BattleGround: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge

Like Occupation: Dreamland, Stephen Marshall’s BattleGround: 21 Days on the Empire’s Edge (IMDB) seeks to present the war in Iraq from a perspective that goes beyond what we see in the nightly news. BattleGround, which played last night at the DC Underground Film Festival and will soon be available on DVD, attempts something a bit different (I won’t say “more ambitious” because all of these films are ambitious) in that it presents multiple competing narratives about the effects of the war in Iraq, particularly on the lives of Iraqi citizens.

On the one hand, we are introduced to a young man who joined the 1991 resistance and was forced to flee Iraq. As the film opens, he is returning to Iraq, where he will see his family for the first time in over a decade. In one of the most emotionally powerful scenes I can recall seeing this year, the man is reuinted with a beloved uncle, their speeding heartbeats captured by the microphone attached to the youner man’s shirt. The son later reunites with his mother in a similar scene, and it becomes difficult to question their optomism about a new Iraq.

On the other hand, other interviewees tell a different story. Former Al Jazeera worker May Ying Welsh describes the toll taken on Baghdad by the bombs that hit the city during the “Shock and Awe” phase of the war. Later, Raed Jarrar, of the blog Raed in the Middle, describes the dangers of scavenging for scrap in a local “tank graveyard” due to the depleted uranium that was used to coat many of the tank-busting weapons used by the US during the war. We also hear from a well-read US soldier who explains that the war is a product of globalization and US economic interests.

Marshall’s film carefully avoids consulting “experts,” at least in the traditional sense of the term, and I think that’s an advantage of the film. We are provided with several thoughtful, intelligent people who are trying ot make sense of the war, as the filmmakers seek to “highlight the humanity of all sides of the conflict.” As the indieWire reviewer (cited on the BattleGround homepage) notes, one of teh strengths of the film is the lack of awareness of the Iraqi perspective, especially as Iraq people faced the lack of electricty and water immediately after the first phase of the war (and rationing for a long time afterwards).

Because I watched the film almost immediately after Occupation: Dreamland, I feel like I need to see BattleGround a second time before I fully understand it, but it’s another example of great documentary work coming out of the war in Iraq. BattleGround ‘s director, Stephen Marshall, is part of the Gureilla News Network, which looks like a fantastic alternative news source for thinking about the war and other issues.

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