The message that discriminating against Arabic people has certainly been well-worn since the 9-11 attacks a dozen years ago. But it can still be easy to forget how long sensitivities have lingered since that terrorist action. The documentary Barzan, playing in town this weekend as part of the Sarasota Film Festival, tells the story of an immigrant who found himself in huge legal trouble for the loosest of associations with the attack.
Filmmakers Bradley Hutchinson and Alex Stonehill early in this film admit their own skepticism at some of the facts surrounding the life of Sam Malkandi, an Iraqi who eventually got refugee status in the United States using a falsified document and whose nickname of Barzan ended up in the 9-11 Commission report. But it doesn’t take long for Sam to become the sympathetic figure. His legitimate history was one of an Iraqi soldier who fled the front lines of the 1980 Iran-Iraq war and meandered his way through Iran and Pakistan before ending up in a Washington state suburb, thoroughly enjoying the American Dream.
The film early on reminds us of the level of tremendous optimism in America before 9-11. The economy was booming. There was little conflict drawing us in around the globe. President Clinton’s State of the Union in 2000 was practically boastful, declaring all Americans as “lucky to be alive.” Malkandi, by all accounts, felt the same way.
Then 9-11 changed the nation, especially for ones who had come from Arabic nations. Malkandi found himself in special trouble when the name ‘Barzan’ showed up on page 155 of the 9-11 report as a contact for an Al-Quaeda operative. Ultimately, that operative was the friend of someone Malkavi met at the mall and helped with setting up a doctor’s appointment. But that was enough to set the Department of Homeland Security on a hunt for a terrorist. This ends up dividing Malkavi from his wife and two children, and a series of legal fights, while creating enough sympathy to garner some positive news coverage for Malkavi, don’t result in many happy endings.
Interviews with the family drill home just how American Malkavi’s family truly is, but just how unamerican the policies toward people can be once accusations of terrorism surface.
Barzan screens at the Regal Hollywood 20 on Saturday, April 6, at 5:30pm and Sunday, April 7, at 12:30pm.