Saddam Al-Zubaidi

Class of 2015
M.A. in Digital Communication

Independent filmmaker Saddam Al-zubaidi felt his heart respond when he first visited the Kawergosk refugee camp in 2012. Just 30 minutes from his hometown of Erbil in the autonomous Kurdish region of Iraq, the camp is home to more than 10,000 Syrian refugees. Saddam saw families sleeping on the ground in tents. He thought of his own two children.

Saddam and his family brought donations to Syrian refugees living in his neighborhood, as did many of their neighbors. That did not ease Saddam’s heartache.

“We don’t have any other way to help them,” he thought — but two years later, Saddam did find another way.

In 2013, Saddam earned a Fulbright grant to continue his education in Valpo’s graduate program in digital communications. Here, he first imagined a documentary film about the camp. He returned to Iraq in the summer of 2014, accompanied by Professor Liz Wuerffel, an experienced filmmaker, and Sarhang Sherwany, another digital communication student from the Kurdish region of Iraq.

“I love to work on documentary filmmaking and videography,” Saddam says. “It’s about the stories, and the story of the refugees is a powerful story that I can share.”

The intense summer weather meant that the team could record only 20 minutes at a time before their camera overheated. Still, when the team returned to the U.S., they had recorded 150 hours of footage featuring interviews in English, Arabic, and Kurdish. “Kawergosk: Home Made of Cloth” will be entered in the Chicago Film Festival, and its creators have plans to submit it to several more.

The film has three goals: to raise awareness of the Syrian refugee crises in the Kurdish region, to educate people about the complexities of the issues and the region, and to paint a portrait of this particular camp. The directors include scenes of dancing and soccer games as well as news footage and stories of exile, reminding viewers that these are real people making the best of a violent situation.

At the documentary’s pre-screening at Valpo, several people in the audience asked how they could donate to the refugees. Saddam said their generosity was unexpected, and the team has worked to find an avenue for donations. They are also seeking funding to support a feature-length documentary on the Syrian refugee crisis. They intend to return to the region, visiting other camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey.

“This project has just gotten started,” Saddam says.

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