The War Tapes

Filmmaker Deborah Scranton's idea for capturing a more immediate picture of life for U.S. soldiers in Iraq's harrowing war zone was simple yet novel: She gave video cameras to five National Guardsmen from her native state of New Hampshire and asked them to shoot whatever they could during their one-year deployments. Communicating via the Internet, Scranton...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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Filmmaker Deborah Scranton's idea for capturing a more immediate picture of life for U.S. soldiers in Iraq's harrowing war zone was simple yet novel: She gave video cameras to five National Guardsmen from her native state of New Hampshire and asked them to shoot whatever they could during their one-year deployments. Communicating via the Internet, Scranton "directed" the film by the most indirect means imaginable, hoping that what her soldiers/cameramen were getting on tape — more than 1,000 hours of footage she subsequently edited down to 97 minutes — was a more accurate depiction of the war between coalition forces and the growing insurgency than anything a journalist could capture. The result, however, is a mixed bag. True to Scranton's vision, we go only where the three soldiers she focuses on — 24-year-old Sgt. Stephen Pink; 34-year-old SPC Mike Moriarty; and 26-year-old Sgt. Zack Bazzi, the son of Shia Muslims from Lebanon — and we see nothing other than what they see from the front seat of a truck or from under a tent pitched at ground level. What we do witness, however, is often harrowing. Deployed in March 2004, the same time the temporary Iraqi constitution was signed, Scranton's soldiers are assigned to the most attacked base in the country — sprawling Camp Anaconda, in the insurgency-ridden area known as the Sunni Triangle — and quickly learn the meanings of such anagrams as IED (improvised explosive device), RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) and VBIED (vehicle born improvised device — a car bomb). They're also present at the November 2004 siege of Fallujah. While we at home can't come close to experiencing the war in any real sense, we do come away from Scranton's film with a greater sense of the soldiers' everyday fear, helplessness and horror, a surprisingly cynical attitude towards the business of war (and just who's profiting from Operation Iraqi Freedom), and what they carry with them when they return home. And homecoming is when Scranton's film gets really interesting: Having seen the soldiers' footage intercut with tapes of families and girlfriends anxiously awaiting their return, we get a good sense of just how much war has changed them. Pink begins showing troubling signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome but refuses treatment; Moriarty hopes he helped get exactly what they went in for — oil — and Bazzi, who loves being a soldier but regrets that he can't pick the wars he fights, finally becomes a U.S. citizen and awaits his next deployment.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: Filmmaker Deborah Scranton's idea for capturing a more immediate picture of life for U.S. soldiers in Iraq's harrowing war zone was simple yet novel: She gave video cameras to five National Guardsmen from her native state of New Hampshire and asked them to… (more)

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