Friday, May 07, 2004

screening of film ABOUT BAGHDAD 

First, let me say that I was thinking about what I wrote earlier today on the Wolfowitz protest, and I wanted to add that that sign I was holding: US OUT OF IRAQ --if I were asked if that meant tomorrow, May 7th...no. (technically it's after midnight and already May 7th, but you get it...) But that's not how I read it. To me the sign was meaning that that should be our foremost goal to work toward. This has nothing to do with the ABOUT BAGHDAD film, just something I wanted to add from earlier.

The film screening:
The filmmakers Adam Shapiro (from American University), and Maya Mikdashi (from Georgetown University) were there for Q&A, which made me very happy.

So many things happened to me, personally, emotionally, during the film, and the Q&A helped me sort it all out afterwards. These issues will come out as I write this post.

Maya Mikdashi said before the film rolled, that her own goal with the making of this documentary last summer (July, 2003), was to show how "war is about people, not cruise missiles." And that was appreciated, not so much a disclaimer, but as a way of opening up to her idea she set for herself as a filmmaker.

At first I was annoyed with the camera crew not having control over their fucking equipment, and the blurry focus, etc., that kept happening. But it was easy to forgive that, and to "focus" on what people were saying instead. Then there was the issue with the cameras shooting things that made no sense. For instance there was about a fifteen-second shot of water brimming over a square concrete hollow structure, but the voice-over wasn't talking about water, at all, and I wasn't sure if the water was clean, dirty, what the hell was with the water? There were little things like that once in a while.

One of the things that was not only annoying but suspicious, was a very short scene of two children ripping a photograph of Saddam Hussein out of a book and then ripping the photograph to pieces. It was suspicious because:
a) we couldn't see their faces.
b) it was done in slow-MO while a voice-over of a man from the previous scene was talking, but what he was saying had nothing to do with this scene.

At the Q&A, I was sure I'd only have a chance at one question. So this was my question, asking about that scene. Was the scene natural? Who were these children? Did they just grab this book and do this on their own? Or was the whole thing staged?

Adam Shapiro went on and on about it, saying, no, basically, it was not staged. Adam kind of irritated me, talking and talking and talking about things that had nothing to do with the questions. But at one point he had slipped into his answer that that scene was Maya's scene. So, when he was finished talking, I quickly asked her, "So that was your scene?" She nodded, and went onto assure me that that scene was completely natural. That they had been shooting, and had wandered into a used book stand, and there were these two children, and the two children got to talking with them about the war. And they grabbed this book, which Maya says was a French book on Iraqi history, and they ripped the page of Saddam out. Maya seemed to appreciate my question, and thanked me for bringing it up, while Adam was defensive and annoyed by the question. But if you see the film, maybe you'll understand why I would ask the question, since, to me, the scene seemed staged. But maybe the feeling was the children themselves, their actions. And the integrity of the filmmakers came to mind for me, since I'm always questioning documentation, especially visual documentation.

(As I had mentioned earlier today in the post about the Wolfowitz protest, the Inquirer photographer asked me to stand a certain way with my sign. I was not giving in, and although he was amused by my refusal, I meant what I said to him, that I believe such things to be unethical. Are you documenting? Or are you featuring a script? Asking someone to turn their head slightly and move their sign a different direction is NOT documenting! That sort of thing makes me never believe anything I see on the news!)

The film was remarkable in the rich series of interviews they pulled together. One of my favorites was an old man, talking about the humiliation the Americans have brought him and his country, making them beg for money and bread. He almost started to cry from his rage, but caught himself. He then launched into this amazing recounting of the British occupation of Baghdad in 1916. After you hear this man, one thing is made clear, and that is that whether it was British rule, Saddam's rule, or American rule, the one constant has been the suffering of the Iraqi people. This old man made me CHOKE on my tax payment guilt. It was almost unbearable seeing him in so much pain.

Another interview that blew me away was with an amazing woman who was a lawyer who took on a case against Uday Hussein. She was convinced that her client was telling the truth about Uday's crimes of stealing property, and other things. She was arrested, and the prison she was thrown into was unlike any other hell described in the entire film. She said she wished they had killed her, that the beatings and being submerged in shit and urine was more than any man she knew could take. She made it through. And when they released her, she drew a picture of a cockroach on Saddam's palace wall and wrote beneath it, "SADDAM IS A COCKROACH!" Which of course landed her in the palace prison, where she endured an even worse torture. She said that she saw her client being electrocuted because the door was ajar. It seems that they wanted her to witness this torture.

The accounts of people from al-Dujail were the worst. I can't even remember all of the different forms of torture these people talked about. Many of them showed the acid burns on their legs and feet. They talked about being placed in rooms that the guards dumped buckets of lice into, and the lice climbed the walls, and then bit the men until they bled. Then there was some other form of torture where they'd starve the men, then put a loaf of bread on a stake, then make them go for it with their teeth. The man who caught the loaf was deemed the worst dog, and I forget what happened to him, but something awful happened to him. One thing I remember was Saddam fleeing the area. There was one main road out of town, and Saddam had 300 cars, 299 of them decoy cars. The revolt took out several of the first few, but Saddam was really in one of the last cars in the line out of there.

Something interesting was the scene where they shoot footage of the bombed communications building. The building was civilian communications, where most of the major outside long-distance phone lines were housed. That building was obliterated, and the camera shots showed how and where bombs hit the structure. It was apparently known to not be a military communications facility, but of course once it was put out of commission, no one had any way of contacting the outside world.

When Maya was talking about her ideas of Globalization really being Polarization, she quoted Henry Kissenger as saying that, "the longer the Iran, Iraq war lasted, the better it would be for the United States." Not surprising I guess, but creepy nonetheless.

There's so much more to mention, in particular the College of Fine Arts, which was completely destroyed, I mean, completely. The library was the most haunting camera shot, the books a fine white ash heaped all over the floor and everywhere else you looked. Incredible loss!

The footage in the hospitals was the most potent of course. You see babies in the worst possible conditions. It's enough to make you vomit!

There's all that, then there's the interviews with American soldiers. I was saving this for close to the end, because I was so upset by this, and I didn't want that anger to spill over into anything else. But it was one of those situations where I transferred audience reaction to the filmmakers themselves. For instance, here's this white guy in his army attire, and he's talking about how he feels that he's there to do good. Says he wants to help people. The audience, ALL AROUND ME, was really pissing me off! EVERYONE around me! People saying, "Well dawg gone-it!" Stuff like that. Which is weird, because the soldier wasn't Southern, but whenever someone wants to imitate white trash, they put on a Southern accent it seems. It's so annoying! BUT WHAT WAS HE SUPPOSED TO SAY FOR FUCK SAKE!? He seemed sincere to me! He really did! And the fact of the matter is, I'm MORE THAN certain he's had PLENTY of Iraqi people come up to him and tell him their horror stories of torture, and glad that he has come to Iraq. I'm sure he's seen this and much more. It just pissed me off, the elitist, class bullshit. These middle and upper middle class anarchist and Quaker 20-somethings acting like they know anything at all about this guy!

When Q&A got going, Adam volunteered to say that they had not in any way tried to portray this soldier in a bad light. Maybe he was also annoyed by the crowd as well? But to be honest, I was so angry at the crowd's response, that I transferred it onto the filmmakers themselves. And it now reminds me of going to see Michael Moore at Penn last year. Someone had asked him from the audience why he made fun of the rabbit lady in Roger & Me? He asked the person what they meant. The person said that the woman in Roger & Me who sells rabbits for meat and fur in the film was being mocked my Moore. Michael Moore shrugged his shoulders and said, "Well, I think this is more about you than it is me, because I found her to be tragic. If you found it funny, you need to ask yourself why she was funny." So I believe that my anger tonight was unfounded, that in fact they hadn't meant to make the soldier look stupid, that it was the IRRITATING bigoted audience of superior breeding!

I could go on, but I'm getting tired. And I wanted to add some weblinks I gathered tonight:

Iraq Aftermath: The Human Face of War
American Friends Service Committee, features on-the-ground stories about current life in Baghdad, written by staff living there.

Humanitarian Information Center for Iraq
Established by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Includes maps, media center, and weekly assessments by UN agencies.

Iraq Body Count
An independent and comprehensive public database of media-reported civilian deaths in Iraq resulting directly from military actions by the USA and its allies in 2003.

Electronic Iraq
Informative site with analysis and reports. Brought to you by the folks who developed Electronic Intifada in collaboration with Voices in the Wilderness.

Iraq Occupation Watch
Supported by United for Peace and Justice, this site is primarily a portal for news articles.

Coalition Provisional Authority
Reports and updates from the US Military.

Odious Debt
Valuable resource with analysis and commentary about the impact of debt.

Jubilee Iraq
This is a network of business people, lawyers, doctors, economists, politicians, civil society groups and many others working to ensure that the Iraqi people--emerging from decades of war, oppression and sanctions--are not forced to pay Saddam's bills.

Glad I made it to this film, hope you too can get a chance to see it. Here's the film's webpage: ABOUT BAGHDAD

more later,

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