By David-Elijah Nahmod, July 2016 Web Exclusive.
The new documentary Out of Iraq, which screened at the LA Film Festival June 2 and debuted on Logo June 13, tells the love story of two gay soldiers. But fair warning, this isn’t a fairy tale.
Rather, this documentary gives LGBTQ viewers a glimpse at the horrors being perpetrated against gay men across the Middle East through the story of Nayyef Hrebid and Btoo Allami – a couple that met in 2004 on the battlefields of Iraq. At the time, Hrebid, who then went by the pseudonym David, was working as a translator for the U. S. Army and Allami was an Iraqi soldier.
Midway through the film we learn just how unimaginably bad life has become for gay men in Iraq since the defeat of Saddam Hussein.
"People are arrested and killed for the way they dress and for listening to music," recalled Hrebid.
The couple's attraction to each other was instantaneous, yet it took several months before they were able to even come out to each other – coming out to the wrong person could mean instant death. Things had gotten so bad, the film explains, that families would kill gay relatives without hesitation and the Iraqi government knowingly looked the other way.
Home video footage underscores the depth of Hrebid and Allami 's love for each other. As war rages all around them, they embrace and kiss. An idyllic afternoon spent by the river stands in sharp contrast to the realities of what Iraq has become. When they cry, wondering if they will ever find their way to safety, some viewers might cry with them.
As the story plays out, we see it took several more years before Hrebid could safely tell Allami his real name. The bulk of the film follows their terrifying struggle to find a safe haven where they could be together. It took them years.
Eventually, Hrebid was able to emigrate to Seattle (where the now husbands both reside) because of the work he did for the military. Allami, meanwhile, is forced to flee to Beirut after his brother began making death threats. The Lebanese government gave him a 30-day Visa and the doc follows him as he lived underground for the next several years.
The couple kept in touch via Skype while Hrebid, with the help of a kind, wealthy immigration activist, does everything he can think of to get Allami to safety.
Both Hrebid and Allami share their story for the camera as the filmmakers daringly walk into the eye of the storm – there are sequences filmed in both Iraq and Lebanon – with what we can assume are hidden cameras, including the UN refugee center, where hundreds from Iraq and Syria hope to be among the lucky ones.
Though many in the U.S. have heard of the anti-gay atrocities being carried out across the Arab world, this film takes viewers on a journey that offers eyewitness accounts. But the injustices aren't exclusive to the Middle Eastern regimes. At one point a United Nations refugee worker states that the lives of gays and lesbians are not something the organization cares about.
These portions of the film are heartbreaking and infuriating – Will human beings ever learn how to behave humanely toward each other?
Out of Iraq functions as a romantic love story as well as a nail-biting suspense thriller. The film underscores the need for LGBTQ people to continue the fight for human rights and to not forget those who might be left behind. Hrebid and Allami have not forgotten and, toward the end of the film, Hrebid speaks of their commitment to help others escape.
Out of Iraq is an unforgettable love story about two men who knew they were destined to be together and refused to let anything stand in the way of that. Their deep love for each other and their courage in the face of unimaginable adversity is both uplifting and inspiring.