My Enemy, My Brother tells the real-life story of two former enemies from the Iran-Iraq war who become blood brothers for life. Najah Haftlang and Zahed Aboud meet in Vancouver 30 years after Zahed, an Iranian child soldier saves Najah, a wounded Iraqi soldier’s life, they are now about to embark on an emotional journey back to Iraq for the first time in 20 years.
Director Ann Shin first came to know the two men back in 2012. She sat down with them sat down with them over cups of mint tea to listen to their story. After a four hour meeting, she was moved to tears. Since then, she’s been helping them tell their story. Zahed was only thirteen years when he joined Iran’s army to fight in the Iran-Iraq War. His reason for joining, running away from a physically abusive father. The war itself was one of the most brutal of the late 20th century – more than 100,000 child soldiers were sent to the front lines.
Zahed’s decision to save Najah during the war came after seeing a photo Najah was carrying. Realizing his so-called enemy had a wife and son that were waiting for him, he showed him compassion. Zahed helped Najah, stay alive for three days with smuggled medical supplies. This humane act changed the path of both their lives.
Not many people have the chance to survive the horrors of being a child soldier, being a POW like Najah was, and be able to find inspiration to keep pushing through every day of their lives. On-screen, they appear to be like family. After meeting each other perchance in Vancouver, they have been become each other’s father and brother, in a way. Not to give anything away, life takes them back into the heart of present-day conflicts in Iraq. They each have to deal with familial pain and loss. Yet again, they are there to provide strength, love, and support to one another. Najah and Zahed’s stories are painfully bittersweet, but also very inspiring, and hopeful.
During a Q&A at the film’s Toronto premiere screening, Shin and Director of Photography Duraid Munajim discussed how making the film has been a moving experience. They both accompanied Najah and Zahed on their trip to Iraq. They met Najah’s family who were “so welcoming to outsiders and strangers,” as Munajim described. The audience at the screening responded quite positively to the film. Many called it “poetic”, “inspiring”, and commented on how great it was to see the number of hugs shared in the film.
Munajim also described how Shin entrusted him to get images that connect with the story. His intimate and thoughtful camerawork helps to evoke so much sentiment, that we connect to Najah and Zahed individually, and become more involved in their stories. The audience is able to understand each of their resilience after experiencing many hardships. With the help of Film Editor Ricardo Acosta, My Enemy, My Brother becomes more than these men’s stories. It is a film that shows us the power of memories; the power of love; and the power of friendship.
My Enemy, My Brother is currently playing at Imagine Cinemas – Carlton Cinema. Check cinema website for schedule and ticketing information.