Acclaimed documentary shows Iraq through soldiers eyes info
Byline: Rob Woollard
Date: 06 October 2006
LOS ANGELES, Oct 6, 2006 (AFP) - Lights, humvees, action. A new documentary
shows the Iraq war from a unique perspective: through the eyes of a
Equipped with miniature digital cameras rigged to kevlar helmets or mounted
on gun turrets, soldiers from the New Hampshire National Guard provided
over 800 hours of footage for "The War Tapes".
The unflinching and harrowing end result won the best documentary accolade
at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and is generating early Oscar buzz. As
one critic said, if the audience was any closer, they'd be dodging the
"It's a journey through the soldier's eyes, which is something we haven't
seen before," the film's director Deborah Scranton told AFP in an
"I wanted to be able to crawl inside the soldier's experience and
understand what it looked like, felt like, smelt like.
"The power of the film is that for an hour and a half you get to walk a
mile in someone else's shoes."
Scranton managed the project around the clock from her farmhouse in New
Hampshire, staying in contact with participating soldiers via instant
messaging and video conferencing.
"I rigged up an old baby monitor at my bedside so I could hear and leap out
of bed whenever anyone came on line," Scranton said, part of a production
team that includes "Fog of War" producer Robert May and Steve James ("Hoop
Forging close friendships with the men from Charlie company, 3rd of the
172nd Infantry (Mountain) Regiment, Scranton admitted to having sleepless
nights as she tracked their tour of duty day-by-day.
"It was nerve-wracking, I was up all night biting my finger nails,"
"One time I got an email to say that mortars had hit. And then I didn't
hear anything for 24 hours. So I was sitting there wondering 'What
happened? Did they all get wiped out?'."
While 10 soldiers out of the 180-strong company contributed footage to the
movie, the film focuses on the separate journeys of three soldiers:
sergeant Zack Bazzi, a Lebanese-American university student; sergeant Steve
Pink, a carpenter; and specialist Mike Moriarty.
Based in the deadly Sunni triangle, the unit travelled 1.4 million miles
(2.2 million kilometers) during their tour and lived through over 1,200
combat operations and 250 direct enemy engagements.
Bazzi told AFP that the cameras were forgotten as soon as the 'record'
button on the camera was activated.
"I would screw the camera rack on the turret rack and mount the camera, and
let it run," Bazzi told AFP in an interview.
"No-one was really directing, it was up to us. I never thought about the
camera. I was in a combat zone.
"When I was on patrol I was worrying about my subordinates, my superiors,
my humvee, the insurgents, the civilians," Bazzi says.
Scranton hit upon the idea after being contacted by the New Hampshire
National Guard in February 2004 with the offer to embed as a film-maker.
When she suggested that soldiers be given cameras instead, the military
The results are memorable: the soldier's frustration at having to provide
armed support to trucks owned by Halliburton, the soul-searching after the
death of a civilian in a road accident, the madness of being ordered to
deny hospital access to an Iraqi parent carrying a sick child.
Nevertheless, the film studiously avoids the temptation to make political
points, choosing instead to present the soldiers' lives warts and all and
leaving the audience to make up its own mind.
"The film has always been about the soldiers' point of view," Scranton
explained. "From the beginning I promised them that we would tell the
story, their story, wherever it took us, no matter what.
"I promised we would not twist their words."
The war in Iraq has been the most media-saturated military conflict in
history, with the Internet explosion fuelling dozens of books, countless
blogs and websites. Scranton was largely left alone by military censors.
Only one piece of footage, when Pink is filming the bodies of insurgents
killed in Fallujah and commenting on the dead men, was withheld.
The concept of soldiers carrying cameras into battle and movies like "The
War Tapes" are a natural byproduct of the information age, Scranton says --
and they are here to stay.
"I don't think they can put the genie back in the box with the level of
technology we have now. The cameras are so small, the stories will get
Ironically, Bazzi disagrees, and believes similar projects are unlikely to
be repeated in future wars.
"At the end of the day, the way it works is that if an order goes down, it
gets implemented," he says. "So if my commander says to me 'no cameras on
the mission' I won't take cameras on the mission.
"I think what Deborah has done is great, and I hope it will be done again.
But I don't think it will. If I was a general I would want maximum control
of the information flow.
"Not because we're secretive, but because it's a war. And part of the war
is information, and there's a propaganda element to it. Ask Al-Qaeda."