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Operation Filmmaker (2008) - Movie Review

Defining the Project

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

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Documentarian Nina Davenport signed on to chronicle the experiences of a young Iraqi, Muthana Mohmed, whom Liev Schreiber hired to work on his feature, Everything Is Illuminated, shot in Prague in 2003. Schreiber had seen an MTV report about Mohmed, a charming 25 year old who said he just wanted to make films, but was stuck in war torn Baghdad, where his film school had been bombed and he was afraid to leave his family's home. Schreiber, having a good Samaritan moment, hired Mohmed as a production assistant--a 'go for'--and brought him to Prague.

What Should We Do With Mohmed?

Operation Filmmaker opens with footage shot before Davenport's involvement. First we see the MTV report about Mohmed. Then we're in Prague for Mohmed's arrival, shot by an Illuminated crew member. Schreiber's at the airport to welcome Mohmed, and tote his new hire's luggage. Mohmed falls into the drill, acting like a rock star.

That's a defining moment for the rest of the film--the part shot by Davenport--in which Mohmed feels put upon when asked to do what production assistants--go fors--do. Schreiber and crew become disenchanted as they encounter Mohmed's extraordinary sense of entitlement.

Things on set were sour when Davenport arrived--and found herself trapped in the Mohmed dilemma: What do we do with this guy?

On one hand, Mohmed offends, albeit unintentionally, everyone who tries to help him, but he also gains sympathy by saying he can't go home--since he's consorted with Americans and, particularly, a Jew (Schreiber).

We get another perspective via footage shot by Mohmed's film school buddies back in Baghdad. Davenport sent them cameras to record messages for Mohmed--they told him not to return, and gave Davenport a hard time about returning her cameras.

Nevertheless, Davenport sticks with Mohmed Schreiber and crew move on, recording Mohmed finding other sponsors. Ultimately, he tries to make her feel responsible for taking care of him, and demands money from her.

In closing the film, Davenport says, "I always hoped that there would be a good ending with my collaboration with Muthana, but more and more I was looking for an exit strategy."

Focus On The Filmmaker

While covering the character of Mohmed and the twists and turns of his fate, Davenport also focuses on several interesting issues. In broad terms, Davenport directs our attention towards what happens when well-intended but naive Americans venture to solve a political or cultural problem about which they know very little. Schreiber's impulse to rescue Mohmed exemplifies many such sympathy-driven do-gooder undertakings.

But what's particularly fascinating about Operation Filmmaker is the way in which it examines the documentary filmmaker's relationship to the film's subject and the role the documentary filmmaker plays in shaping the film's subjects' future. Davenport is both smart and honest in the way she allows her personal involvement to play subtly through the film. Operation Filmmaker is never about Davenport, per se, but her ongoing quest as filmmaker to balance her desire to be fair to her subject and her need to break free of him adds tremendous depth to the project.

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