wrote a book in Japanese with the same title, spent over a year filming his 2005 documentary film, Little Birds.

little birds

One of the Iraqis he follows is Ali Saqban, whose three children died since the American invasion of Iraq. The title of Watai's film comes from the words on the gravestone, written by people who helped Saqban bury his children. "Don't cry, Daddy, we've become birds in heaven."

Watai sensitively and powerfully allows the faces and voices of Iraqis devastated by the war, and American soldiers, many whom are very young and poor, and really don't know why they are in Iraq, speak for themselves:

March 2003, before air-raids started, life in Baghdad was graced with the smiling faces and laughter of children.

Soon, the bombings started and have resulted in many deaths and injuries.

Takeharu Watai, the director was there when the U.S. Army entered Baghdad, and witnessed a woman standing in front of a U.S. tank and shouting, "How many children have you killed? Go to the hospital and see the people dying!"

little birdsAt these words, Watai visited Thawra Hospital in Baghdad. There in the middle of the tragic mess, he met Ali Saqban, 32, whose daughter was dying. Saqban lost two elder brothers during the Iran-Iraq War, and was himself injured during the Kuwait invasion. Now he has lost three of his children by the U.S. entry into Iraq.

"I don't think people were created to kill people," he says as he kneels in front of his children's graves.

Hadeel, 12, lost her right eye by the cluster bomb, an inhuman weapon used by the U.S.A, and Ahmad his right hand.

By showing these families who are torn apart and hurt by the war, Watai questions the audiences in Japan and in the world as to the "significance" of the war.

"War is a disgusting word," Ali Saqban says at the end of the film.

Little Birds won the Human Rights Award at the 2005 Locarno International Film Festival and the 2005 Japan Conference of Journalists Grand Prize. Little Birds was screened earlier this week at the Raindance Film Festival in London, and earlier this year at the Singapore International Film Festival and the Global Peace Film Festival in Beppu City, Japan. Last year, it was screened at the EBS International Documentary Festival (EIDF) in Seoul.

Watai has worked with Asia Press International, a news agency consisting of a group of independent video journalists, since 1998.

In February 2005, the journalist traveled on the 48th voyage of the Peace Boat, a Japan-based international NGO that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment, that carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages.

The Peace Boat website has an excellent interview which reflects Watai's clear-sighted and human-centered perspective on Iraq and war, focusing on those, especially children, caught in the middle of and paying the price of whatever this war was about:

I asked so many people “when the air raids started, what did you do?? They said that they couldn’t do anything. I really sympathized with them. At that time, if they opposed the war, it meant that they were fighting for Saddam. They didn’t like that. One taxi driver said “I don’t want war, but I will not help Saddam, this is why I didn’t do anything?. During the Saddam regime, the people did not have a choice. Even now, they don’t have a choice. Two weeks before the war started, I entered Baghdad and I was very surprised at their lives. They were going to school, children were playing football, and people were in the markets. They were very optimistic. Now, they just pretend to be optimistic.

In Iraq, I think it is very difficult to generalize, because there are so many ethnic groups and ways of thinking. At that time, the people couldn’t do anything. If someone criticized Saddam, he would go to jail or be executed. But they don’t want war. They wanted the Saddam regime to be over, because he couldn’t do anything. Then the war started...


Monthly Review has an online report written by Wakai about Lebanon, "Dateline Beirut," based on his blog.

little birds...Foreign media are showing scenes of evacuations of foreigners endlessly.  Why should the evacuation of Westerners be treated as news?  In any war, foreign or civil, an overwhelming majority of local people are unable to flee, even if they wanted to.

Everybody downtown appeared not to be panicky, but I heard huge explosions -- somewhere near -- last night, around 8 PM.  "Israeli bombs," shouted some in the street in alarm, but I couldn't see the smoke.

It all reminds me of the bombing of Baghdad three years ago.  At that time, too, I heard explosions here, there, everywhere, never quite certain exactly where the bombs hit.  Nevertheless, the sounds of bombs alone strike fear.  Past experience of being bombed doesn't so much as get you used to it as serve as a reminder of the fear you felt.  All that citizens of Lebanon can do now is to see what's happening now superimposed on moments remembered from their "wars past..."


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Jean Miyake Downey is a contributing editor at the Kyoto Journal: Perspectives on Asia (www.kyotojournal.org), an award-winning English-language quarterly published in Kyoto, Japan. She covers multicultural and transnational issues. Drawing on her background as a sociologist and lawyer, she takes an interdisciplinary look at the nexuses between historical and contemporary hybridity and fusion; global cultural trauma and historical healing; the revival and survival of traditional and indigenous cultures; and global human rights movements.

Keywords: arts_entertainment culture_news

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