- By Stephanie Preweda
Author and filmmaker Weam Namou has always been family oriented.
A film based on her award-winning book “The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment” took eight years to complete, but proved to be worth her devotion. Namou’s film “The Great American Family” won two international awards, the Women’s Film Makers Category and Feature Documentary category.
Her book and documentary examine “a criminal justice system that is based on greed and profit; big lies that lead to wars, sanctions, terrorism and other costly consequences; a democracy that is based on double standards,” which she says rob us of the American Dream.
Namou will celebrate her awards at a community screening of her documentary at the Maple Theatre in Bloomfield Township. The event will begin with a meet and greet at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9, followed by the screening. All proceeds benefit the Chaldean Cultural Center in West Bloomfield Township.
Namou, who lives in Sterling Heights, was born in Baghdad and earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Wayne State University. She has written 13 books, and studied screenwriting at Motion Picture Institute of Michigan, in Troy. She is the founder and president of the nonprofit Unique Voices in Films, which works to develop and promote uplifting media that encourage cultural diversity and underrepresented points of view.
As a respected member of the Chaldean community, she was approached by a Rochester Hills couple in 2010 to tell the story of their daughter, Dawn Hanna. It is a story of injustice, Namou learned.
Hanna, who was born in Rochester, earned a master’s degree in international business and marketing management in 1996 and went to work for her brother as international sales director of Rochester-based Technology Integration Group Services, Inc. She was indicted on federal charges and convicted in 2009 of conspiracy, violation of a U.S. trade embargo against Iraq and money laundering. The embargo was in place from 1990-2003, following Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, and was lifted after Saddam Hussein was removed from power.
Jurors determined that the company sold global mobile communications systems and global positioning systems to a Jordan-based company, then the equipment was shipped to Iraq through Syria. Hanna was sentenced to six years in federal prison. Her brother, Darrin Hanna, an assistant engineering professor at Oakland University, also stood trial but was acquitted.
She began serving a six-year prison sentence in September 2009 and was released one year early on good behavior.
The topic hit home for Namou, but she was not entirely on board with the project at first.
“Every topic this story involved I was tired of,” she says. “I was tired of the U.S. sanctions against Iraq and of the Iraq v. Iran war. I didn’t want to deal with that.”
Yet Namou was drawn to Dawn’s story because of her family — especially her mother, Linda. “The way Linda fought for her daughter touched my heart,” she says.
The Hanna family hoped Namou could bring some media attention to their daughter’s case, which was under appeal, and put pressure on the government to release her.
Shortly after Hanna lost her appeal in court, Jordanian businessman Emad Al-Yawer, who mediated the shipment, came forward, saying had acted on behalf of the CIA. He explained to the court that Dawn had no idea what or where packages were being sent and that she was innocent.
“(He) said he was trying to do justice for Iraq and ended up hurting someone,” says Namou. “Al-Yawer never told Dawn it was going to Iraq and never meant for her to get hurt. He even sent an affidavit.”
Namou worked on the book and film at the same time. It took her six years to complete the book, which won a 2017 Eric Hoffman award. The film took another two years while she was researching and speaking with people involved, including the prosecuting attorney and secret agent Al-Yawer.
There were times when Namou didn’t think she could continue with this story, but she persevered with a nagging sense of responsibility to shed light on the case.
“I thought about giving up on the project,” she says. “It required a lot of research and I wasn’t really comfortable with the topic, and was trying to find a way to tell it without being too heavy with politics.”
The similarities in her own Iraqi background helped push her onward.
The documentary shows the Hanna family and their fight for Dawn, especially during her futile three-and-a-half week appeal. During filming, Namou flew twice to Kentucky, where Dawn was imprisoned, but was denied access with her recording equipment. Her only permitted means of communication with Dawn were brief phone calls and screened emails.
Namou then invited a group of writers and filmmakers to collaborate on the film at the Hanna home. The film is not yet officially released, but it’s under review at several other film festivals.
Since her release from prison, Dawn has been living back in Rochester Hills with her family and slowly healing from her time away.
Beginning Oct. 1, Namou will begin her new position as Director of the Chaldean Community Center in West Bloomfield Township.
• Weam Namou presents her documentary “The Great American Family” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 9 at The Maple Theatre, 4135 W. Maple Road Bloomfield Twp. A meet and greet will precede the screening, at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $25, and proceeds benefit the Chaldean Cultural Center in West Bloomfield Township. For more information about the documentary visit thegreatamericanfamilydocumentary.com. Paperback and kindle versions of “The Great American Family: A Story of Political Disenchantment” are available on Amazon.com.