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Films About Iraq

Filmmakers Are Documenting the War in Iraq


Films About Iraq

Dr. Riyadh in My Country, My Country

© Paul Cobaugh
The ongoing War in Iraq continues to be a prime subject for documentary filmmakers. Last year, four Iraq War documentaries were on the short list for Academy Award nominations. Each represents a different facet of the story, ranging from raging battles in Fallujah to the quiet moments a family takes comfort in while they watch their country disintegrating around them. Each of these films is a must-see.

My Country, My Country

Iraq has attracted documentary filmmakers who wanted to reveal the in depth truth about the reports they were seeing on the nightly news. In My Country, My Country, director Laura Poitras delivered a story that would not be told in mainstream news coverage.<

The film follows a Sunni cleric named Dr. Riyadh over an eight month period, as he campaigned for a seat on the Baghdad provincial council, the elections for which were held in January 2005.

During the shooting, Poitras lived in Iraq and, working by herself, shot 260 hours of footage. She carried her equipment in one small, discreet bag.

"I didn't want to be seen as a person with a camera because that would have made me a target," Poitras says. "So I needed equipment I could conceal very quickly or get to quickly when I needed it."

While in Dr. Riyadh company, Poitras gained access that few others had. She sat for hours in the doctor's office and eavesdrop on conversations his patients had while waiting for their appointments. The chatter revealed how ordinary Iraqi people feel about the violence of war, and how it is effecting their lives..

Capturing the utter helplessness and hopelessness Iraqi families feel as they observe violence exploding all around them, Poitras connects the small routines of daily life to the enormity of the struggles, the danger Iraqis face on a moment to moment basis. The film is profoundly moving.

The War Tapes

Digital technology is allowing filmmakers to document the Iraq War in ways unavailable to those who chronicled World War II and the Vietnam War, when directors had to rely on newsreels and archived footage. Now, smaller cameras and digital equipment enable directors to shoot what they want to cover and edit it quickly and easily, right in the field..

For The War Tapes, director Deborah Scranton took full advantage of the new technology. She provided 10 soldiers from a New Hampshire regiment with lightweight cameras, so they could shoot was they saw and experienced. The footage is amazing. One scene shows a full-scale gun battle in Fallujah, as filmed from a camera that was actually attached to a soldier’s gun.

It was with this extraordinarily authentic footage that Scranton constructed her film, appropriately entitled The War Tapes..

The Ground Truth

Instead of concentrating her filming in Iraq, filmmaker Patricia Foulkrod--who has never actually been to Iraq--focused her documentary film on the effects the war has had on the American soldiers who return home. The Ground Truth is comprised of interviews of injured soldiers who are being cared for in military hospitals.

Knowing she would have to question her subjects sensitively and probe deeply to expose their core feeling about their experiences in Iraq, Foulkrod slowly works up to asking them about the killing--and you can see the desperation of their sadness as they respond.

Iraq In Fragments

In contrast, James Longley, director of Iraq in Fragments, spent two years on the ground in Iraq, and has witnessed the changing attitudes of the Iraqi people. Based on his long term observations, his in depth reporting gives a great deal more insight to the situation than spot news coverage can provide.

With tremendous determination and patience, Longley gained the trust of the Mahdi Army, the militia under the control of Moqtada al Sadr, the radical Shiite religious and military leader. Longley, who was obviously putting himself into dangerous situations, was able to get remarkably close to al Sadr and his inner circle of fighters. The film gives us a clear picture of who these people are and what they believe. Useful information, all of it.

It’s no surprise that the Iraq War is now a predominant subject for both documentary and narrative feature films--given that the United States has been occupying Iraq for about five years with more than 100,000 troops, this is a subject that will not soon disappear of pass out of the public’s interest.

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