Most of the Iraq films so far have been documentaries — logistically it’s just been faster and easier for one filmmaker to get into the country, gather footage and leave. It would have been physically impossible in recent years for a film crew to make a feature there, and it’s especially dangerous now.
But a few fictional tales have emerged, including director Irwin Winkler’s “Home of the Brave” from last year, about a group of soldiers returning from Iraq and readjusting to their old lives. The movie stars Samuel L. Jackson, Jessica Biel and Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson and was shot partially in Morocco, where the desert and architecture are similar to those in Iraq. (“The Situation,” about a love triangle during the war, also was shot in Morocco.)
Another rare piece of fiction, “Grace Is Gone,” focuses on a father who takes his two young daughters on a road trip, where he struggles to explain that their mother died while serving in Iraq. The film debuted at Sundance where it won the audience award for favorite U.S. drama.
John Cusack, its star, said he began looking for an Iraq-themed film because of the Bush administration’s strong enforcement of Pentagon policy banning media coverage of America’s returning war dead.
“When they banned photos of the dead coming home, I thought, ‘My God, they think they can control death,’ ” Cusack said. “I’ve always thought you want to be in and of your time as an artist. I was kind of trying to process what’s happening right now. It seemed clear we’ve got to do stories about coffins coming home, and I was looking for something like that.”
Matt Dentler, producer of the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Texas, where “My Country, My Country” and “Occupation: Dreamland” both had their North American premieres, expects that fewer documentaries and more features will come. It just takes time and historical perspective.
“It’s all about trying to make the quote-unquote definitive film about the subject and it’s hard to make a film that stands as a milestone,” Dentler said. “Look at Vietnam. A lot of people, whether you like Oliver Stone or not, consider ‘Platoon’ one of the definitive Vietnam films and that was released in 1986. People also cite ‘Apocalypse Now.’ That came out in the ’70s but that was an adaptation of ‘Heart of Darkness,’ adapted to fit the Vietnam War.
“We’re seeing some really interesting filmmaking going on in Iraq but they’re about so many other things that surround the war itself,” he said. “They are about what’s going on in Iraq but they’re about such bigger truths.”