When Nayyef Hrebid talks about his husband his whole face lights up; he can’t stop himself from smiling.
Hrebid and Btoo Allami live a happy life together on Capitol Hill, but it the Iraqi couple spent years trying to get here — a place where they were free to be together and themselves.
“It’s the place we most feel safe,” Hrebid told CHS.
The documentary Out of Iraq tells the story of Hrebid, a translator working for the U.S. military, and Allami, an Iraqi soldier, falling in love during the war and the lengths they went to to be together. The film’s Northwest premiere will be at the TWIST: Seattle Queer Film Festival, at 7 PM on October 15th at the Northwest Film Forum.
Along with Out of Iraq, the annual festival from Capitol Hill’s Three Dollar Bill Cinema is showing dozens of other films at various venues October 13th to 23rd. For showtimes and other information visit threedollarbillcinema.org/2016.
This is the former Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival’s first year under a new name, which is intended to give it a fresh attitude and evoke a celebratory feeling. “Our fans can still expect the spectacular films, great parties, and creative programs we’ve produced all along.” Three Dollar’s executive director Jason Plourde said about the re-brand earlier this year.
Out of Iraq, which premiered at the L.A. Film Festival showed on Logo this summer, was co-directed by Academy Award-winner Eva Orner (Taxi to the Dark Side) and Chris McKim.
Hrebid was working in Ramadi, one of the most dangerous areas of Iraq in 2004, when he met Allami, a soldier in the Iraq army. The two started going on missions together witnessing sniper attacks, explosions and other horrors of war.
“You just want to see something beautiful,” Hrebid said. For him, that was Allami.
During their down time, they started going out for food, sitting together and talking until they had their first kiss. But in Iraq, their love was forbidden, and secret. The two regularly traveled to other cities where no one knew them and they could be themselves for a few hours.
In 2009, Hrebid was granted asylum, and he came to Seattle. But for Allami getting asylum was much more difficult. Hrebid said they applied for every type of visa possible for Allami, but they were all denied. Then Allami’s family found out he was gay. To save himself and continue to work toward being with Hrebid, Allami ran away to Lebanon.
The couple’s story started being filmed for the documentary during Allami’s time in Lebanon. Prior to this, Hrebid took many photos and videos, so all of the earlier footage in the documentary is his.
Eventually, the couple applied for Allami to come to Canada. After the first interview, he was approved. The couple got what Hrebid calls “paper married” in Vancouver, then Allami got the OK to live in the U.S. about 10 years after the couple first met.
“It’s still like a dream for us,” Hrebid said.
The two had their wedding ceremony in August of last year, and they hope to soon buy a home and adopt a child. They’re also sponsoring LGBTQ people from the Middle East to help them escape to a safer place. Hrebid and Allami assist them in finding jobs, housing and learning about American culture.
While the couple is settling into Capitol Hill, the 10 years they spent fighting for their love is never far from their minds. Hrebid said they get emails and messages daily from people about the impact the documentary, which debuted in L.A. in June, had on their lives.
“Love is more stronger than anything else,” Hrebid said.
But to be together Hrebid and Allami both gave up their home country and their families. Neither of their families are accepting of LGBTQ people and haven’t seen the documentary. A big reason the couple did the film is to help LGBTQ people in Iraq by showing the rest of the world what happens to them — torture, beatings, being thrown from buildings.
The documentary may help to shed light on a hidden horror, but Hrebid knows change likely won’t come quickly for LGBTQ people in Iraq.
“I wish I could see that in my lifetime,” he said.