• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Iraqi refugees contribute to success of Oscar-winning film, "The Hurt Locker"

News Stories, 1 April 2010

© Sharif Al Majali
On location in Jordan with 'The Hurt Locker'. An actor playing an US soldier is caught on camera.

AMMAN, Jordan, April 1 (UNHCR) Nader and Ala'* were delighted when "The Hurt Locker" won this year's Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director. Not only did the film about a gung-ho bomb disposal expert help refocus flagging international attention on the suffering in their native Iraq, but they also had a personal role in its making.

The two were among some 20 Iraqi refugees hired to work as extras in the movie, which Kathryn Bigelow shot largely in Jordan because Iraq remains too dangerous seven years after the overthrow of the late President Saddam Hussain. Nader and Ala' fled to Amman from Baghdad in 2004 and 2005 respectively after being persecuted for their religious beliefs.

They spent almost three weeks working in various locations with Bigelow and her crew, earning the equivalent of about US$20 a day. Jordan's Royal Film Commission, a valuable partner of UNHCR, helped facilitate the making of the film, which follows a United States Army Explosives Ordnance Disposal unit as they deal with the daily threat of terrorism that Nader and Ala' once lived with.

"I am happy that the film won a prize," said Nader, who had a tiny bit of dialogue that made it into the finished work. Both he and Ala' praised the actors, director and producers for its success "The Hurt Locker" won six Oscars and many other prestigious international prizes.

Both Nader and Ala' said it was important for them to take part in the film, because it depicted the danger that civilians and soldiers face from car bombs, suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices in Iraq. "We feel really sad to see how many explosions occur every day," Nader said.

The two Iraqi refugees appeared in crowd scenes shot in urban areas and said it was hard work. "There were lots of sophisticated scenes of explosions," Ala' recalled. He appears in a tense scene early in the film, when the maverick bomb disposal expert played by Jeremy Renner defuses a car bomb. "We had to run . . . we ran away," Ala' recalled.

The extras also welcomed their work on "The Hurt Locker" because it was a useful source of income. The casting agency was keen to hire Iraqis to play Iraqis. "The film is about Iraq and it is important to get Iraqis involved," explained George Naouri, a casting director. "Iraqis went through these difficult times and they can show true emotions," he added.

Priority was given to the neediest Iraqis, but the casting directors were also on the look out for people with some previous acting experience. "We were glad to take part because, for us, it was a much needed source of income to cover our rent and other expenses," Ala' commented.

Nader has always been fond of acting and, although his father would not let him study the craft at college, has landed roles in Iraqi-made films and popular Arabic-language TV programmes since arriving in Jordan. He was working as a civil servant when US-led forces overthrew Iraqi's President Saddam Hussein in 2003 and fled to Jordan a year later after being threatened and robbed.

Ala' also had some past acting experience in Iraq; he was involved in making music videos. "Working in this film was not my first experience and I was really excited when I was asked me to be an extra," he said.

He and his family fled from Iraq after Ala' was kidnapped for ransom and badly hurt. "We were persecuted and threatened. Even where we lived was a threat to us and to our families," he said.

Most of the Iraqi refugees who were hired as extras on "The Hurt Locker" have since been resettled in third countries. Nader and Ala', who both receive cash assistance from UNHCR, hope that they will one day follow; neither wants to go back to Iraq.

* Names changed for protection reasons

By Dana Bajjali in Amman, Jordan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

A Mounting Struggle to Survive: Urban Refugees in Jordan

Much of the media coverage of Syrian refugees in Jordan has focused on the tens of thousands of people in settlements like Za'atri. But more than 80 per cent of arrivals live outside the camps, and are facing a mounting struggle to survive. After three years of conflict, they are finding it increasingly difficult to put a roof over their head, pay the bills and provide an education for their children.

Many have found homes near their point of entry, in the north of Jordan; often in disrepair, some still within earshot of shelling from across the border. Others have gone further south, looking for more affordable accommodation in Amman, Aqaba, Karak and the Jordan Valley. While most rent houses and apartments, a minority live in informal shelters.

From 2012-2013, UNHCR and the International Relief and Development non-governmental organization conducted more than 90,000 home visits to understand the situations of Syrian families and provide assistance where needed. The resulting report is an unprecedented look at the challenges 450,000 Syrians face when living outside the camps in Jordan, as they fight to make a new life far from home. Photographer Jared Kohler captured the life of some of these refugees.

A Mounting Struggle to Survive: Urban Refugees in Jordan

As Winter Approaches, Syrians in Jordan Prepare for the Cold

As winter approaches and Syria's raging war shows no signs of abating, Syrian civilians continue their desperate flight across borders to safety. Most have fled with nothing and some arrive barefoot in Jordan after walking for miles without shoes to reach the border in the increasingly cold and harsh conditions. Their arrival at UNHCR's Za'atri camp reception area often marks the first time they have been in a warm area without fear since the war began. In the dawn hours when most people arrive, they appear as exhausted bodies under blankets. And when they wake, you can see the agony of their ordeal etched on their faces. Throughout the refugee camp, a cottage clothing industry has arisen on every street corner. Throughout the region, UNHCR and its partners are moving quickly to distribute thermal blankets, extra food rations and clothing to ensure that the least vulnerable refugees are protected. The following photographs were taken by Greg Beals, working for UNHCR.

As Winter Approaches, Syrians in Jordan Prepare for the Cold

Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region

Thousands of Syrians streamed across a bridge over the Tigris River and into Iraq's Kurdistan region on Thursday, August 15th. UNHCR Field Officer, Galiya Gubaeva, was on the ground with her camera.

Syrians stream from their war-torn country into Iraq's Kurdistan region

Jordan: Syrian Refugee Teacher Opens Camp SchoolPlay video

Jordan: Syrian Refugee Teacher Opens Camp School

An estimated 25 per cent of Syrian refugee children in Jordan are not enrolled in schools. Some of the refugees, former teachers, are addressing the gap by setting up their own schools.
Iraq: Khaled Hosseini VisitPlay video

Iraq: Khaled Hosseini Visit

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Khaled Hosseini, a former refugee from Afghanistan, met Syrian refugees during a trip to northern Iraq. The best-selling novelist talked to many of the refugees, including an aspiring young writer.
Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing CrisisPlay video

Jordan: Syrian Refugees' Housing Crisis

Hundreds of thousands of refugees living in urban areas are struggling to survive. They face rising rents, inadequate accommodation, and educational challenges for their children.