The War Tapes

Cast:
Sergeant Steve Pink
Sergeant Zack Bazzi
Specialist Mike Moriarty
Specialist Steve Rizza
(All as themselves)

Directed by Deborah Scranton

Summary:
Ably assembled from real footage shot by the soldiers, this war documentary is more powerful and effective than any Hollywood war movie could ever hope to be.

Story:
Three National Guard soldiers sent to Iraq for a year are given Sony miniDV cameras to document their stay there, and the footage was assembled into this informative documentary that shows what it’s really like to be stationed in a war zone.

Analysis:
Last year, a documentary called “Gunner Palace” tried to show what it was like being a soldier stationed in Iraq during “Operation Iraqi Freedom.” It was a bit disappointing, since a lot of the soldiers acted like goons, clowning around for the cameras or using them to showcase their talent as rappers, doing little to win the empathy of the viewer towards their situation. That is not the case with this new documentary that offers the twist in that it is actually filmed by the subject matters so it’s completely from their perspective–what they see and how they feel¬ócut together to tell a very strong narrative story.

The movie follows three volunteer National Guard soldiers from New England, as they fly to Iraq to act as guards for Haliburton convoys two years after the start of the current war. Sgt. Mike Moriarty is the family man who has a 4-year-old and a newborn baby back home, while 24-year-old Sgt. Stephen Pink joined the military to help him pay for college. Sgt. Zack Bazzi’s family escaped the civil war in Lebanon to come to the United States when he was a young boy, and going back to Iraq has added meaning to him, since he’s often asked to translate for the locals. With cameras attached to their Humvees and helmets, we see exactly what they see, and get their frank and honest opinions of the war and the country through interviews they give each other.

For the most part, the movie tries to remain fairly apolitical towards the current regime and the decision to go to Iraq, but it’s surprising how little actual patriotism there is among the soldiers. Most of them seem to be there simply to do their job, but the longer they stay in the area, the more cynical they get. The amount of racism the soldiers voice towards the country’s people is rather alarming, particularly to Bazzi, who feels a kinship with them because of his own heritage. They’re even more bitter towards their wards at Haliburton, who they realize will continue to make money as long as we remain at war.

No embedded reporter could possibly get some of the footage we see in this movie, everything shown in a pure and uncensored way, often using infrared and other tricks. At times, the first person camerawork makes you feel as if you’re playing some sort of Iraq War video game, actually involved in the firefights or driving through the deserts. When one of the soldiers films the mutilated bodies of dead insurgents in graphic detail, he’s reprimanded by his superiors, but two of them are more shaken up by a woman killed in a hit and run accident, causing some concern that the army’s presence in the country may indeed be less positive than some might have us believe.

Regardless of where you are on that debate, the movie does an amazing job getting you to really know these three guys, so over the course of their year in Iraq, you can see their attitudes changing. After their tour is over, the camera follows them back to civilian life with their family and friends being interviewed about the changes they’ve seen in the men since returning from Iraq. Not surprisingly, the general consensus is that they aren’t the same men they were when they left, and it’s a bit shocking when you learn that one of them decided to return.

As impressive as the footage and interviews are, this documentary wouldn’t work nearly as well if it hadn’t been assembled into such a cohesive story by Deborah Scranton, presumably with the input of the soldiers themselves. Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have documentary filmmaker Steven James “Hoop Dreams” editing your movie and though it lacks the flashy graphics and clever quips of other modern documentaries, this is a top-notch production despite the amateur nature of the source material.

The Bottom Line:
There’s an honesty and truth to this “self-made” documentary that gives a crystal clear picture of what’s going in Iraq on and how the soldiers there are dealing with the current circumstances. It’s easily the best documentary I’ve seen this year so far.

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