New film shows real Iraq war

Many people suspect we’re not being told the truth about the war in Iraq. A new film may bring a larger share of the truth to the homefront.

A filmmaker thought “Why not give cameras to the troops and let them show what goes on among them daily?” The result is The War Tapes, 94-minutes of raw, gritty reality, selected from 1,100 hours of footage shot in the course of a year.

This is not the Disney war we all see on television nightly. This is the real thing, almost uncensored, filmed in the same user-generated manner that has created an explosion of blogs and video sites on the Internet. The unique aspect is that it is bypassing the normal media editors who—according to many soldiers and some anti-war activists—are believed to be withholding the truth.

“I think if we can get people to see the film,” Sgt. Zack Bazzi told the San Francisco Chronicle. “I think it’s going to change the way people see the war. There’s a huge gap between the people who are fighting this war and the people who are at home. I think this will be eye-opening for people who have been watching the war at home on TV. It’s not the same.”

A pioneer of citizens’ journalism, Dan Gilmor, said The War Tapes, in which amateur filmmakers were edited via the Internet by professional editors, has the potential to become a model that changes the way stories are told. Viewers not only see the bloody faces of dead Iraqi resistance fighters, but they see the frustration, fear and confusion on the faces of American soldiers. These images are not staples of the networks’ evening news.

“This is not a piece of traditional journalism,” said Gilmor, “but it is a brilliant example of journalism with great power. It’s power is in its authenticity. You know that the guys on the ground are living with what they’re (filming),” he told the Chronicle. Gilmor is director of the nonprofit Center for Citizen Media, which is affiliated with the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

The film is unique from the business side, too. It gets supported and marketed to both liberal and conservative groups alike. In San Francisco, a recent advance screening was promoted by the military issues news site and by Mother Jones Radio.

“This isn’t a Michael Moore film, and it isn’t a recruiting film,” said Ward Carroll, editor of and a 20-year veteran of the Navy. “How can you quarrel with it? It shows the good and the bad. It’s sincere,” he told the newspaper.

The video shows how partisan politics becomes foggy and fuzzy in foxholes. Troopers who voted Republican bellyache about guarding trucks for Halliburton, and a soldier who voted Democratic and reads The Nation re-enlists. There is, believe it or not, less violence than the average summer wham-bam multiplex movie.

The idea for The War Tapes was born in February 2004 when a public affairs officer for the New Hampshire National Guard asked movie-maker Deborah Scranton if she’d like to be “embedded” with U.S. troops. Scranton was formerly a free-lance producer for MTV, CBS Sports and Fox. She earned the trust of the military with her initial effort, titled Stories from Silence, Witness to War, a documentary about World War II soldiers from her hometown of Goshen, N.H.

It was Scranton’s idea to give cameras to the soldiers. “It would immediately increase your field of vision,” she said. “To have all those cameras going, you’d climb inside what the soldiers are experiencing and feel it all around you,” the Chronicle reported.

The National Guard agreed with the proposal, but said the soldiers would have to volunteer to film daily events. The film would be reviewed by the company commander before sending it to the U.S. Only one scene was censored, and its contents were discussed in the film.

Scranton went to Fort Dix, N.J., to explain the project to the 180 infantry troops in the company. She was peppered with questions about her position on the war, her politics and whether she would distort their comments. “I told them that we’d make the film together,” Scranton said. “My views are not what this film is about,” she told the paper.

Five soldiers volunteered to film for a year. Scranton followed them for a year from the minute they left the U.S. to their frequently fumbling re-entries into civilian life.

Bazzi said he is one of five soldiers in the company who did not vote for President Bush. He was born in Lebanon and escaped the civil war there when he was 8 years old.

Specialist Mike Moriarty is married, 34, and has two young children. He did a four-year hitch in the Army in the late 1980s. After 9/11, he re-enlisted.

Sgt. Stephen Pink is a college graduate who joined the Army to finance his education. He is not very political, but he was involved in the only censored footage in the project. His commanding officer disapproved of Pink’s footage of a dog eating the remains of a dead Iraqi fighter. The film doesn’t dodge the issue, however, Pink describes the incident in a segment shot in the States.

Film editor Steve James said: “Having the camera became more than an assignment; it became their confessor. Americans have this comfort level with a camera. They’ve grown up around them, and these guys gave us material that we wouldn’t have known to ask for,” according to the newspaper.

Yet some, like anti-war activist Chris Thomas who praises the film, still are skeptical they’re getting the full story. Scranton never went to Iraq because she feared her presence would be disruptive. “Still, you can’t get around the fact this was made by an embedded filmmaker,” Thomas said. “The military was able to review this. They’re not going to put something out there that they’re not pleased with,” he told the paper.

Gilmor did not agree. “I’d say the filmmaker tried pretty hard to be invisible. There’s a lot of directors who, when you see their movies, you see their hand. This isn’t one,” the Chronicle reported.

From the July 12-18, 2006, issue

Enjoy The Rock River Times? Help spread the word!