Bring on the War Films! Doc Offers Peek at Iraqi Resistance

sarris meetingresistance2h Bring on the War Films! Doc Offers Peek at Iraqi ResistanceMeeting Resistance
Running Time 84 minutes
Written and
Directed by Steve Connors and Molly Bingham

If ever a film carried with it a guarantee that it would incite violent controversy between America’s already warring factions on the war in Iraq, it is Steve Connors and Molly Bingham’s Meeting Resistance. I can already hear the cries of treason from some quarters. Though I cannot say I am at all sympathetic to those quarters, and, in fact, believe along with many people that the invasion of Iraq was ill-advised, and the subsequent occupation was bungled from the start, I am not sure that the Connors-Bingham opus provides any clinching arguments one way or another in terms of the ongoing Great Debate over the Iraq war over here.

For one thing, the film’s inflammatory rhetoric, all on the side of the resistance without any American military and official Iraqi government rebuttals, goes up only to May 2004. Thus, it can be argued by defenders of the war that much has changed since then, presumably for the better, with “the surge” and all that. For another, the faces of the interviewees are almost always concealed for the sake of their safety, so that unless one can understand Arabic, one must keep one’s eyes fastened on the quickly changing English subtitles, there being no English-language narration.

This is not to say that the film is lacking in the most overwhelming and challenging anti-occupation viewpoints thus far recorded to my knowledge in any American popular medium. The testimonies were all taken in the Al Adhamiya district of northern Baghdad, in which Sunnis and Shias commingle and often intermarry. Hence, the alleged sectarian schism that has fueled all the partition scenarios for Iraq is repeatedly discounted by these voices of the resistance.

Since no names are used in the various first-person narratives, generic titles were substituted. The screen identifies the alternating and often repeated voices of the “resistance” as those of The Teacher, The Warrior, The Traveler, The Imam, The Wife, The Syrian, The Fugitive, The Republican Guard, The Lieutenant, and The Professor, a lecturer in political science at Baghdad University, and the only “character” who does not conceal his face or his identity.

And just who are the interviewers and co-directors of Meeting Resistance? The production notes tell us, “Steve Connors was born in Sheffield, England. He began taking photographs while serving as a British soldier in Northern Ireland in the early 1980s. After leaving the military in 1984 he worked for London newspapers and housing charities, but maintained a preference for photographing the quirkiness of British life. … Connors spent fifteen months from November 2001 on in Afghanistan. Starting during the invasion, he went to Iraq, and spent fourteen months there total, working ten months solidly on Meeting Resistance.

Meeting Resistance is Connors’ directorial debut.”

As for his co-director, “Molly Bingham was born in Kentucky and graduated from Harvard College in 1990. She began working as a photojournalist in earnest in 1994, traveling to Rwanda in the wake of the genocide. … In Washington on September 11 Bingham got some of the only close-up pictures of the Pentagon, and followed the story of America’s response to the 9/11 attacks to Afghanistan later in the fall. 2002 found Bingham in the Gaza Strip and Iran before heading to Iraq shortly before the US attack in March 2003. Bingham was detained for eight days by the Iraqi government security services and held in Abu Ghraib prison with four other westerners during the war, and released to Jordan in early April 2003. Bingham’s first major written story–on the Iraqi resistance—was published in Vanity Fair in July 2004.

“Bingham teamed up with Connors in August of 2003 to begin a film about who was behind the emerging post-war violence in Iraq.”

Mr. Connors and Ms. Bingham clearly share an adversarial attitude toward the American occupation of Iraq, as expressed by their surrogate Iraqi speakers, but the filmmakers never express their own opinion directly on the screen. Still, their footage does not seem to single out American troops for opprobrium, except for some of the now overexposed footage of the obscene shenanigans at Abu Ghraib prison, which, of course, provides a propaganda bonanza for the resistance.

By contrast, Brian De Palma’s forthcoming Redacted, from his own screenplay, is reportedly more virulent, in its depiction of an American platoon in Iraq committing atrocities against the civilian population. And this in the midst of the fighting, unlike the classic American anti-Vietnam War movies, which were released long after the cessation of hostilities. Also adding to the impending furor over the politically engaged movies coming out in droves over the next few months, Mike Nichols is steering Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts our way with a seemingly (from the coming attractions) comical account of the American congressman who single-handedly helped guide the Afghan rebels to victory over the Soviet forces that invaded their country to keep a friendly pro-Soviet Afghan government in power. I don’t know if this film, called Charlie Wilson’s War, will explore the irony of the Afghan anti-Soviet rebels morphing into the Taliban terrorists against whom our troops are still at war.

Which only goes to show that in this topsy-turvy world, one is never sure of the unintended consequences of any decisive action supposedly motivated by moral considerations. As for Meeting Resistance, though I have no idea how widespread the sentiments expressed in the film happen to be among the Iraqi population at this precise moment, I found a certain depressing logic in the film as a whole. When a resistance fighter asks his interrogators how Americans would feel if tanks and troops from a conquering foreign country strutted along the streets with their weapons pointed at American mothers, wives and children, I had to stop to think for a moment. Who actually is it that our troops, both low-paid regulars and high-paid mercenaries, are protecting against whom?

This is not to deny that I was as shaken by 9/11 as anyone, but somehow I feel that we have lost our way in the process of seeking revenge. So when I nod my head in agreement with a long-shot Republican libertarian presidential candidate with a name like Ru Paul or something when he says in his half-baked way that we should get out of Iraq as soon as possible, then I think it is time for us to take a film like Meeting Resistance very seriously indeed, and to ponder its message very carefully, despite my abiding doubts about its ultimate reliability as a guide to our actions.