Alshaibi personal Iraq doc “Nice Bombs” will be the opening night film at CUFF in August

Usama Alshaibi’s return to his native Iraq after a 25-year absence forms the heart of his new feature documentary “Nice Bombs.”

“Nice Bombs” will have its world premiere as the opening night film of the 13th Annual Chicago Underground Film Festival, which runs Aug. 17-24.

An Iraqi native who grew up in the U.S., Alshaibi hadn’t been to Iraq since his childhood, when he returned after the U.S. invasion, with his father and his wife, fellow filmmaker Kristie Alshaibi.

“I told my story to tell many stories,” said Usama Alshaibi, who was inspired in part by the work of executive producer Studs Terkel, with whom Alshaibi had worked as the video and audio archivist for the Chicago Historical Society.

“As I got closer to the soul of the movie, it was more about my journey, and my discovery of my position as an American citizen and an Iraqi-born person and an Arab. That resonated more, and the film got darker as I found the heart of the film in that tension within myself.”

Along with editor Michael Palmerio, producer of the doc “American Passport,” Alshaibi whittled the final 92-minute version of “Nice Bombs” down from his first, 5-6 hour cut. “Instead of fit everything in, I told a really coherent story about my journey back to this place and the politics of the times,” Alshaibi said. “But I do feel that it’s a timeless story.”

Ben Berkowitz and Ben Redgrave of Benzfilm are producing along with Kristie Alshaibi.

“Nice Bombs” has been financed through the Tribeca Film Festival’s Tribeca All Access Award, the Playboy Foundation, and the Creative Capital Foundation, along with private donations.

Color correction is by Bob Sliga. Sound design by Jacob Ross of Experimental Sound Studio.

After the CUFF premiere, Alshaibi and his producers aim for a festival tour and worldwide distribution.

“As long as we get it out there, people will respond,” Alshaibi said. “I’d love to play it in the Middle East. I haven’t seen anything on this level from an Iraqi and American perspective. With a lot of these movies, American filmmakers go to Baghdad, and then they come home and that’s the end of it. But this is my family. The war never ends for me.”

The “Nice Bombs” benefit is July 9 at 7 p.m. at Darkroom, 2210 W. Chicago Ave. Featuring performances by Bobby Conn, Cabaret Lavender, Naeif Rafeh, Sonya of Arabesque, Yuri Lane, Lorin Cohen, and DJs Crumpler and Stepsata, several of whom contributed to the soundtrack. $20 at the door, $18 at www.nicebombs.com.

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