Fighting the Iraq War in California

Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University, told that people see documentaries for a variety of reasons. "Idle curiosity" is one. "The reinforcer" is another. Some "docs people see when they want to have their hunches confirmed and amped up, either to get more infatuated with a character like Isaac Stern, or to hate Karl Rove more intensely." Iraq documentaries fall into the second category.

"I've maxed out about Iraq documentaries," he said. "The questions I have are not going to be answered, and to be shown more evidence of atrocities in Iraq is not especially interesting."

Case in point: "No End in Sight," about the decisions behind the American occupation of Iraq, was carefully marketed so as not to appear to be another film about "the incredibly, messy, ugly, dusty, chaotic strife in Iraq," said Eamonn Bowles, president of Magnolia Pictures, the film's distributor.

"We were resolute about having limited images from Iraq in our marketing materials," Bowles told Instead, promotion focused on "abuses of power, the gleaming halls of power. It was about politics and the grotesque errors in judgment."

It worked: "No End in Sight" was the year's second biggest doc, after Michael Moore's "Sicko," added Bowles, taking in $1.4 million.

Into 'The Heart of Darkness'

"No End in Sight" is, of course, the rarity, a documentary on a very depressing subject that people paid money to see in theaters.

Yet filmmakers persist in telling the story of Iraq. "It's in their blood to do these things," said Gitlin. "They feel a moral commitment to plunge into the heart of darkness."

Morris said many filmmakers feel a "need not to just passively sit while all this stuff is going on around you." He made "Standard Operating Procedure" in part "because I was curious about these soldiers, about who they really are. Are they monsters? Are they beyond the pale? What would we have done if we'd been put in that position?"

James Longley's lyrical "Iraq in Fragments" focused on three ordinary Iraqis and did "very well," said Film Forum's Cooper. "It was beautifully shot, poetic. It may be about Iraq, but not about the war."

Longley began it before the war began, with the intent of following his characters before, during and after the war, he told "I did think the war was a bad idea, but [telling that story] wasn't the task I set out for myself."

His goal, he added, was to "show the world [the points of view] of unlistened-to, unthought-about people, to make them the center of attention. If I don't make it, who is going to make it? It's not the business of CNN to spend two years following ordinary people."

For "Full Battle Rattle," Moss said he "felt very distanced from the war. In my community, I don't know anybody who's serving, who's coming back. To me the military is very foreign, it's dominant but it's foreign."

At Fort Irwin, he added, "we felt we were going to the very center of the military industrial complex. The Iraqis are employed by a military contractor. A lot of it is subcontracted, and there are a lot of consultants on payrolls. To expand just Medina Wasl, the military is spending tens of millions of dollars."

What can audiences expect to see in the future?

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