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By Zack Haddad | March 15, 2007

2007 SXSW DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION FEATURE! A terrible mistake doesn’t just affect the one who makes it, which is evident when Adnan makes the mistake of stealing in Iraq. I have to admit that I have only the television to tell me the different ways of Arab culture, making “When Adnan Comes Home” the portal for me when it comes to explaining how one family copes with the mistake that one of their own has made in Iraq. This documentary may suffer from a few problems set out below, but that doesn’t stop this from being an interesting look into one family’s life in a different land.

Adnan was caught stealing with his friends. He was taken into custody and while in prison, a fire broke out. The fire left severe burns on both of his hands, his head, and his legs. His father and the rest of his family are hesitant to visit him due to the fact that they are ashamed by his actions. The family is poor and they now have to find a way to pay for Adnan’s surgeries and for his bail.

Andrew Berends directed and shot this documentary himself. He did a good job of balancing out footage of the family and footage of Adnan in the prison. It is also to be noted that Berends made it almost like we are there with this family, making for a very familial, and comfortable, feel… for the most part.

At one point Mustapha (the father), during a spiritual ritual, takes a very large rod and uses it to puncture a hole in his son’s cheek. Now if you have seen the Discovery Channel, you may have seen something like this before. Yet I couldn’t help but be shocked by this. It was in that moment that I really felt like I was there witnessing everything taking place.

Granted, the story is solid, the access and connection tightt. The thing I didn’t understand is that Berends would film American soldiers often and then later would follow-up with the family. Now the soldiers had nothing to do with the story, other than being there. They would just randomly pop up and I just didn’t understand why they were even filmed, other than maybe as a reminder that this film was made during the Iraq War. Also the camera itself often just sat there and it bothered me just how many times the camera would go in and out of focus (auto-focus issues?).

Families in the Middle-East may have different rituals than many American families. Yet it is evident that all this family wants, all shame aside, is their son back with them so they can be a family again. “When Adnan Comes Home” is painful to watch at times. Seeing Adnan suffer with burns all over his body in prison why his family sits at home in shame is pretty depressing. The story is compelling, with interesting characters and even if the documentary has a few technical problems, it is a worthwhile culture experience.

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