Iraq: The other inconvenient truth

To any observer, it’s obvious that challenging, independent films about Iraq are not breaking into the mainstream.

by Ramla Bile

Despite the limitations of the film industry, the role of cinematic representations is significant, as film can capture emotion in more challenging ways than hard news.

Much of national news, whether print or broadcast, devotes considerable space and time to foreign news and most specifically the Iraq war. News can provide facts and convey various approaches to policy, but it often shares the voices of pundits. Many times, film is able to transcend the rigidity that news is unable to escape. Film takes viewers from abstracts to particulars, and can personify social and political situations.

However, titles such as, “United 93,” “Obsession” or even “Reign Over Me,” flood prospective viewers with advertisements and reviews while “My Country, My Country” and “Iraq in Fragments” fall short of receiving the credit they deserve. On the contrary, Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” enjoyed widespread discussion, and, while climate change is important, our country is also aggressively engaging in a very intense and worsening conflict in Iraq. There is no shortage of films on Iraq, but few see value in such hard-hitting projects. Among the films on Iraq, most remain informative and do not take political positions, but they continue to exist as a liability. Studio-manufactured films are expensive to produce, and the cinema industry is dominated by a small number of production and distribution conglomerates. Due to the high cost and consequently high risk involved in filmmaking, it’s difficult for films that do not fit archetypal narratives to gain distribution. Only recently has the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences increased the number of cities a film must screen in to qualify for awards. This decision will make it even more difficult for independent films to break into the cinema industry in the future.

In his “Open Letter to the Academy,” John Sinno, the producer of “Iraq in Fragments,” argues there is more than just one inconvenient truth. Sinno is disturbed by the fact that there was little mention of Iraq on Oscar night or in film circles, and rightly so. It’s almost become a shameful act to discuss Iraq, and Michael Moore’s comments at the Academy Awards a few years ago – where the documentarian was booed – exists as a deterrent. Still, it’s a surprise that there was no mention of Iraq this year, even though two of the documentary nominees were about Iraq, and the conflicts continues to spiral out of control.

Iraq continues to exist as an inconvenient truth, and there is a strong need for people to conceptualize the suffering of others and question our inability to personalize the death of the other. Death tallies have become normalized, even with respect to the deaths of U.S. soldiers. They too become numbers, and while hometowns will glorify these individuals and relate anecdotal stories about their families and such, there is still significant detachment. Apathy remains rampant in our society and corporate and media structures fail to challenge individuals. The framework of our society prevents the individual from objectively and analytically engaging with the world, and unless one has a family member serving in Iraq, it’s safe to assume that many Americans go about their daily activities without thinking of Iraq. Finally, cinema ought to disrupt the status quo and challenge audiences. Current trends in film are disturbing, and if cannot stand and rouse societies, we are failing miserably at cultivating a curious, mindful and robust civil society. To counter this loss, we must become more critical consumers of media and support independent and unconventional projects that attempt to give justice to reality.

Ramla Bile welcomes comments at [email protected]