Ann Shin's film My Enemy, My Brother is an extraordinary story of war and courage
Most filmmakers would be over the moon if they found out they'd made the Oscar shortlist. For Ann Shin, director of the short doc My Enemy, My Brother, it was a little different.
"I got an email [from the Academy] and I thought, 'Oh, okay, so we’re on that shortlist. What does that mean? Okay, I guess I’ll find out at some point whether it goes anywhere,'" recalled Shin. "Then I started getting people wishing me congratulations about the shortlist and I thought, 'Whoa, I guess this is something. This might be something after all!'”
It was such an inspiring story of bravery... It was a positive story out of the Middle East and we’re not hearing many positive stories out of the Middle East these days.
Shin can be forgiven for feeling nonplussed at first. She hails from Toronto, aways from the epicenter of the Oscars. But she's well aware now of the significance of the recognition.
"It is something to be selected, to be one of 10 of how many hundreds out there and it’s an honor. It’s a real honor," Shin told Nonfictionfilm.com.
Shin's 16-minute short, part of the New York Times Op-Doc series, tells the remarkable story of two men who fought on opposite sides of the brutal Iran-Iraq War -- back when both were very young.
"They were child soldiers, teenage soldiers at the time... enemies. One [Zahed Haftlang] was Iranian; one [Najah Aboud] was Iraqi}, Shin told NFF.
An Iranian shelling attack killed several of Aboud's fellow soldiers, and left him nearly dead in a decimated bunker. Haftang risked his own life to save his enemy's.
"[Later] they both became prisoners of war. They lost track of each other and then 20 years later, by sheer coincidence, they met again," in Vancouver, British Columbia, where both had emigrated, unbeknownst to each other.
"This story grabbed me from the start as a filmmaker when I first heard about it," Shin said. "It was such an inspiring story of bravery. And it was a positive story out of the Middle East and we’re not hearing many positive stories out of the Middle East these days. So it moved me so much."
The Iran-Iraq War extended from 1980-1988, and cost about a million lives, between soldiers and civilians. Iraqi President Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons against Iranian forces and Iraqi Kurds.
There was something both ruthless and futile about the fighting; in the end neither side gained any territory. But there were acts of heroism, as My Enemy, My Brother reveals, and redemption in the story of Haftlang and Aboud.
"A documentary can take you and help you see the other person’s point of view, help you see their story and put you in the enemy’s shoes and realize that they’re actually not the enemy," Shin said. "It helps breed empathy in the world."
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.