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Set exclusively in Iraq, the first U.S. feature film to deal with the occupation dramatizes one of the countless human stories that lie behind the headlines. American journalist Anna (Connie Nielsen, Brothers) decides to write a story about the assassination of an Iraqi leader whom she admires. At the same time, she is pulling away from a relationship with an American intelligence official (Damian Lewis) who thinks the war can be won with hearts and minds, and towards Zaid (Mido Hamada), a young Iraqi photographer who shows her there are people, rather than sides, in the conflict. Directed by Philip Haas (Angels & Insects).

 The Situation

A little less than two years ago, I realized I needed to make a film which somehow might go underneath the headlines of the newspaper, magazine and television reports coming out of Iraq. Like so many others, I was becoming anesthetized to the avalanche of terrible, horrifying and pointless stories. I felt that a feature film, fiction based on real life experiences, much as Graham Greene was able to accomplish in his novel The Quiet American, would be a very powerful approach to the subject. And like the Administration’s decision to invade Iraq, it was also important for me to act quickly, albeit for different reasons. I wanted to make a film that would be contemporary, not historical. There is a tradition in the United States of strong anti-war movies, Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket, to name just two, but they came out years after the events portrayed in them. I wanted my film to contribute to the current national dialogue, not solely comment on it after the fact.

To move forward, I knew I needed a writer who was intimately familiar with Iraq. I found such a person in Wendell Steavenson, a young Anglo-American journalist who had been living in Iraq, both before and after the invasion. I was introduced to her work in a fascinating article she wrote about a young Baghdad Jihadi, which was compelling because it was totally objective. She followed him around the capitol, without commenting on his motives. At the same time, she was also writing about his brother who was working for the Americans. Her entrée to older Iraqis was good, too. She had been researching a book about the Sunni elite, spending a considerable amount of time with an Iraqi army psychiatrist, for example, who was prescribing Valium to some of Saddam’s most trusted generals. This access was largely due to the fact that she was engaged to an Iraqi photo-journalist. I’ve teased Wendy that while the rest of the Western journalists were embedded with the U.S. military, she was in bed with an Iraqi!

Made totally outside the studio system, on a modest budget in Morocco, I have tried with The Situation to be ambitious, provoking and truthful. There are 60 speaking parts, many of them in Arabic, with actors coming from all over the Arab world, including Iraq, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, as well as from America and Europe.

When I met with the Governor of Rabat to secure permission to shoot in his region, he asked me who the stars of this movie were. I told him that in addition to Connie Nielsen and Damian Lewis, we had many wonderful actors from all over the Middle East and North Africa—a coalition of the willing, once more borrowing from the Administration.

Working with Wendy on the script, I wanted to give the impression of a large movie while still keeping the story on a human scale. There are helicopters, tanks, explosions and dozens of characters. But shooting the film in more of a handmade way gave it a kind of immediacy that it wouldn’t have had with a bigger budget and studio backing. I was able to enlist intelligence officers from the American Embassy in Rabat who were of enormous help to the production in accurately staging the battle scenes; and we used Humvees, helicopters and tanks from the Moroccan Army.

Prior to the release of The Situation theatrically, we started to screen the film for audiences privately and at film festivals. To date, all the soldiers who have seen the film have been supportive. Their feeling is that the film is accurate in terms of the U.S. soldier’s experience in Iraq—the complexity, the uncertainty, the danger, the violence and the lack of information.

The Situation was the opening night film at the Hamptons Film Festival. In the Q & A following the screening, a middle-aged man stood up and said he was a Republican, he had voted for Bush and thought the film was excellent and even-handed. Someone else asked me if I thought the President would walk out of a screening of The Situation. Not if he stayed until the end, I responded. And I was not being facetious.