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
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.