Connecting Minneapolitans to the Realities of Life in Iraq: A Sister City Relationship between Najaf, Iraq and Minneapolis, Minnesota

Iraqi Voices film screening

Blog contributed by Jessy Belt, Deputy Director, Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project. Click here to view original blog post on Medium. 

“Stories matter. Many stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity.” —Chimamanda Adichie

The Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project (IARP) has managed the day to day work of the sister city relationship between Najaf, Iraq and Minneapolis, Minnesota since 2009. Based in Minneapolis, IARP presents authentic Iraqi and American voices to counter negative stereotypes, build mutual understanding and respect, and provide a platform for dialogue. One of the ways IARP counters negative stereotypes and connects Minneapolitans to life in Iraq is through Iraqi Voices, an ongoing collaborative video initiative that helps Iraqis transform their stories into short documentaries.

Much of what we hear on the news about Iraq and Iraqi refugees is framed with the words terrorist or victim, Sunni or Shia, Isis and violence. Hearing these words again and again in our media has unfortunately made them the definitive story of Iraq and Iraqis. Insisting that this story of violence in our media is the only story of Iraqis flattens their experiences and erases the possibility of Americans to connect to Iraqis as equals. Iraqi Voices, a film mentorship program, rejects that limited horizon, making space for Iraqis to tell their stories and the stories of their country’s struggles and successes in their own words.

Iraqi Voices film screening

Jamal, an Iraqi Voices participant and longtime IARP volunteer, recently said:

As Iraqi refugees, we have been through so much and film is a great outlet for us to express ourselves and gives us a cultural platform on which to reach a mainstream American audience. Through art, we can break down stereotypes and directly tell other Americans who we are and why we as new Americans are here.

On December 7, 2015, IARP premiered three new documentaries, the latest installment of IARP’s ongoing  initiative, written and directed by Iraqis. The films focus on events occurring back home in Iraq. They highlight the anti-corruption protests and demands for basic services occurring weekly in cities across Iraq, along with the dangers that middle-class Iraqi professionals continue to face as they attempt to rebuild their shattered country. The films also highlight what we do not hear on the news, stories of hope and of Iraqis investing in their country. Iraqi-Americans narrate these beyond-the-headlines stories of current events inside Iraq with frankness and emotion.

You can watch the 2013 and 2014 Iraqi Voices short films here. 

Our organization seeks to move individuals from a focus on war and violence to a focus on dialogue, commonalities, and shared hopes for the future.