It's the strangest film screening I've ever been to: a film in which Iraqi insurgents play the starring role, telling their story of why they kill Americans.
The venue: Faw Palace, headquarters for Camp Victory, the largest American base in Iraq.
The audience: American servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq — the toughest critics of all for a film meant to provoke strong reactions.
And where did this film come from? The deepest bowels of the Internet? A jihadist Web site, maybe? No. It was a film made by two western journalists in 2003, in the months after Baghdad fell.
"Meeting Resistance" will be released in New York, Washington, Nashville, Tenn., and Los Angeles later this month, and then will go into wider release across the country in November.
To make the film, journalists Molly Bingham and Steve Connors interviewed dozens of Iraqis to record hundreds of hours of interviews. After 10 months of shooting, completed in the Spring of 2004, they concentrated on a handful of characters who tell the story of how Iraq's insurgency was sparked and then grew into an inferno.
'Normal People Who Are Pissed Off'
The documentary raises questions that many soldiers fighting this war wrestle with every day. Sgt. Mike Kelley, with the 3rd Infantry Division, says that the film gave him a perspective he rarely sees — the Iraqi side of things.
"They're normal people who are pissed off because we're here and we're not welcome," he said.
And though it is Spc. Travis Barnes' second tour of Iraq, he says it's important for all soldiers and all Americans to see this film, "because we don't know the Iraqis very well. I don't know anything about them."
Filming "Meeting Resistance" became increasingly dangerous during its 10-month production schedule, as the U.S. involvement here deepened. It ended shortly after pictures of U.S. guards humiliating Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib grabbed worldwide attention.
"We slipped through a rapidly closing window of opportunity," said Connors. "We got in there early. We understood there was something big happening here … and that this war wasn't one-sided."
For Some Iraqis, Occupation Was Humiliating
The film traces the path to insurgency for a dozen Iraqis. Their faces are blurred to obscure their identities, and they are called by simple descriptions, like the wife, the warrior, the teacher.
All the film characters complained bitterly about what they saw as a deeply humiliating U.S. occupation. Out of pride, fear, shame, honor and duty, they all arrived at the same conclusion that American soldiers, and those "collaborating" with them, are legitimate targets for attack.
The way Bingham puts it, "When we spoke to them, they weren't anti-American just for being anti-American. What they were was against the occupation," she said. "We got a sense that it didn't matter whether they were Chinese or French or Tunisian — if you came here and occupied Iraq, you were going to be met with the same sense of rejection."
The film and the filmmakers were brought to Baghdad by the military's Red Team — an organization whose sole mission is to present alternative views about the enemy to U.S. troops.
This was the last in a series of films on insurgencies sponsored by the Red Team.
Also in the series were classics of war and fighting insurgencies, like Gillo Pontecorvos' 1966 "The Battle of Algiers," the 2004 documentary "Control Room" about Al Jazeera, the Arabic satellite channel and the views it transmitted about the U.S. war in Iraq; it even screened a western, Fred Zinnemann's 1952 film "High Noon," about a sheriff trying to bring order to a lawless town whose citizens are too afraid to lift a finger to help him.
"We are literally the devil's advocate," said Red Team leader Lt. Col. Jeff Ragland. "It doesn't make you a popular guy, but it's a necessary thing."
Necessary, said Ragland, because defeating an insurgency is about more than killing the bad guys. "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."
As the Camp Victory screening let out, soldiers mingled and chatted inside the massive and lavishly decorated lobby of Faw Palace. As if on cue, a mortar round exploded nearby, a sharp reminder that the insurgents are still out there.