Voices Of Iraq

Voices Of Iraq


Reviewed by: Chris

It's hard not to go to a movie called Voices Of Iraq without bringing your personal views about the war, but this is a film with a value that goes beyond political.

One hundred and fifty video cameras were distributed to ordinary Iraqis over the summer of 2004. The resulting 400 hours of film were collected and edited down to 80 minutes, subtitled, produced with Anglo-Iraqi hip-hop music, occasionally cut with graphic footage from Saddam's regime and overlaid with US newspaper headlines, or occasional explanatory notes. If not exactly a tourist promotion video, it does let you hear a large number of Iraqis talk about their country in their own words at a variety of locations that a Westerner would have difficulty visiting.

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What I liked best was seeing men, women and children with genuine hopes and dreams in such a devastated country, displaying the love and warmth of local people that is so easily forgotten when we only see footage of war and desolation. "I hope the world will see our smiles," says one, and it is a beautiful image, far from the stereotype of the terrorist, religious spokesman, insurgent, or politician.

Voices Of Iraq includes some very moving interviews. A Kurdish woman restrained her tears as she recalls how she started smoking at university and regularly burnt herself with cigarettes. Why? So that she could be "prepared" for when she was tortured. There were many reminders of the millions that Saddam tortured and killed. One man jokes about wanting to be tortured at Abu Ghraib, comparing the minor violations there now to the horrific tortures exacted by Saddam Hussein.

Media headlines from the US press are contrasted with opposing footage. For instance, a banner reading "Militia force people to stay at home" introduces scenes of a vibrant, bustling street market.

For anyone who has served in Iraq, this is an uplifting film that makes a more believable case for the invasion than politicians on TV. For an upbeat, if not totally pro-American, view of the war, it is positive and genuine. To watch it in the same afternoon as Fahrenheit 9/11 (if you are sufficiently open minded) might even persuade you there is no complete right, nor complete wrong.

But like Michael Moore's inflammatory anti-invasion film, Voices Of Iraq is flawed and cannot claim to be as impartial, or unbiased, as it would like, simply because the people speaking are Iraqis. We have no way of knowing how it was edited. Certainly there is no claim to have used a sociologically sound sampling method and to suggest that it was "made" by The People of Iraq is disingenuous. Whilst the footage was shot by Iraqis, the editing, and hence any message to be distilled from such a large amount of film, was done by an ex-Marine and his two NY colleagues with MTV experience.

The documentary fills a necessary gap in our understanding as long as it is not viewed unquestioningly. It enables you to have a closer understanding of Iraqis as people. If it does "support the position of the Bush Administration," as some have claimed, that's not sufficient reason to dismiss it.

At the Edinburgh International Film Festival 2005 UK premiere, Voices Of Iraq was screened with a short called, Where Is Iraq?, which likewise has informal interviews with local people, filmed by an Iraqi-Canadian. It provided some balance, as there was more anti-American sentiment than pro, but itself suffered from the same problem, that if you interview enough people you will get the views you want.

Whatever your feelings, Iraq is still a country of individuals, like you or me. Voices Of Iraq brings this a little bit closer.

Reviewed on: 01 Sep 2005
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Voices Of Iraq packshot
Iraqis film each other. Americans edit it. The invasion is given the thumbs up.
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Director: The People of Iraq

Writer: edited by Robin Russell, Martin Kunert, Stephen Marks

Year: 2004

Runtime: 80 minutes

Country: US/Iraq


EIFF 2005

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