PBS // 2010 // 60 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 27th, 2011
Restoring the Garden of Eden.
Iraq. The word stirs up a whole host of images, from political and social upheaval, to dictatorship, brutality and oppression that lasted more than 20 years. When I first saw Braving Iraq on our review list, I expected it to be a historical documentary that likely covered Saddam Hussein's time in power, or the efforts of the Iraqi people to restore stability to their country following Hussein's execution in December 2006. Due to the civil war and unrest that still exists in Iraq, this documentary addresses some of that, but overall, Braving Iraq is a nature documentary about an effort to restore one of the most beautiful and significant natural habitats on Earth.
Near the end of the first Gulf War, President Bush appealed to the Marsh Arabs, also known as the Madan, to rise up against Saddam Hussein as he believed they could make a difference. While they did resist and oppose Hussein's leadership, they were met with a swift and ruthless response. Seeing the Marsh Arabs as a threat, Hussein ordered his engineers to build the "Mother of All Battles Canal," effectively blocking the flow of both the Tigress and Euphrates rivers, starving the Mesopotamian Marshes of their vital water source. What was once the largest wetland in southeast Asia, and home to nearly a quarter of a million people, became a barren desert wasteland with a population of only about 10,000. In power for 25 years, Saddam Hussein had laid waste to a region, considered by many to be the literal Garden of Eden that is mentioned in the Bible, and home to a people who could trace their lineage back 5,000 years to the time of the Sumerians.
Braving the dangers and risks of a country still very much in turmoil, Braving Iraq follows filmmakers David Johnson and Stephen Foote as they capture an amazing project, inspired and driven by Azzam Alwash. Raised on the banks of the Euphrates, Alwash fled Iraq for America to escape the oppression of Hussein's regime, but returned after Hussein was overthrown to see firsthand the desolation of the once-beautiful Marshes. Leaving his family and successful engineering firm behind in California, Alwash returned to undertake one of the largest habitat recreation projects in human history. Braving Iraq is a powerful story of determination, human will, and the resilience of nature.
The "play with video description" feature is back on this release, with a voiceover describing what is happening onscreen as it happens, doubtless for visually-impaired viewers. Director David Johnson narrates the film, sharing his personal fears and joys at visiting Iraq and seeing both the devastation of the region and the amazing work to undo the damage. The 1080p video presentation is a bit uneven, with some sections displaying amazing sharpness and color where others are softer and slightly less vivid. The audio mix does its job well, bringing viewers into the environment with appropriate music, narration and ambient sound. This release does not include extra features of any kind.
While many of the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein and his followers
will never be forgotten or undone, it's thanks to the hard work and dedication
of people like Azzam Alwash that we see in Braving Iraq that the beauty
and mystery of Iraq is returning.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 60 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* PBS Nature