The Liberace of Baghdad

Director: Sean McAllister

Institute History

  • 2005 Sundance Film Festival


With two inches of ash perpetually dangling off his cigarette and his thinning hair pulled into a rakish ponytail, Samir Peter looks more like a '50s beatnik than a classically trained concert pianist who once enjoyed celebrity status in his country. He was, in fact, a musical phenomenon in pre-Sadaam Iraq, the self-proclaimed Liberace of Baghdad (or the Chopin of Iraq), an incredibly likeable character and a man whose life, like so many in that war-torn country, has been put on hold by dictatorship and war.

Samir provides an ironic, near-fatalistic window into the daily horrors of his occupied nation, while never losing sight of his dreams and personal aspirations, which include living in America—the country his daughter and many other Iraqis blame for their nation's chaos, perilous lack of security, and rising death toll.

In this film, shot over an eight-month period, director Sean McAllister follows and befriends Samir (whom he meets by chance in his hotel) as he documents the downward spiral of violence, and the heartbreak, fear, and anger of Samir's family. It is a brave and moving story that shows us the human face of war that we all too rarely see.

— Diane Weyermann

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards


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