Spotlight: Paying Tribute to an Iraqi "Fixer" Who Gave His Life for Journalism

By David Schonauer   Monday May 8, 2017

Screening Room: A Drop of Blood, by Matt Moyer

Once, Fakher Haider managed an Iraqi fertilizer company. But when war came to his country he found his life’s purpose as a "fixer," helping journalists who’d come to his country. Matt Moyer, who covered Iraq for The New York Times and National Geographic, was one of them.

“Guide, interpreter, security consultant, lifeline research assistant, friend. Fakher was all these things. But most of all he was brave,” Moyer notes in a new short film paying tribute to Haider. “He once said to me, ‘If a drop of your blood spills, it is my blood spilling.”

Haider saved Moyer’s life not long after they began working together, during a street riot, and his staunch support allowed the photographer to report on the lives of Iraqis. Later, Haider was targeted for working with journalists, and it cost him his life. “His body was found, hands bound, hooded, tortured, dumped on the side of a dusty road in Basra,” Moyer says in his film, which we showcase below, along with Moyer’s behind-the-scenes account.

“Would you give your life for another person? A colleague, or a friend? Do you need to think about it? Because by then it’s probably too late,” Moyer notes in the film. Fakher Haider did not have to think about it.

Matt Moyer on the Making of A Drop of Blood

I covered Iraq for The New York Times and National Geographic magazine, and while there I worked with a fixer named Fakher Haider. He and I first met when I was shooting for The Times just after the invasion. He was an amazing fixer – navigating the complexities of tribal politics and gaining access to sensitive areas when no one else could. He always looked out for our safety and was a fearless journalist.  

Not long after we started working together he saved my life during a street riot. I continued to work with him while I was with The Times and made sure to work with him when I did a National Geographic magazine story on the Shiites of Iraq. Fakher and I spent two months traveling all over southern Iraq working on the NGM story. He had a little sports car and never washed it, allowing the windows to get really dirty so that no one could get a clear view of me sitting in the passenger seat. We had some close calls and traveled in extremely dangerous areas. During our travels we tended to crash with Fakher’s friends and relatives. When we were in dangerous areas Fakher would sleep on the floor in front of the door so that any attackers would have to literally climb over his body to get to me.

I’ve been a still photographer for many years but always had an interest in film. I really didn’t have the technical skills to put a film together until I did a Knight Fellowship at Ohio University and learned how to edit motion. This was the first film I started working on. I felt I needed to tell the story of Fakher saving my life — to honor his courage and ultimately his sacrifice. Also, when I hear politicians and their supporters disparage journalists or Muslims, I think of Fakher. I feel duty-bound to protect him and his honor, and this film is one way to do that. Fakher had more courage and more decency in his little finger than these hate mongers have in their entire bodies.

The PBS NewsHour and specifically Elizabeth Farnsworth, a longtime chief correspondent and principal substitute anchor for the NewsHour, were exceedingly generous and helpful. Elizabeth had worked with Fakher while she was in Iraq and witnessed his courage and dedication first hand.

I started working on the film in the fall of 2012 and had a pretty solid rough cut done by spring of 2013. Then I began searching for video footage of Fakher, because I knew it would be helpful for the viewer to see him in moving images and not only still photographs. This took quite a long time because his job was not to be seen on camera. I had to search through hours and hours of footage just to catch a fleeting glance of him in the background. I was finally able to obtain some usable video from the PBS NewsHour.

It was an emotional film for me to make — looking at old footage of Fakher. I finished it in 2015 and had the film premiere at the 2016 Durango Independent Film Festival in Durango, CO. I only recently allowed it to be published online.


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