Filmmaker Andrew Berends, who gained intimate access to lives lived in one of the world's most dangerous places U.S.-occupied Iraq — gathered some astonishing footage, often at the risk of both life and limb. What he did with it, however, is frustrating: Determined to hammer home scenes of one family's attempts to cope with the tragic loss of a son into a larger examination of the growing insurgency movement, Berends neglects the real, equally compelling story: the fragility of Iraqi families who are meant to be the building blocks of a free, democratic Iraq, but are ill-equipped to cope with either occupation or insurgent attacks. In early April, 2004, U.S. soldiers stationed in Kadhimiya opened fire on a group of Iraqi civilians who were reportedly guarding a local mosque. Among those shot was Ra'ad Fadel Al-Azawi, a portrait photographer who, unlike many of the other guards, was unarmed and died at the scene. Ra'ad single-handedly supported his family by running the portrait studio his best friend Ali, who was with Ra'ad on the night he died, helped establish. Ali in many ways replaces Ra'ad as the head of Ra'ad's surviving family, which is fortunate for them in that no one else seems capable of taking control. Uneducated, unskilled and bound by tradition and superstition, Ra'ad's mother and three sisters are capable of doing little but mourn, while his younger brother Ibrahim can neither make a go at the studio nor keep the construction job his mother manages to land him. Proud that Ra'ad died a "martyr," Ibrahim seems paralyzed by both profound grief and understandable anger; he admits that deep down he wants revenge on those who killed his brother. It's here that Berends widens his scope to include scenes of U.S. troops confiscating weapons that are being openly sold in a marketplace, and travels to embattled Sadr City where he's able to get quite close to insurgent gangs as they face off against coalition forces during a scary firefight. Berends is also present in Najaf in August 2004, when a "peace demonstration" organized by the Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani ends in gunfire. The implication is that the thriving insurgency movement is just waiting for discontented young men like Ibrahim to join its ranks, but aside from some angry rhetoric about Americans and Jews, and a scene in which Ibrahim watches a videotape produced by the fearsome Mahdi Army, Ibrahim's connection to the insurgency movement remains purely circumstantial. Berends has the makings of a good documentary — he fearlessly joins U.S. troops on terrifying nighttime raids on the homes of suspected insurgents — but his attempts at balance through interviews with unidentified U.S. soldiers is halfhearted at best. In the end, Berends sacrifices coherence for the sake of a story he's determined to tell, rather than focusing on the one that's practically telling itself.
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- Released: 2006
- Rating: NR
- Review: Filmmaker Andrew Berends, who gained intimate access to lives lived in one of the world's most dangerous places U.S.-occupied Iraq — gathered some astonishing footage, often at the risk of both life and limb. What he did with it, however, is frustra… (more)