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Since the mainstream media won't report on IRAQ this documentary takes
a piercing look at the impact of the war and occupation on the people
of IRAQ and the US soldiers who are there.
One stunning vignette in the film points to the little discussed fact that the US used nuclear weapons in IRAQ. Not one big bomb, but 120 tons of depleted uranium used on the tips of armor piercing shells. Nonetheless, the countryside is littered with radioactive residue from these shells with a long term health impact for Iraqis and US soldiers.
What a sobering film that all Americans should see. You can't help but walk away with a sense of the humanity and family bonds of Iraqis.
I saw this film at the 2005 Hot Docs Festival in Toronto. Most of the
documentaries produced about the Iraq war (and also, for that matter,
the Vietnam War) have really been about ourselves. Our motives, our
politics, our guilt. What Stephen Marshall has done in Battleground is
let us see the war from the perspective of ordinary Iraqis. This is
even more remarkable when it's noted that Marshall, one of the founders
of the Guerrilla News Network, admits that much of his previous work
was "agitprop", slanted and polemical. That this film, shot over three
weeks in late 2003, is so balanced is thanks in part to a little bit of
On the plane to Jordan, Marshall sits next to Farhan (or "Frank" as he now calls himself), a beefy Iraqi-American on his way back to try to find the family he left behind after the first Iraq war. Heeding the encouragement of the first President Bush after Iraq's army had been pushed out of Kuwait, Farhan joined other Shia Muslims in rising up against the regime of Saddam Hussein. But when Saddam began air strikes against the rebels, the Americans did nothing, and 100,000 Iraqis perished. Farhan was lucky. He was shot and tortured, but managed to get out of the country with the help of some American soldiers. Fearful of reprisals against his family, he spent 13 years in America without making contact and now he's returning, not knowing even if any of his family are left alive. This storyline alone would have made a compelling and heartbreaking film, but Marshall weaves Farhan's story throughout the film, including several tearfully joyous reunions.
There is also Raed Jarrar, an engineer (and incidentally, one of Iraq's most famous bloggers) monitoring the presence of depleted uranium in American shells used against Iraqi targets. With his Geiger counter, he goes from place to place trying to warn people away from areas of contamination, but with little success. Poor Iraqis melt down the shells and tank wrecks to sell for scrap iron. Contaminated scrap iron.
Then there is the female translator who longs for a return to the days of Saddam, arguing with the Egyptian businessman who thinks the American defeat of Iraq will help it join other "losers" like Germany and Japan into developing into an economic powerhouse. And the American tank commander who cynically predicts that the war isn't about democracy or oil, but about geopolitical strategic interests, "over the next fifty to a hundred years." One thing stood out about all the Iraqis in the film. Like any other culture, and especially one with thousands of years of history, the Iraqis are a very proud people. The worst thing about the current occupation is that it is humiliating for the Iraqis. First they were humiliated by Saddam, and now by the Americans. This is something that the American army doesn't seem to understand yet, how powerful this feeling is, especially when it becomes a rallying point for the insurgency. Even though there are lots of political, ethnic and religious factions in the country, they may yet unite around a shared sense of humiliation, and then things could get even uglier.
All in all, this was a riveting journey into a war zone. And instead of focusing on the explosions, as our simple-minded media have been doing, the film feeds the hunger of viewers like me to see real Iraqis, living their lives under such incredible pressures. There are all kinds of opinions, from full support of the Americans to outright hostility, but people are eager to speak their minds. One of the film's most moving moments came near the end, when a man said (in my rough paraphrase), "The Iraqis are not the enemies of America. America should stop creating enemies for itself and instead create friends. You can never feel safe in the world if you don't create friends instead of enemies." I only hope this film helps even a little bit.
No one here yet has commented much on the artistry of this film. It was
adeptly shot, with a raw, on-the-fly style that caught fascinating shot
after shot of Iraqi civilians and daily life (for techies, it was shot
on a Panasonic 24P camera, and was almost certainly transfered to
film). The editing and music are aggressive, maintaining an energy and
attention span befitting the young filmmakers. Yet this is no MTV
hack-job. The filmmakers catch the emotions of the film with simple
beauty, such as the running storyline of Frank being reunited with his
family, and showing their love, customs, and feelings. There's a smart
balance between these moments and the ideological chaos that envelopes
the family and the entire country.
Others here have given good synopses of the film, so I won't add more to that other than to say the structure is intentionally meandering. The filmmakers in the "extras" section of the DVD discuss how they wanted to portray an emotional journey through Iraq from many perspectives, rather than to give a linear tale neatly guided by a voice-over. Don't look either for an intellectual dissection of the Iraqi situation from the filmmakers -- but expect a dozen or more dissections from those on-camera, ranging from idiotic (a U.S. soldier who thinks we're there just because we like to go to war and test weapons every few decades) to insightful. And the insights come from all sides, which tells us something we should have remembered from Vietnam: the real problem is not good vs. evil, but rather the clash of two civilizations with a complete lack of understanding for each other.
This documentary features monologues and 'as-they-happen' scenes from
Iraq. Particularly poignant stories and images of an Iraqi ex-patriot
returning home to his family after several years in the USA; a few U.S.
officers who are more honest and better informed about Iraq than the
U.S. executive branch, and Iraqis who present opinions about the war
that are far removed from anything the U.S. "free press" has been
exposing American citizens to. Despite all of this excellent material,
the film does not hold together very well as a film experience. It is
an intelligent and journalistic but highly manipulative and modernistic
documentary - powerful, but lacking some of the depth which
characterizes more reflexive efforts.
The director seems to be attempting to play the role of the Wizard of Oz - manipulating the the themes from behind the editing room curtain, but clearly wants you to believe or understand something about Iraq after you've seen the film. In this regard, the film does succeed - any thinking person will walk away from this enlightened - to an extent. My objection - and it is a small one - is that it is entirely unclear to me, after seeing this film, where the director stands and how much direction was used to produce what we see in the film. The selection of scenes and the exceptional clarity and eloquence of the monologues strongly suggests that a great deal of editing has taken place - but what were the criteria for selection of scenes, participants, etc? How much coaching and scripting occurred? Despite his limitations and obnoxious personality, at least Michael Moore lets you know that what you are about to see is his view, spun in his unique and quite biased direction.
One of the best aspects of this film is that it does not insult the intelligence of "the American People" in the way we have become accustomed to being insulted by our present administration, nor does it, in any way, insult the intelligence of our military. The military personnel who participate in this film apparently understand what they are in Iraq to do much better than some of our leaders do. Or perhaps they are simply much more honest about it.
Despite its preaching and relative lack of balance, BATTLEGROUND: 21
DAYS ON THE EMPIRE'S EDGE ranks as one of the best post-war Iraq
With crisp footage and unfiltered comments from Iraqis and the soldiers occupying their country, it offers an intriguing close-up look at the immediate aftermath of the U.S.-led invasion. We hear accusations of abuse from tribal leaders, hypothesizing servicemen and many of the familiar allegations against the true nature of the conflict. We tour sprawling army bases and neighborhoods left devastated. Binding it all together is a long-awaited trip home by Farhan al Bayati, an Iraqi forced to flee years earlier or face the wrath of Saddam Hussein. Farhan's return is certainly compelling and gives the audience a unique perspective into the situation.
But for all its assets, one should not consider BATTLEGROUND the unbiased portrait its creators appear to claim it to be. Indeed the synopsis of the film on the official website of its distributer, Guerrilla News Network, makes mention of this "Middle Eastern quagmire." The decision that this is a quagmire has already been made by the producers, and it shows in their production. That's too bad, because documentaries like this work best without an agenda.
This film is a very small snapshot of the Iraq in late 2003 and
reflects that moment in time. My opinion is that this film is very
pro-US and makes the military effort look good.
It is surprising to see this film shown at left-wing fund raisers since it is a great US Army recruiting film. It made me proud to be an Army veteran.
It does not show the Iraqi forces engaged against the insurgents since the Iraqi forces were not as numerous as they are now.
There is an African American Sergeant Tank Commander who gives a long and very organized monologue about why the US needs to be involved in Iraq. He is more eloquent than any Secretary of State or college professor.
There is an Egyptian businessman who debates an Iraqi translator about the US intentions. He comes at it with a world view and she just sees greedy motivation.
The only thing wrong in my opinion is the emphasis on "Depleted Uranium" munitions. These have been extensively studied and are not any worse than any of the other stuff on the battlefield. The lead from regular ammunition is also poisonous and the radiation from the depleted uranium is only seventy percent of the naturally occurring uranium found in the earth's crust. (Anyone interested is referred to the Federation of American Scientists web page.) The constant cigarette smoking is much more of a threat. At one point the radiation meter is clicking loudly but only reads 2 mR/hr. It would take 150 hours of direct contact with the metal to get the same exposure as one mammogram. These mammograms are recommended yearly for all women over fifty. There is probably much more of a radiation hazard from Saddam's old production sites.
A very enjoyable movie with excellent sound and video editing to make it move nicely.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This Docu def held my attention i saw it last night with my 12 year old brother and he asked why are people so angry in Iraq but the truth is they have every right to be the globalization ( as the tank commander) describes it was the main reason why the united states entered Iraq because it was one of the main countries leaning towards "western civilization" and by converting Iraq into a "democracy" country the united states would hope other 3rd world countries will follow. i do believe Oil plays a major part in this "war" but not an essential role as to why we have so many troops maintain order.Iraqi officials are non cooperative in identifying terrorist cells because they maintain the balance in between invading cultures/countries or even individuals. as if there terrorist played the role of an authoritative official. there own Police. all in all a great film with many different perspectives.!!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I was hoping to see some fairness in this film. By fairness, I mean
that the film would offer at least some representation of the entire
circumstance of the war in Iraq. However, this film depicted an
entirely negative view and joins the majority of mass media in an
agenda of political commentary (with some nice digs at globalization
just in case their audience forgot that globalization - read: the USA -
kills trees and hurts kittens). This commentary must, by definition, be
anti-American regardless of circumstance and in that it loses it's
credibility. The producers used the crowds to pursue that agenda. These
crowds of people would act however they were supposed to act in front
of any camera depending on what expectations were set; I say this with
all due respect for a people whose country is being occupied by a
The purpose of this war may be lost to all but history but this movie is simply too awash in blue paint to be taken seriously by any other than the politically aligned.
Nice timing on the Roman Empire connection!
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