CAIRO: A 275-seat theater in North Carolina last weekend was the site of the world premiere of a new American and British-directed documentary on the Iraqi insurgency, “Meeting Resistance , that one commentator has already called “the single most astonishing documentary yet on the Iraq war.
Set to premiere next week in Doha, Qatar, at the third Al-Jazeera International Documentary Film Festival, the film, set in the Al Adhamiya neighborhood of northern Baghdad, follows eight Iraqis in the fourteen months after the invasion, when American rhetoric met the realities of low troop deployment and the first sparks of local resistance soon labeled “the insurgency.
A wife whose husband and two sons are fighting the Americans delivers messages and sometimes weapons to the highly organized resistance in her neighborhood. A father of three identified as “the Teacher preaches Jihad and criticizes Baath party members for not defending their country as so many other Iraqis are.
A pensive man, he explains the Al Adhamiya resistance as a group that “formed spontaneously under the banner of Islam, but then says, “before these events, I didn’t pray. I didn’t even know my way to the mosque.
Corrections like these of widespread assumptions about the shape of the Iraqi insurgency, formed in military talk and in the media, make the film vital viewing.
Al Adhamiya is an historically Sunni middle class district with economic and tribal ties to the hot-bed cities of Ramadi and Falluja. One imagines the insurgents operating out of Al Adhamiya as exemplifying Pentagon briefings on Sunni, Baathist and pro-Saddam “dead-enders or “Al-Qaeda operatives – yet ‘the wife’ is Shia. So are two other figures in the Al Adhamiya resistance, including a young Syrian man who answered the call to Jihad.
“In the teashops and alleyways of Al Adhamiya we found people who – within days of the fall of Baghdad – were organizing themselves into resistance cells, finding the money and weapons to continue the fight against the American military, photojournalists Steve Connors, a Briton, and Molly Bingham, an American, wrote in their directors’ statement.
The two worked as freelance photographers during the first months of the war, picking up the idea for a documentary on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in the summer of 2003, when mounting attacks on coalition soldiers were met by official military descriptions of “die-hard Baathishts and “common criminals.
Over the telephone from Washington, DC with The Daily Star Egypt, Connors and Bingham cited language as one of their main points of interest in screening the film in Doha, the first time it will be shown to an Arab audience.
“Arabic speakers [who have seen the movie] say to us regularly how articulate the insurgents are – how they speak, their word choice and expression, how they explain their actions, Bingham said. “We ll probably get all those responses.
“There was a shift in late 2003, early 2004 from a more secular nationalism to an increasingly religious base of resistance, Connors said, “and some of that comes across in language. I think Arabic speakers will certainly pick that up more.
The film had been screened before military audiences in the United States prior to its final-cut premiere in North Carolina. Connors described their reactions as “very professional.
“For the Western audience, we ve been exposed to a lot of information through film, documentary and television news about the American soldiers’ experience in Iraq, Bingham explained. “This is the first time the Western audience gets to see who it is we are fighting and what they are thinking. The film lets them speak for themselves – to articulate their belief structure and what is motivating them to take such violent action.
The deteriorating security situation in Iraq dictated the film’s production schedule, which ended in the spring of 2004, after the first bombardments of Falluja and the simultaneous rise of militias under Moqtada Al-Sadr, the beginnings of a two-pronged, and as the film demonstrates, occasionally joint Shia and Sunni resistance to coalition forces.
The directors both spoke of their desire to function as unprotected journalists – riding in taxi cabs, sitting in cafes – and not as the heavily fortified press corps that, to Iraqis, “started looking like the enemy, according to Bingham.
“Your footprint changes with security details, she said.
The film, then, is a also a primary source on the first year of the war, when foreign journalists could move relatively unprotected through the country, a distant cry from the barricaded Green Zone bureaus that went up as Iraq fissured under resistance to coalition forces and the onslaught of civil war.
“All we did with this was fundamentally go along with a very normal journalistic attitude, Connors said. “We don’t know what is happening, we want to find out, and we re willing to sit down with people and talk about it.