Director Ann Shin and producer Hannah Donegan discuss the making of My Enemy, My Brother, Shin’s poignant documentary about two men who fought on opposite sides of the Gulf War.
One of the more emotionally impactful documentaries at this year’s Hot Docs Film Festival is Ann Shin’s feature documentary, My Enemy, My Brother. Shin tells the story of two men who fought on opposite sides of the Gulf War conflict, one from Iraq named Najah, and one from Iran named Zahed. The documentary brings these two men back together 25 years later in Vancouver, Canada. Told primarily through archival footage, interviews, and interactions with both subjects’ relatives, the film follows the men’s journey back to where they were from as they search for the families they left behind. Weaving personal history with the political turmoil that has plagued this area for decades, Shin brings humanity to the complex political history of the Gulf wars.
I talked with director Ann Shin and producer Hannah Donegan about the making of this poignant documentary: the research process, designing the film’s aesthetic, and developing emotional reenactments.
Seventh Row (7R): How did you come to make this documentary and connect to these two subjects?
Ann Shin (AS): I was first told about the story by my friend, Greg Kelley, who is the producer at Ideas CBC radio. He was making this radio doc about two former war vets. He said, “You should do a doc about it.” I investigated it when I went to visit my folks who live in Vancouver. Because [Najah and Zahed] live in Vancouver, too, I just looked them up. They were very welcoming. They told me their whole story, and I was bawling. The way they rose above the political differences and how they were with each other. I was so inspired so I wanted to start doing the doc.The way they rose above the political differences and how they were with each other. I was so inspired .Click To Tweet
7R: Why did you think it was important to capture two different points of view in one film?
AS: Particularly in our political climate, where there is rampant Islamophobia, I thought it was so important to show the story of two Muslim men who rose above their circumstances. It’s an affirmation of humanity. It’s an instance where two people are supposed to be enemies are really close friends. I’m hoping that people will think twice about who they assume is the enemy, who is the other, or who is a threat, after they see this movie.