Sorting the Three Types of Iraq War Movies

Sorting the Three Types of Iraq War Movies

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

In a paper she published last year, American University's Pat Aufderheide estimated that there have been dozens of Iraq documentaries released since the war began in 2003. To make sense of this production, she defined three categories into which most of the films fall.

Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," for instance, is an exemplar of the "why are we in Iraq" films. It's also a documentary that broke audience records, opening up the market for other documentarians' work. Yet, Aufderheide points out, that film's success has, in many ways, warped the expectations of the public when it comes to big box office.

" 'Fahrenheit 9/11' was really a shocking event," says Aufderheide, who studies documentaries as director of AU's Center for Social Media. Moore's film may have divided its audience by preexisting political affiliation, but it also helped open up the subject of Iraq. She says the 2004 film "broke the ice." Other films that might fall into this category, including Oscar nominee "No End in Sight" (2007) and "Control Room" (2004), have had success more proportionate to other popular documentaries.

Since then, there have been films enough to fill out other broad categories. "Grunt docs" focus on the daily lives and often complaints of ordinary soldiers. "The Ground Truth" (2006), an angry appraisal of the war by soldiers who feel betrayed by the military and political leaders, is one example, along with "Gunner Palace" (2004) and "The War Tapes" (2006).

"Learning from the Iraqis" is another category, into which Aufderheide puts films such as James Longley's "Iraq in Fragments" (2006) as well as "My Country My Country" (2006) and "The Blood of My Brother" (2005). These films focus on the lives and views of ordinary Iraqis and, as Aufderheide points out, they often contain painful confrontations with American ignorance about Iraq and Iraqi society.

So what does Aufderheide make of the strange disconnect between the intensity and quantity of films about the Iraq war, and the current, apparently low-level interest in changing policy? "In the aggregate, they do make a difference," she says. But what that difference will be isn't yet clear.

-- Philip Kennicott

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