The List is a much anticipated, and I think important film, playing in this year’s Golden Rock Documentary competition. The film is about a subject close to the hearts of my brother and I, the local ‘fixers’ who risk their lives to help foreign journalists and aid workers do their jobs in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. The List tells the story of an American aid worker named Kirk Johnson, who has become fed up with the targeted killing of his former local co-workers in Iraq, for having aided the United States. He compiles a list of those seeking refuge in the United States and sets out on a campaign to help them.
I spoke with director Beth Murphy about the film.
In the film Kirk Johnson compiles a list of the fixers in Iraq who are seeking refuge in the United States. Can you define a fixer and explain the relationship between fixers, and foreign workers and journalists?
Fixers are our eyes and ears when we travel in dangerous areas, and our work would be impossible without them. They help keep us safe, set up meetings and interviews with critical local contacts, drive us where we need to go, and help us to understand the subtle nuances of a culture that is not our own. Especially during the war in Iraq, many areas were no-go areas for westerners. And this often means fixers are journalists in their own right – reporting back to the reporters who then file these stories as their own. In our case, fixers helped us capture footage for THE LIST that would have been impossible for us to obtain on our own, but was critical for telling our story.
Im sorry to say at least one of the fixers we have worked with in the past from Pakistan is no longer living, and there are probably more like him. Why do you think it is that this work is so dangerous for locals?
There are so many more like him, and it is such a tragedy that Iraqis who worked with journalists, soldiers, government and aid workers have been murdered because of that work. To help Americans in any way – as translators, drivers, cultural advisors, engineers, education specialists, you name it — means becoming a “traitor” and “collaborator with the enemy.” This affiliation with the U.S. makes them targets by all extremists. Even militia groups who are fighting one another agree to target this population for death.
What made you decide to make this film about the ‘fixers’? Was it personal experience working abroad?
I first encountered this story because of my volunteer work with the International Institute of New England. In 2007, the government was talking about accepting large numbers of Iraqi refugees, and our resettlement department was preparing to resettle them in the Boston area. When no one arrived, it was clear the government was saying one thing and doing another. I know first-hand how important local staff is to my work, and the same is true for the U.S. government: America could accomplish nothing in foreign lands without the support of locals. It was shocking to me to discover that we are at once dependent on them, yet disregard the fate they face because of this dependence. Why are we not doing more to help them when it is so clear that we have a moral imperative to do so? I wanted the answer.
What would you like to see done about this situation?
The President of the United States needs to say, “We have a responsibility to these people, and we are going to live up to it.” Blood from our Iraqi friends is staining our national moral conscience, yet there is no outcry from the public or the government to save them. Why is this? More than injustice is at work here. Our Iraqi allies are Arab. They are Muslim. The words Arab and Muslim are not synonymous with terrorist, and this pervasive prejudice in America must change. We are more terrorized by fear than anything else, and this fear is tearing away at our moral fabric. The List Project to Resettle Iraqi Allies proposes the Guam Option
which would work this way: The U.S. would airlift endangered Iraqis out of Iraq and process them at our military base in Guam. This satisfies two concerns: keeping the Iraqis safe, and keeping America safe. The Guam Option has been used to deal with similar situations (most notably with U.S.-affiliated Iraqis in 1996), and it should be implemented again.
What are your plans for the film moving forward?
THE LIST will be playing at film festivals worldwide through 2012. Once the festival circuit is over and a possible theatrical run complete, it will be broadcast on public television. I’m particularly excited about the robust Impact Campaign we’re developing in partnership with national veteran, educational and refugee organizations and congressional and media partners.
I want the film to effect policy change and help foster an understanding about the lingering human consequences of war. Updates the film are best followed here
Watch the Trailer for the List Here: