"If we were to kill every insurgent tomorrow, would we win? If we don't do something to the motivation and the root cause, we're not likely to defeat it," Lt. Col. Jeff Ragland told ABC News, by way of explaining why he brought filmmakers Molly Bingham and Steve Connors to Baghdad two weeks ago to screen their new documentary "Meeting Resistance" and answer questions for diplomatic and military audiences inside the Green Zone.
If Ragland, the US military's Red Team leader, wants a peek at the motivation of the insurgency, Meeting Resistance provides an eye-opening learning tool, and one which the US military seems eager to use. Bingham and Connors have also been invited to screen their documentary on military bases around the country.
Filmed during 2003-2004 when insurgent groups were just starting to put down their roots, the documentary avoids the trappings of over-production, stripping away conventional tools of storytelling to let the insurgents speak for themselves. The result is a minimalist portrait of nine men and a woman who just want the foreign invader to leave their country.
Granted the film shows just one slice of the complex tapestry of violent actors roiling Iraq, but it is a slice so rarely seen, Bingham and Connors certainly deserve all the awards the film has already won at festivals.
The filmmaking duo answered some questions for IraqSlogger recently, discussing the responses that they've gotten from their military screenings, and what they hope to achieve with their film.
IraqSolgger: You recently screened your film, Meeting Resistance, for the military in Baghdad. How did soldiers react to hearing insurgents' perspective on the war?
Connors: There were mixed responses with some people rejecting the other side's perspective outright, some saying, 'Well, yes, but that was a long time ago and everything has changed since then,' with others telling us that they're out with Iraqis every day and the film accurately depicts the culture, attitudes and anti-occupation sentiment of many they meet. One young soldier--who had lost four of his men to IEDs stressed how important it was for the American people to see this film.
Do you think response would have been different if you'd released the film a couple of years ago?
Connors: I think the response would have been the same. Think back to, foreign fighters, deadenders, FRE's and anti-Iraqi forces. These are all information operations talking points and they do what they're designed to do.
Bingham: I would just add that the dialogue in the US has dramatically intensified since the summer of 2005 and many people are now questioning the viability of the administration’s stated objectives in Iraq. I think that the American public in general are more open to hearing these voices now as a way of understanding why it has been so challenging to accomplish those goals, and how and why those Iraqis who oppose the occupation feel that way.
You have also been invited to have screenings at military installations around the country. Do get the sense that the military's growing interest stems from a generic interest in all Iraq-related movies and documentaries, or do you think that they view it as a kind of learning tool?
Connors: I think it's a genuine and natural human interest in knowing who the opposition is and what kind of a war they're involved in. I don't think many believe it as any tactical value though many recognize that strategically it can be of great importance.
Bingham: I also think that it’s rare to get a practically ‘real time’ look at what is going on for the ‘other side’ during war-time. Often you wait years, or even decades to get this kind of insight. It’s important for the military, but really for the American public to bring this knowledge into their thinking about the conflict and what the best solution is.
What do you consider the "message" your film communicates?
Connors: I think the immediate message is that the Iraq war will continue as long as the US has forces in the country. Beyond that, it calls into question the viability of the use of force to achieve control of a population in the 21st century.
Bingham: Also, while the film is shaped and colored by the specifics of being a film about Iraq, it also addresses the larger concept of the human condition under occupation and how human beings respond to it. Throughout history and all around the world there have been occupations and resistance to those occupations. It should probably then not be such a surprise that we are meeting resistance in Iraq.
Your film is remarkable in that in relies solely on the words of your insurgent subjects. What brought you to decide to not use a narrator, and how do you think that has made the viewing experience different than what it might have been had you relied on some of the conventional storytelling tools of documentary filmmaking?
Connors: We felt that the use of a narrator would have given the film an advocacy quality we wanted to avoid. The people we spoke to were articulate and were able to tell their story. Our job, therefore, became one of trying to do an honest job of editing that without being either too sympathetic or damning. I think this naturally leads to a more immersive experience and a level of understanding the subject that you simply wouldn't get from the more conventional, reporter led approach.
Bingham: It also allows the viewer a more direct experience, as if they were in the room talking to the fighters themselves. Something that we feel is important and conveys a bit of our experience, what it was like to be making the film and talking to these individuals.