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DFI Film Review: The List

Apr 24, 2012

Wriiten by Kaleem Aftab.

Film: The List
Director: Beth Murphy
Genre: Documentary
Year: 2012
Running time: 83 mins

Director Beth Murphy sees young American Kirk Johnson as a modern day Oskar Schindler. When Johnson joined USAID, he imagined that he would be part of the reconstruction effort in Iraq. What he was not expecting was that he would be one of only a handful of American reconstruction workers who could actually speak Arabic and that the Iraqi members of USAID would be treated like second class citizens; when it’s discovered that there are not enough body armour vests for all of USAID workers, the decision is made to only issue the life saving quits to holders of American passports. With the Americans arriving on the promise of building of a new democratic Iraq many natives decided to give their liberators a helping hand. It was a decision that would put their own lives at risk as Al Qaeda and their allies began targeting Iraqis who helped the American forces after establishing a foothold in the embittered country following the 2004 battle of Fallujah.

When he returned to the US, Johnson began campaigning to get his old colleagues whose lives were now under threat visas to move to America. Once news of his efforts began to spread, he became inundated with email requests for help and thus the so-called ‘Kirk’s List’ began to be compiled. Experienced director Murphy follows the efforts of Johnson to seek help for Iraqi citizens over four years, showing the personal cost and challenges faced by Johnson and those that he helps.

The story has several surprising twists and turns and despite the tough subject matter and indictment of American policy, the documentary has a feel-good factor because Johnson is such a hero. The Illinois based citizen refuses to be undone by the Kafkaesque bureaucratic challenges and his unyielding dedication to the cause is infectious. Johnson and one of the Iraqis he helped were at the screening in Tribeca and received a deserved and heartfelt standing ovation. Truly inspiring.

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