A Provocative Look at Soldiers' Lives in Iraq

June 23, 2006 — -- The idea is simple and enormously powerful.

Three National Guard soldiers from New Hampshire were given their own cameras and asked to record a year Iraq. The more than 800 hours of video they recorded resulted in a film,"The War Tapes," which took the documentary feature award at the recent New York Tribeca Film Festival.

Specialist Mike Moriarty was one of the three soldiers -- he signed up after 9/11. "That was like somebody hitting my house," Moriarty said to the camera. "I had to do something about it."

But Sgt. Zack Bazzi -- born in Lebanon, fluent in Arabic -- is dubious about America's intentions in Iraq.

"[Expletive] the oil man, [expletive] it," he said. "It's not worth it. I'll even drive a Honda Insight."

And Sgt. Steve Pink was a dedicated keeper of eloquently wrenching diaries.

"I looked down at his hand dangling from the exposed bone that used to be his elbow," he said, "like a safety-clipped mitten dangling from his winter coat."

Provocative Images

The movie captures the horror and terror of combat, documenting when people are injured. But it also includes telling scenes from daily life, as well as the hometown, hard-edged New England humor of the three soldier/filmmakers.

"Look at the size of the kid selling it," Bazzi says after meeting a young boy selling huge knives. "Go tell your uncle, stop selling IEDs (explosive devices). [Expletive,] sell knives instead of IEDs."

On display in the film is the growing resentment and cultural misunderstandings the U.S. troops experience with the locals.

"Stop! You just kind of put your hand up and say, 'Stop,'" Bazzi explained while greeting an Iraqi boy and showing different hand gestures. "In Iraq, that means hello. This means stop. So the guy sees a soldier saying, 'Hello, hello,' then he says hello in a different way."

Also evident is the soldiers' frustration with Halliburton subsidiary KBR, whose supply trucks the men protect on the road.

"Everybody there stands to make money the longer we're there," Moriarty said.

In one scene, the soldiers' Humvee accidentally hits and kills a young Iraqi girl.

"We heard the crash of her body hitting the Humvee -- the worst thing in my life that I saw," Moriarty said.

With no journalist or narrator acting as intermediary between audience and subjects, "The War Tapes" provides rare insight and immediacy. It takes no sides, just paints a raw portrait -- one that its soldier/filmmakers hope will be a "service to the American people."