Two Iraq War movies get U.S. distribution; Hollywood major had refused to release one of them
Two Iraq War movies – both critical of the U.S.-led invasion of that West Asian country – are being distributed in the American market via Cinema Libre Studio. They are David O. Russell’s 35-minute short Soldiers Pay and Robert Greenwald’s feature Uncovered: The War on Iraq.
David O. Russell, the screenwriter-director of the generally well-received low-budget comedies Spanking the Monkey and Flirting with Disaster, in addition to the 1999 post-Persian Gulf War comedy-drama Three Kings (adapted from a story by John Ridley), had wanted Warner Bros. to distribute Soldiers Pay alongside the studio’s planned 2004 rerelease of Three Kings, which stars George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and Ice Cube.
But Warners, like the Walt Disney Studios earlier this year, balked at the idea of releasing an anti-Iraq War movie during a U.S. presidential election year. In fact, whether accurately or absurdly, a Warner Bros. representative labeled Soldiers Pay a “personal political statement” that, if distributed by the studio, might violate “federal election laws.”
Warner Bros. adamant that Iraq War movie shouldn’t become ‘polemic about war’
Besides, Russell’s Iraq War documentary will not be found on the Three Kings Special Edition DVD, for Warners doesn’t want its home video release of what happens to be a war movie to become “a polemic about war.”
As a result, U.S. election laws or no, Cinema Libre will be releasing Soldiers Pay in select American cities (it has already been screened in the Bay Area) as the shorter end of a double bill also featuring Robert Greenwald’s anti-Iraq War documentary Uncovered: The War on Iraq.
The “political doc double bill make a powerful duo,” says a statement from Cinema Libre, “complimenting [sic] each other with strong arguments about the consequences of war and the lies that were told to get there.”
Initially, Soldiers Pay was to focus on the stories of the Iraqi extras who worked on Three Kings. As filming progressed, David O. Russell expanded the scope of the documentary to show the effects of the (2003–2004) Iraq War on U.S. soldiers, Iraqi refugees, and the local citizenry.
‘Uncovered: The War on Iraq’ segments
Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered: The War on Iraq is divided into seven segments, among them:
- “Terrorism,” about the George W. Bush administration’s false claims of a connection between Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and Sept. 11 terror attacks mastermind Osama bin Laden.
- “Sixteen Words,” about how Bush’s people lied about Iraq being in possession of weapons-grade uranium imported from Niger – a claim proven false following a leak by U.S. diplomat Joseph C. Wilson, which led the Bush administration to retaliate by outing Wilson’s wife, CIA covert agent Valerie Plame.
- “The Cost of War,” which tallies the dollar amount U.S. taxpayers have spent to foot costs associated with the Iraq War, including extravagant – and potentially illegal – contracts with private companies close to the Bush administration.
Robert Greenwald on Iraq War movies’ double bill
“I am excited to participate in this double bill that serves the audience,” says Greenwald, whose previous effort, Outfoxed, took to task Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News’ “fair and balanced” mix of reporting and far-right propaganda. (Anachronistically, Greenwald is also the director of the 1980 Olivia Newton-John-Gene Kelly musical Xanadu.)
Greenwald adds that both Iraq War movies “take you inside the government[,] speaking out about distortion of information, and David Russell’s powerful personal story [explains] the toll war takes on those who have to fight it.”
The Cinema Libre DVD containing its Iraq War movies’ double bill is due in stores in October 2004.
David O. Russell’s non-Iraq-related comedy I Heart Huckabees also opens in October in North America. In the name cast: Naomi Watts, Isabelle Huppert, Jude Law, Lily Tomlin, Jason Schwartzman, Mark Wahlberg, and two-time Best Actor Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman (Kramer vs. Kramer, 1979; Rain Man, 1988), in addition to cameos by veterans Tippi Hedren (The Birds) and Talia Shire (Rocky).
Another Iraq War film: ‘Turtles Can Fly’ tops San Sebastian Film Festival
Sept. 25 update: Shot a mere month after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Kurdish-Iranian filmmaker Bahman Ghobadi’s Iraq War movie Turtles Can Fly was the winner of the Golden Shell at this year’s San Sebastian Film Festival, held Sept. 17–25 in the Basque city.
According to Reuters, Peruvian author and Chairman of the Jury Mario Vargas Llosa stated that although the decision was not unanimous, Turtles Can Fly had “moved us all, not only because of the terrible conditions in which it was filmed, but also because … despite the tragedy which it recounts, it is filled with humanity, poetry and even humor.”
Set in Iraq’s Kurdistan at the time of the U.S.-led invasion of that country, Turtles Can Fly revolves around a group of refugee-camp denizens as they work to set up a satellite dish while awaiting the invasion. Among the movie’s amateur cast are four war-scarred children, one of which is armless and another blind. (The blind kid has since undergone an operation and reportedly is now able to see.)
‘Misery’ & ‘war’
“I filmed my third feature film [Turtles Can Fly] after a journey to Iraq,” Bahman Ghobadi was quoted as saying in the El Mundo website, “with the people and sites I found there. My script consisted of three pages of keywords: ‘refugee camp,’ ‘misery,’ ‘war,’ ‘abuse.’”
Ghobadi’s previous narrative feature, Marooned in Iraq (2002), was screened at the Cannes Film Festival’s Un Certain Regard sidebar; his first was Cannes’ Golden Camera winner A Time for Drunken Horses (2000). Both films focus on Kurdish characters; the former is set during the Iran-Iraq War, the latter has as its center an economically challenged Kurdish-Iranian family.
War in Afghanistan aftereffects: ‘Brothers’ Best Actor & Best Actress Ulrich Thomsen & Connie Nielsen
The Iraq War wasn’t the only military conflagration explored at the 2004 San Sebastian Film Festival. Ulrich Thomsen was named Best Actor for his performance as an emotionally unstable former prisoner of war – believed dead by his family – in Susanne Bier’s Danish drama Brothers / Brødre, which has the U.S.-led War in Afghanistan as background.
Connie Nielsen was chosen Best Actress for her portrayal of the ex-POW’s wife, who becomes involved with her husband’s younger brother (Nikolaj Lie Kaas).
Chinese ‘Letter from an Unknown Woman’
Unconnected to any U.S.-led military conflict on the Western half of the continent, Letter from an Unknown Woman earned Chinese filmmaker Xu Jinglei the Best Director award. This 1930s–1940s Beijing-set adaptation of Stefan Zweig’s 1922 Vienna-set novella tells the story of a renowned author who, in 1948, learns he is the father of a recently deceased child whose mother – with whom he had had a brief fling – he has trouble remembering.
Jinglei also co-produced Letter from an Unknown Woman and, alongside Jiang Wen, stars in the movie.
In 1948, Max Ophüls filmed Letter from an Unknown Woman in Hollywood, starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jourdan as the two leads. Fifteen years earlier, John M. Stahl’s Only Yesterday starred Margaret Sullavan and John Boles in a modernized, U.S.-set version of the tale.
Lastly, the San Sebastian Film Festival Special Jury Award went to Serbian director Goran Paskaljevic for Midwinter Night’s Dream / San zimske noci, in which a Bosnian woman (Jasna Zalica) and her autistic daughter (Jovana Mitic, who is autistic in real life) take over the vacant apartment of a Serbian man (Lazar Ristovski) serving a ten-year prison sentence. Problems ensue when the by now ex-convict returns home to resume his life.
March 2005 update: Goran Paskaljevic told the BBC News that Jovana’s autism is supposed to serve as a metaphor for Serbia during the Bosnian War. “I think my country somehow became autistic,” he explained. “People were forgetting everything and I had a feeling that we were living in a world that was completely closed.”
Besides Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2004 San Sebastian Film Festival jury consisted of screenwriter-director Yamina Benguigui (Inch’Allah dimanche), writer-director Tom DiCillo (Living in Oblivion), producer Marta Esteban (Nico and Dani), actress Laura Morante (Tragedy of a Ridiculous Man), cinematographer Eduardo Serra (Girl with a Pearl Earring), and director Dito Tsintsadze (Lost Killers).
More on the San Sebastian Film Festival:
Iraq hostages: Jeanne Moreau & Catherine Deneuve + Juliette Binoche offer support
In other Iraq War- and film-related news: A number of French celebrities – among them actresses Jeanne Moreau, Catherine Deneuve, and Juliette Binoche – have recorded messages voicing support for Iraq hostages Christian Chesnot, a Radio France correspondent, and Georges Malbrunot, a reporter for the Parisian daily Le Figaro. Along with their Syrian driver, Mohammed al-Jundi, Chesnot and Malbrunot were kidnapped by a group identifying itself as the Islamic Army on Aug. 20 in Iraq.
The kidnappers’ aim was to force the government of French President Jacques Chirac to lift its ban on headscarves (and other “conspicuous” religious symbols) in the country’s public schools. Chirac and his supporters, however, have refused to budge. Signed into law last March, the ban went into effect at the beginning of the school year in early September.
The voice messages, which were recorded under the auspices of Reporters sans Frontières, were first broadcast on French radio on Sept. 17. The fate of the three hostages held in Iraq remains unknown.
Film award ceremony organizers arrested in Iran
More West Asian film news: Iranian President Mohammad Khatami and several Iranian filmmakers have condemned the arrest of the organizers of a film awards ceremony that has enraged Muslim fanatics in Iran’s theocratic government. Khatami has warned that such moves will force Iranian intellectuals to flee the country.
The awards ceremony organizers were arrested by Iran’s “moral police,” who claimed they were answering complaints that several attendees failed to abide by that country’s strict Islamic dress code.
Among those arrested was Abolhassan Davoodi, head of the non-governmental Cinema House, who was later transported to a Teheran hospital. Davoodi suffered a heart attack following police interrogation.
The complaints chiefly originated from two radical Muslim newspapers, Jomhuri Islami and Kayhan, which displayed photographs of several women wearing flimsy headscarves and lots of make-up at the ceremony.
According to the Agence France-Presse, Iran’s hardline judiciary has announced that it will “detoxify” the country’s film industry by eliminating “corrupt” artists.
Tony Kushner redrafting Steven Spielberg terrorism drama
And finally, playwright Tony Kushner, the winner of both a Tony and a Pulitzer for Angels in America, has been redrafting the screenplay of Steven Spielberg’s as yet untitled project about the hostage-taking of Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists during the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
“We are enormously pleased that a writer of such talent has joined us in bringing this project to the screen,” Spielberg declared a few days ago. Initially, Forrest Gump screenwriter Eric Roth had tried his hand at the script, but his draft was deemed unsatisfactory.
San Sebastian Film Festival website.
Images from two Iraq War movies: Soldiers Pay via Cinema Libre; Turtles Can Fly via IFC Films.
Ulrich Thomsen and Connie Nielsen Brothers image: Zentropa.
Jeanne Moreau Eva image: Paris Films.
“Iraq War Movies: Hollywood Major Refuses to Release One + Another Tops European Festival” last updated in August 2019.