With the release of Deborah Scranton’s The War Tapes, James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments, and MTV’s Iraq Upoladed, as well as the number of YouTube videos and blog entries documenting the effects of bombings in Haifa and Beirut, questions about representing the war are gaining renewed attention over the last several days. I’ve been planning to write this entry (or something similar) for several days but haven’t been able to get my thoughts together.
First, I found Ana Marie Cox’s Time article on Iraq dcumentaries interesting as a framing device for thinking about how digital and online media have shaped the reception of the war, with Cox calling the Iraq War “the first YouTube War.” Starting with a discussion of The War Tapes, which is being billed as the first documentary about the war filmed by soldiers fighting in it, Cox observes that the soldiers’ videos offer a relatively grim depiction of the war. She then points to te number of videos posted by soldiers on YouTube and other video hosting services, observing that these videos offer “an even grimmer reality” as they attempt to make sense of the war. Cox’s article pointed me to an MTV documentary, Iraq Uploaded that I missed the first time around (hopefully I’ll catch it soon–the next scheduled screening is Tuesday at 10:30 AM). Cox argues that while many of these videos offer an “unvarnished” depiction of the war, they lack the context for interpreting the depicted events.
MTV’s article on Iraq Uploaded offers an interesting overview of the documentary, drawing explicit connections between the subjective camera of many of these digital videos and the first-person shooter video games that have become a widely discussed feature of contemporary culture (if only to blame the games for promoting violent behavior). In fact, Marine Scott Lyon reports that many soldiers rigged hands-free cameras so that they could shoot all the time, noting that one soldier’s helmet camera “helped him catch more intense footage, because you don’t have to stop and put the camera down. I just think it captures things people want to see.” From what I can tell in teh article, it appears that many of the people viewing these videos are soldiers themselves, manyof whom are attempting to make sense of their experiences of the war, often weeks or months after they have returned from a tour over there.
There’s also an article in The Economist about Iraq docs (thanks to GreenCine Daily for the tip), describing a second generation of Iraq documentaries focusing on the experiences of Iraqis living with the effects of war, many of which use cinema verite techniques, with the filmmakers working to make themselves invisble. The article argues that the “first generation” of Iraq documentaries, such as Gunner Palace and Occupation: Dreamland focused primarily on the experiences of soldiers while more recently journalists and filmmakers have turned their attention to the experiences of Iraqi civilians. The article doesn’t mention two very good early documentaries, Sinan Antoon’s About Baghdad and Hayder Jaffar’s The Dreams of Sparrows, but it’s a good introduction to some of the more recent war documentaries to emerge.
Finally, I learned from George while we were chatting about this NYT article about “online war diaries.” The article describes Galya Daube’s jittery, first-person video as she rushed to her family’s bomb shelter, with air raid sirens blaring loudly. There are a number of similar videos of Haifa residents hiding in bomb shelters, making phone calls to family members, and waiting for the bombings to subside. Similar footage has been posted by residents of Beirut, depicting their experiences of being bombed by the Israelis. But we also see footage such as this video taken on a trip to a Beirut McDonalds several days into the most recent fighting, with the video functioing in part as an archive for a city that has seen several sections completely demolished but also as a way of putting a more human face on the civilian victims of the violence (it also stands in stark contrast to this more recent video footage, which depicts downtown Beirut just over a week later, the city a virtual ghost town on a warm summer night).