The harrowing real life family drama Nowhere to Hide is one of those documentaries that starts off with a single noble idea, executed wonderfully, before becoming something deeply personal and terrifying. It starts with filmmaker Zaradasht Ahmed travelling to Iraq in 2009, shortly after the withdrawal of American troops from the country. Ahmed makes his way to the city of Jalawla, located in the heart of the volatile “triangle of death” in the country’s centre. It’s there that he meets Nori Sharif, a family man and nurse in the emergency room at Jalawla’s hospital. Recognizing that Sharif sees the human toll of the past conflicts on a daily basis, Ahmed kindly asks the nurse to carry a camera around to document day-to-day life and get the stories of everyday people and survivors of war violence.

Ahmed’s instinct to ask Sharif for his help in making Nowhere to Hide proves invaluable early on, as the medical professional is a warm, compassionate, and intelligent guide through the streets of Jalawla. Sharif also proves to be a gifted filmmaker, strong interviewer of subjects, and even a remarkable cameraman. He’s a humble man who realizes he leads a life more blessed than a great deal of his countrymen, and his bond to his wife and four children is a strong and loving one compared to the families he has seen ripped apart via the crossfire of war. He knows that the war still rages in the minds of the people, and such fixation bears scars, physical pain, and unimaginable psychological costs.

The first half of Nowhere to Hide finds Ahmed giving viewers an insider look at the region and its tired, frustrated, and understandably paranoid residents. Sharif sits down with a paralyzed soldier, a family man and former crane operator kidnapped twice by Al Qaeda, and kids forced into skipping school to collect cans and copper to sell for scrap so their families can put food on the table. Sharif takes viewers inside the hectic hospital emergency room following a suicide bombing and observes the outpouring of grief as family members are called in to identify the bodies of loved ones. Ahmed’s gaze is unflinching, respectful, and never exploitative, and if the film remained with the nurse only in these moments, Nowhere to Hide would have remained a worthwhile first person account and vital documentary about what the Iraqi people have been forced to see as “the new normal.”

But Nowhere to Hide happens to take place at a major turning point for the country, so while Ahmed’s instincts were probably tied to capturing the country’s budding freedom in a state of flux and mounting frustrations, what the director ends up with is a gut wrenching tale of how his film’s subject is forced into a deadly situation. Filming over the course of several years, Sharif is able to watch as militia groups and the Islamic State begin battling for control of the region and its resources. Just one year after the withdrawal of American troops, Iraq sees violent crime rates reaching an all time high, which says something terrifying about the current unspoken state of the country. Businesses are closing, the sound of gunfire has become more of a presence in the lives of everyday citizens, and plumes of thick black smoke give hints as to where the most recent large-scale tragedy has just taken place. As time goes on, cities and towns in central Iraq begin to fall to militias or ISIS, with Jalawla becoming one of the most contested locations. The staff at Ahmed’s hospital dwindles to five, and then eventually zero as the family man is forced to flee the city with his wife and children, but with certain groups targeting innocent families to convey their message, staying safe, out of sight, hydrated, and fed becomes increasingly difficult.

A terrifying and eye opening look at those most affected by war – the people who have nothing to gain or lose by such violence – Nowhere to Hide puts a human face on forgotten people that still need help. In his job, Sharif sees the horrifying, chaotic, and unpredictable nature of life in Jalawla, but once the violence reaches the family he has done so well to protect, Ahmed’s film takes on a more heartbreaking, personal, and immediate tone. The big picture happening around the periphery of Nowhere to Hide has suddenly come to the doorstep of the film’s main subject, and it’s an immense credit to Sharif that he continued filming while trying to stay one step ahead of the violence around his family. Most anyone would be forgiven for abandoning such a project, but Sharif understands the value Ahmed’s film could have for the people caught in the crossfire of the current Iraqi conflicts.

Sharif deserves just as much credit for the emotional and political weight of Nowhere to Hide as Ahmed receives as director, and the population of modern day Iraq hasn’t had a better voice on screen than this brave father. Drawing on his medical background in an attempt to explain the mess Iraq has fallen into, Sharif describes how people only see the symptoms and aftermath of what’s happening, but how the actual disease has become almost impossible to spot. There are few more terrifying things to think about than what it must be like to live in such a situation, and Sharif and Ahmed have created a resonating work about everyday survival under unlivable conditions.