Fighting the Iraq War in California

"Full Battle Rattle" tries to buck trend of war films bombing at the theater.

ByABC News
July 15, 2008, 2:12 PM

July 17, 2008— -- "Badly."

That's how Karen Cooper, the director of Film Forum, an independent theater in New York City, sums up how most films about Iraq have fared on the big screen.

Nevertheless, when she saw "Full Battle Rattle" at the Berlin Film Festival, she couldn't help but offer filmmakers Tony Gerber and Jesse Moss a two-week run.

Theirs was a different take: Instead of cinema verite from a war-torn country, embeds with the Army, or an inside-Washington's-corridors-of-power, Gerber and Moss had traveled to Fort Irwin, in California's Mojave Desert. Two hours from Las Vegas, the Army has built a 1,000-square-mile simulated Iraq complete with 2,000 role players, mock villages and Iraqi-exile actors to train troops about to deploy.

"Iraq is like the sun, you can't look directly at it," Moss told "When Tony and I talked about the war films that had influenced us, they were the films that were unexpected in their approach 'Doctor Strangelove,' 'Mash.'" Making a film about Iraq in a simulated Iraq, in much the same way Jon Stewart's 'Daily Show' is a fake news show, but a real news show," he added, would be "like a funhouse mirror reflection of the Iraq War."

Like Alice in Wonderland, "we took a leap down the rabbit hole with cameras in hand," added Gerber. "At first blush, Fort Irwin exists for logical, practical reasons: training soldiers going to Iraq. But as you begin to fall down, you end up in an absurd place."

It is, he added, an allegory for "our nation's journey into this war."

The film takes place over a three-week period; Gerber was "embedded" with the troops, Moss in a village called Medina Wasl. "The core narrative," said Moss, was "the Army's efforts to win the hearts and minds of this village."

"What struck us both immediately," said Moss, was that on the one hand it "seemed incredibly complicated, sophisticated, there were Iraqis running around, speaking Arabic. On the other hand it was totally fake, there were American soldiers cast as insurgents, wearing dishdashah, traditional Iraqi dress, and they were barbecuing. And the materials [to build the villages] were purchased from Home Depot."