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Tribeca screens different perspectives on war

Documentaries show life in battle, toll on Iraqis, veterans
/ Source: The Associated Press

Several documentaries playing at the Tribeca Film Festival offer perspectives on the war in Iraq that you won't get from the news.

One is "The War Tapes," which made its world premiere over the weekend and was shot entirely by members of the New Hampshire National Guard; another, "The Blood of My Brother," focuses on a Baghdad family mourning the death of a son, who was shot by U.S. forces while protecting a mosque.

Also making its world premiere at Tribeca is "When I Came Home," about an Iraq war veteran who returned to Brooklyn suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder and ended up living out of his car.

Finally there's "Home Front," about a former Army ranger who was left blind at age 21 when a piece of shrapnel flew into his goggles and became lodged in his frontal lobe.

Peter Scarlet, who chooses what screens at Tribeca as the festival's executive director, believes this wave of films is the product of both technology and inevitability.

"This particular war, we've been in for more than three years now so I think it's about time that filmmakers started to take a look at what's happening," Scarlet told The Associated Press.

"On the one hand, everybody's gotten tired of the war and on the other hand we're not really getting the reality of it. We're getting newspaper headlines, we're getting bloody images on television, but I think we all understand it less than we thought we did three years ago," he said. "And I think these films, because they don't have to be on the news by tonight, because they're not embedded, because they're able to be there, have a chance of helping us understand a little bit more what's going on."

"The War Tapes" director Deborah Scranton was offered the opportunity to embed with New Hampshire National Guard soldiers in Iraq after making a movie about WWII veterans from her small town of Goshen, N.H. But she had an idea of her own.

"I had a vision that night where I said, `What if I were to give them the cameras?' So it wasn't born of an indictment of mainstream media or anything," Scranton said. "It was just an idea that I had: You know, it would be really interesting to basically virtually embed and to give them the authorship."

Scranton, 44, then went to Fort Dix in New Jersey, where the guardsmen were trained before heading to the Sunni Triangle, and gave them her pitch.

"I had to hop out in front of 180 guys and tell them about my vision, and then there was the hailstorm of questions that accompanied because, you know, they were suspicious of me and my intent, and was I going to twist their words and make a Michael Moore film that was anti-Bush, anti-mission?"

Five guys agreed to film the entire year. Three of them appear prominently on camera: the quick-witted Sgt. Stephen Pink, who leaves behind on Cape Cod a girlfriend with whom he's reluctant to open up emotionally; Spc. Mike Moriarty, a husband and father from Windsor, N.H., who aspires to be a hero to the soldiers who follow him; and Sgt. Zack Bazzi, who escaped the civil war in Lebanon with his family when he was 8, and whose mother tears up talking about him in the kitchen of her home in Watertown, Mass.

All of them stayed in daily contact with Scranton through instant messaging and by sending Quicktime clips of the footage they'd shot that day — both mundane, time-killing activities and intense firefights.

"Initially, I took one of the cameras because it was like, wow, cool, free camera, a $1,500 piece of equipment," the 26-year-old Bazzi said by cell phone from the University of New Hampshire campus, where he's studying international affairs and psychology. "I'm energetic, I think I thought it could be a side project.

"My most important thing was not compromising tactical integrity while we were on the road," he continued. "I decided I'd mount it on the Humvee, basically from the Humvee's perspective, throughout my year there in Iraq."

Bazzi said he doesn't care what viewers think of him or his actions after watching "The War Tapes," adding: "But I do think it's a big issue in our country and most people don't know what war is all about. They say, 'I'm for the war,' or, 'I'm against the war,' but they don't really know. If we can bring a little bit of reality into some people's living rooms, maybe they'll think about going against it or supporting it."

Similarly, Andrew Berends hopes his film, "The Blood of My Brother," will be an eye-opening experience. The 34-year-old, Brooklyn-based photographer-documentarian said he wanted to go deeper with his film than the war coverage we see daily in the news.

"Almost every news article reports the daily count of how many people were killed, and maybe how they were killed — car bombs, or now it's executions and collateral damage, this and that — or how many fighters were killed. That's important information but it's just this daily number," he said.

"And so for me, part of this story was just really spending time with just one person's death, one tragedy, and seeing how even that one tragedy is infinite. His mother and brother and sister, they're affected for the rest of their life. His life is over. If people will even take in one death like that and really see it for what it is, that's important to me."