- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008



Documentaries about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are set to take center stage at the Academy Awards on Sunday, giving Oscar guests a grim reminder of the uncertain world beyond the red carpet.

Two of the five films nominated in the best-documentary category deal directly with the conflict in Iraq, while a third centers around the horrific torture of an Afghan prisoner at a U.S. military base.

Ironically, the nomination of the documentaries comes five years after filmmaker Michael Moore was jeered at the Kodak Theatre when he used his acceptance speech to criticize the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“The academy has nominated three anti-war films: The thing that I was booed off the stage for is now being honored,” Mr. Moore says. “Times have changed.”

Mr. Moore also is among the nominees on Sunday for his lacerating look at the U.S. health care system, “Sicko.”

Two films that have generated headlines during the past year are Charles Ferguson’s searing indictment of the post-invasion administration of Iraq, “No End in Sight,” and Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side.”

Mr. Gibney’s film deals with the death in custody of a 22-year-old Afghan taxi driver, Dilawar, at Bagram Air Base in 2002.

An investigation into the death found Dilawar had been kicked and punched repeatedly and had been chained to the ceiling of his cell for days.

Mr. Gibney, who also produced the hit documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” says he had a personal interest in making the film: His late father was a Navy interrogator who quizzed Japanese prisoners during World War II.

The director concludes that such interrogation tactics in the war on terror have been self-defeating.

“If you study Osama bin Laden’s words, if you study other terrorist groups throughout history, the goal is to get liberal democratic societies to publicly undermine their own principles,” Mr. Gibney says in a recent interview. “Well, in this case? Mission accomplished.”

Another Oscar-nominated documentary to cast a withering eye on U.S. policies after the September 11, 2001 attacks is Mr. Ferguson’s “No End in Sight,” which explores the management of the Iraq war in the months after the invasion.

Mr. Ferguson, a former senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who made a fortune from the $133 million sale of his Internet start-up to Microsoft in 1996, financed the film himself to the tune of $2 million.

With surgical precision, the academic’s film paints a damning portrait of the planning of post-invasion Iraq, relying on the testimony of more than 70 key figures who were on the ground at the time.

Mr. Ferguson says he wanted to make the film partially as a response to the way the war in Iraq has been reported by the mainstream media.

“As a political scientist with many friends in the foreign-policy community, I have been quite disturbed at the quality of media coverage of the Iraq war and occupation,” Mr. Ferguson says.

He says that although he was familiar with most of the issues surrounding the management of the war, a lot of the anecdotal evidence gleaned from his interviews was revelatory.

“There were many things I learned that blew me away,” Mr. Ferguson says.

“I knew most of the large-scale facts, but when I learned just how crazy and just how stupid much of the administration’s behavior was, I found myself quite dumbfounded.”

Another film dealing with Iraq and Afghanistan is Richard Robbins’ “Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience.”

The film, a collection of poetry, letters and essays written by U.S. soldiers returning from the war, offers audiences a glimpse of the human side of the conflicts.

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