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We Know Her!
by Karen Pecota

The Tribeca Film Festival 2008 is on my list of memorable film festivals for a number of reasons, but one incident occurred while I was earnestly doing my job.

My favorite press only venue during the festival was called the “round-table”. This was a small group session of intimate dialogue between the press and filmmakers, actors, or producers regarding their film. One of the round table sessions with documentary filmmakers Ivan O’Mahoney and Laura Winter eloquently articulated their passion to show the difficulties that surround life within a hot war zone expressed in their documentary Baghdad High.

They chose four Iraqi high school seniors who lived in Baghdad and were studying for their final exams. Their daily hurdle was to get to school across town through barricaded borders. Each crossing experience was a constant worry. Once in school, their day began with intense training for the exams. The exams are notably difficult and a statistically low percentage of students pass. To pass the exam is everything to these students because it is their ticket out of the country. The four students were trained to discreetly use a small camcorder with which they filmed the majority of the footage seen in the documentary – a mind-boggling feat. The boys’ involvement with the documentary project kept their spirits alive. However, the realities of their situation were anything but hopeful.

After their introduction, the press jumped in with their questions. The filmmakers responded with ease and zeal. However, they gingerly explained the current situation and its dangers for all involved; they expressed their concern for the boys and were sincerely grateful to have continued daily contact. The background to this real-life narrative was daunting and inspired the press to probe for more information with questions like: what is the likely outcome of the project and what are the four high school seniors doing now? Unfortunately, we extended our allotted time frame for the round-table and not all of our questions could be discussed but we scrambled for business cards and other materials for further contacts before the room had to clear for the next session. As we were leaving, the filmmakers announced that HBO had already picked up the project to air August 2008. This was a fabulous compliment to the filmmakers and wonderful news to end our round-table session.

Later that evening, I was standing in the photo-shoot area designated for the photographers, TV and Radio to capture the filmmakers/actors on camera at the premier showing of Baghdad High. The media can only photograph or record the film celebrities immediately after their arrival to the theater and before they enter. It is very exciting! The ticket holders are all around this space and the media personnel are securely sectioned off ready for their cue to get to work.

I was positioned as the very last camera for which the filmmakers would pose. While waiting my turn, I was talking with the media gurus next to me. It turned out I was hob-knobbing with some of New York’s finest journalists. As my turn to photograph approached, the coordinator announced and pointed at me, saying, “We have one last still camera shoot.” As the filmmakers turned toward my lens and smiled, they exclaimed, “Oh! We know her! We are delighted to pose for her coverage.” The remaining journalists turned their heads in my direction. I was poised and cheerfully smiled from ear to ear. I quickly took my allotment of photos and graciously thanked them for their time. I bent down to pack away my camera and stood up while I flung my camera bag over my shoulder. I walked away from that one enchanted moment with a smile on my face, my head held high and a stride full of confidence. I was very proud to be a journalist and thankful that I had taken the time to listen to a filmmakers story.