- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 2, 2005

ROTTERDAM, Netherlands - “Baghdad Blogger/Salam Pax - Video Reports from Iraq” is among several movies to emerge from Iraq’s chaos — including Iraq’s first feature-length drama since Saddam Hussein’s fall and a documentary on U.S. troops fighting insurgents — being showcased at the Rotterdam Film Festival, which features some 800 films and runs through Sunday.

The documentary is a compilation of short video clips by the Iraqi man who has not revealed his real name and goes by the pen name “Salam Pax” — or “Peace, Peace,” in Arabic and Latin, respectively.

His detailed, personal descriptions of life in Baghdad were read by hundreds of thousands on the Internet and later in the British newspaper, the Guardian.

To make the movie Pax got a crash course in filmmaking courtesy of the Guardian, then crisscrossed his country — from the marshlands in the south to back alleys controlled by insurgents — to capture its rapidly changing landscape with a hand-held digital video camera.

With surprisingly smooth footage, Pax takes viewers into the homes of Muslim women and a packed liquor store where customers stock up before the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

He gauges the opinions of ordinary Iraqis struggling to survive and visits monumental and now-deserted architectural landmarks erected by Saddam — which were previously out of bounds for the public.

“Underexposure” by filmmaker Oday Rasheed is Iraq’s first feature film since Saddam was toppled in April 2003. Made on the rubble-strewn streets of Baghdad with 1980s-vintage Kodak film recovered from the remains of the former Ministry of Culture building, it tells the stories of lovers, relatives and strangers going about their lives in a city under siege.

The title refers to the international isolation of Iraqis during decades of Saddam’s leadership, as well as the rough quality of the images, said Mr. Rasheed, who made the movie with virtually no money.

“Saddam’s regime was hell, but now I think the hell has doubled,” Mr. Rasheed said.

With Iraq’s film studios destroyed, Mr. Rasheed flew to Germany to complete the picture, which has its world premiere tonight.

Monday night saw the debut of the documentary “Occupation: Dreamland,” which gives an insider’s perspective of the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, stationed outside the rebel stronghold of Fallujah, Iraq, in early 2004. (It will make its U.S. premiere next month at the South by Southwest film festival in Austin, Tex.)

American filmmakers Garrett Scott and Ian Olds joined a relatively inexperienced unit amid escalating resistance to the U.S. occupation, weeks before four American civilian contractors were killed in March 2004, their mutilated corpses dragged through the streets and suspended from a bridge.

The filmmakers bunked and ate with the troops, attended operational briefings and went on night raids for six weeks. Uncensored footage gives an intimate picture of confused, angry and scared young men struggling to comprehend Iraqi culture and customs.

“At that time Fallujah was becoming more and more destabilized,” co-director Scott said in an interview. “In some ways you are watching a movie about the last days of a city.

“We followed them, more or less, for the entire time. Most of the time they spent sitting around waiting for an order, and that’s when it became interesting. These are very young men who haven’t formed their identities or their understanding of the world.”

One startling scene shows soldiers taking a cigarette break in an Iraqi family’s bedroom after storming their house in the middle of the night. Frightened Iraqi women and children huddle in a dark corner virtually ignored, while the soldiers trample their bedding and have a casual conversation about wall insulation and Iraqi sleeping habits.


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