Occupation: Dreamland (2005)
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"Occupation: Dreamland" is different. It tells the story of the war not from a politician's or reporter's eye-view, but through the stories of our troops. There is none of the clever editing or voiced-over partisan hyperbole that you get from propagandists like Fox News or Michael Moore. All we see is the war as it happens and the soldiers' comments on what is going on.
The soldiers do not all agree with each other about the necessity of the war or support for the current President, but they all agree that they have a job to do and a duty to do it to the best of their ability. What I also like is that there were Iraqis willing to talk to the filmmakers about their perspective about the war, and you realize that these are not just a race of drooling assassins (the way they would be portrayed in a Hollywood action film), but frustrated human beings who resent having to have foreign troops in their neighborhoods.
Watching this film, you see how these men deal with boredom alternating with fear for one's life. And in between battles and the doldrums, there are USO shows and scary retention meetings, where recruiters basically tell the soldiers they are losers who can't function in civilian society.
Pro-war zealots will not like the fact that the troops are not shown to be super-patriotic he-men, but imperfect young men barely out of adolescence who find their job all too daunting, implying that this war has been planned poorly up to this point. Anti-war activists will not like that the movie clearly shows that these young men are the only thing keeping Iraq from total chaos, implying that an artificial timetable for bringing troops home will lead to disaster.
I think that it is criminal that this film has not yet gone into wide release. If I had my way, every American--especially those fair-weather patriots who say they support the war, but who do not serve in the military and/or will not allow their children to enlist--would be made to see this film. It might make everyone think twice before giving easy answers to the war.
Scott and Olds follow seven or eight squad members of the 505th battalion of the 82nd airborne around Falluja in the weeks before the final siege that destroyed the city. We get to see these guys how they really are, not how Black Hawk Down or Saving Private Ryan portrays soldiers (in idealized Hollywood robot super patriot tough guy fashion).
Scott and Olds go on patrols and missions with the guys to arrest suspected insurgents or defend meetings of important Iraqis, and you see how difficult it is for them to do their jobs. They spend 5% of their time supporting reconstruction, and the other 95% trying to hunt down attackers who are merely opposed to the presence of occupation forces.
They are from all points of view, some who support Bush and the war, and others who don't, but they all seem intelligent and think a lot more about why they're there than most of the politicians who sent them (of course it's their lives on the line and they won't simply take someone's word for it that there is a good purpose behind it). They question what they would do if they were in the place of the Iraqis who shoot at them almost every day, they know there is a better way to solve Iraq's problems, but none of them has the power as low ranking individuals to do what they know works better or undertake anything massive to help the Iraqis who plead with them everyday for jobs, electricity, gas, water, food, school supplies, and so on. Disillusioned, they forge ahead with their mission with a sense of duty and but no sense of accomplishment.
Most of the guys seem genuinely concerned with Iraqs, and some of them confess that after being shot at so much and seeing friends die they just can't like them, and even hate them. All of them are open with their opinions of the situation, their own circumstances regarding their original recruitment, continued enlistment, and hopes and dreams, which is something we can't get from scripted town hall meetings via satellite between President Bush and the troops.
Just as interesting, we get to see Falluja as it was, and all interaction with Iraqis is subtitled so we hear it directly from them, men and women and children of all ages. There is no evidence of the Islamic fundamentalists the Marines just weeks later undertook to destroy. Some of those arrested are clearly insurgents, and some...you never know for sure. There's a depressing parallel between the lack of jobs and education in Falluja and the lack of jobs and education that prompted most of the squad to join up and what they will face when they are demobbed.
According to the director, all of them squad members featured have seen the film and love it, and some folks at the Pentagon have even watched it to get insights into what their men are really feel about the war. In the viewing I attended, there were Iraqis, former soldiers (both Vietnam and some more recently demobilized guys), and at least one Afghani, and they all seemed to like the film. It's a service to the troops because it lets them speak for themselves for once at length, unlike in short articles, and it's an excellent record of the reality of the war from an undeniable point of view, not filtered through papers and news correspondents and politicians with pro-war points of view or at least a fear of being called unpatriotic. Ironically enough, it's probably the most pro-troops, anti-war film of all because it's honest and deals with the men as human beings like us or our friends and family.
speaking of reviews, one of the most interesting things for me, as a non-American, were comments like the following from the reviews: "In this sense, then, the greatest accomplishment of 'Occupation: Dreamland' is showing those of us on the home front that it really is possible, Republican howling to the contrary aside, to support our troops without supporting the war itself." um, sorry? sure, you don't need to spit on them from a great height, but you either support one country invading another or you don't. the soldiers conscientiously carried out their instructions to spread a little good pr, but no one was fooled, least of all the soldiers themselves. shame, really, that they weren't being used on true peace-keeping missions in places that could use a little first-world intervention. darfur or the ivory coast, anyone?
Occupation: Dreamland, however, blows them all away.
At first glance it looks like all the others. Identical talking heads in some makeshift basecamp, green nightvision raids, and lots of shaky cameras taking cover to the sounds of far-off gunfire and confused voices.
But there's something very different about this one.
The most obvious difference is the total freedom with which the soldiers appear to be speaking. At only a couple of times to you ever get the feeling that they're mending their speech. The speak openly, crudely, and exactly the way you always thought a 21 year-old infantry soldier in Iraq might talk when the Frontline cameras turn away.
"What the f--k are you looking at?" a soldier asks one of a handful of Iraqi men standing on the side of the road as he patrols the streets in Falluja. "Quit f--king staring at me like that. F--king a--hole."
The really amazing thing though is just how well-spoken and honest they all are. They talk of dropping out of high school, joining the army, hating the army, hating the war, and hating the Iraqi people who clearly hate them back. Most jaw-droppingly though is how just about every soldier, to a man, follows up their dislike of the Iraqi people with, "You know what? If I was in their shoes, I'd be doing the exact same thing." It's such an amazing insight into the men who are actually dealing first hand with the mess we all talk and complain about.
Another key difference between Dreamland and all the other documentaries, is the way it really makes you feel the frustrations of an unwinnable occupation. You watch as they raid house after house, looking for insurgents, coming to the same conclusions they're coming to: that no one knows what's really going on, that our intelligence is a joke, everyone seems to be lying AND telling the truth, and that just about anyone could be a "bad guy".
And that's when they're NOT being shot at. Their frustration while on patrol, or acting as "security", is just painful to watch. They patrol, in essence, in order to be shot at or blown up. Early in the film everyone drops to the ground as an ungodly barrage of fire erupts a few blocks away. After taking cover, gathering their wits, getting some sort of insight as to the location of the attack, they make their way to the suspected source of the gunfire, conceding immediately that, "Even with a fairly quick reaction time, the insurgents had plenty of time to hide behind another building, hop in a car and drive away, or simply walk back in their house."
And in a moment that seemed almost Hollywood-ized in its summarized perfection, the cameraman catches an IED as it blows up alongside their convoy. The freaked out soldiers then immediately open fire on an Iraqi man who happens to be the closest person to the location of the bomb, who himself was almost blown up. Proving that panic makes a crappy gun sight, they miss the guy completely, and watching him run from the explosion into a barrage of gunfire is both hilarious and gut-wrenching, as your heart breaks for everyone involved.
Even a minute or two after the explosion, as the soldiers stand around helplessly, their desperation to fight back is palpable.
"Sarge, I see a guy running over there," one of the grunts says. "You want me to shoot him?" And at the same time you realize, "Geez, isn't that what people do when a bomb goes off - run?" The soldier being interviewed that same day says the exact same thing.
Like David Bowie said, "And these children that you spit on as they try to change their worlds, are immune to your consultations. They're quite aware of what they're going through."
See this film. It is, by far, the best documentary of the Iraq War, and one of the best war documentaries ever.
They interview only American Amry personnel that are all, to a man, express views that are:
1.) Lazy 2.) Anti-American 3.) Pro-terrorist
Now it shames me to to see these people operating in our Army. But of course these are the people that these terrorist "film-makers" chose to focus on.
These so-call film-makers are terrorists in that they give material support to terrorist activity.
Then i realize that it is our Marines who really do the real fighting.