Documenting War

Via GreenCine, two links to recent and intriguing documentaries focusing on the coverage of the current war in Iraq, neither one of which is by Michael Moore. Not that Moore’s film isn’t intriguing, but I’ve heard so much about it, I feel like I’ve already seen it.

Esteban Uyarra’s War Feels Like War (on PBS in July, according to Caryn James’ New York Times article)focuses on his experiences covering the war as an independent journalist, specifically the distinctions between independent journalists and those embedded with the military, which Uyarra describes in this intervew as “a great trick.” Uyarra adds that embedded reporters quickly learned what they could and could not film, comparing the coverage to closed-circuit TV, where you get a series of documentary images (of bullets flying, of tanks rolling), but not explanation or understanding of what is shown. He also explains that even as an independent journalist, he was prevented from filming border crossings.

Perhaps the most interesting element of the interview with Uyarra is his reflection on whether or not he’d want to film in a war zone again. Uyarra recalls that

The first time I was asked that I said no. I’d just finished editing and once you start watching the same thing over and over you feel slightly more guilty about going to a place to film rather than to help. So my answer was no, but not out of fear. I wasn’t afraid when I was there – I was too focussed on doing the job. It was a sense of disgust, not of the journalists, but of the whole idea of war. What you have to go through mentally and how stupid you feel that there is nothing you can do. But saying that, I’ve just come from Haiti which was been really dangerous, with people shooting every where and machetes flying around and that felt more chaotic than Iraq.

In Iraq you still felt that you knew where the bombs may come from. You can’t say that of a random machete. I also enjoyed being in Haiti so I might be getting addicted to all this adrenaline. I don’t feel like I want to do it all the time – it’s like the once in a while cigarette – I’m a social smoker when it comes to war zones! I don’t think I’ll be chasing channels to send me to conflicts but if they ask me I know I will do it. I don’t have the imagination to create things out of nothing. If you give me an empty room, an actor and a tripod then I am lost. But if you give me people running from bombs I can dance with the camera and almost choreograph shots in my mind – I see people moving almost before they move.

Uyarra’s answer here reminds me of Chris Hedges’ recent book, War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning, in which Hedges theorizes the power that war has on almost everyone.

The second film worth noting is Control Room (IMDB), a documentary by Jehane Noujaim, which focuses primarily on Arab perceptions of the United States’ was with Iraq, concentrating on Al-Jazeera’s coverage of the war. As Caryn James notes, the two films point to the difficulty of covering the war, an issue that has become especially poignant recently with the photographs documenting abuse in Abu Ghraib. I haven’t seen either film yet, but both films promise to provide us with an opportunity for asking questions about the possibility of documenting war.

Note: A.O. Scott also has an insightful review of Control Room.

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