"A rare Iraq documentary that practices objectivity."
SCREENED AT THE 2005 SOUTH BY SOUTHWEST FILM FESTIVAL: With the documentary Occupation: Dreamland, co-directors Garrett Scott and Ian Olds set out to make an historical document, not a political statement. Judged on that basis, the film succeeds in capturing a brief snapshot of the day-to-day existence of the grunt soldiers fighting on the frontlines of President Bushís war on terror.Filmed over a period of six weeks at a base on the outskirts of Falluja, Occupation:Dreamland focuses on eight soldiers in the Armyís 82nd Airborne Division during the days between the fall of Saddam Husseinís regime and the rise of the Iraqi insurgency.
Despite the haven for anti-occupation militants that Falluja would eventually become, at the time of this docís filming the city is relatively subdued aside from the occasional roadside bomb and random sniper fire.
The film follows the soldiers as they make the rounds on patrol, rouse suspected troublemakers and their families in the middle of the night, and shake hands with the angry residents of Falluja in a futile attempt at bureaucratic PR.
In their downtime, the soldiers debate politics, explain their rationals for enlisting and express their frustration with carrying out missions whose purposes they donít understand in a war with an objective they donít fully comprehend.
In one telling interview, a soldier states heís in Iraq to ďspread freedom.Ē When pressed on whether he truly believes that, the soldier responds that he has to because ďIíve got four years left and I wonít make it otherwise.Ē
While the film doesnít paint a particularly flattering portrait of the United States military, Occupation: Dreamland isnít weighted with anti-Bush or anti-army sentiment.
If those feelings surface, itís because the pervading mood of the docís subjects seems to be one of disillusionment. After a scene in which officers attempt to scare, embarrass and bully lower ranking soldiers into re-enlisting, those feelings arenít hard to understand.
Anyone with courage enough to sacrifice years of their life in service to their country demands respect and Occupation: Dreamland presents its soldiers as dedicated professionals, but the biggest revelation to come from the film is that the majority of the current generation of American troops seem to be there because, in the words of Richard Gere, theyíve got no place else to go.
Occupation: Dreamlandís protectors of democracy (or pawns for Bushís agenda depending on what end of the political spectrum you fall into) consist largely of 21-28 year-old high school dropouts and failed junior college liberal arts majors whose enlistment stems more from a lack of options than patriotism or ideology.
These soldiers signed away years of their life in order to escape dead end jobs, earn money for college or find meaning in their wayward lives. They were quickly shipped halfway around the world to the frontlines of a war whose objectives and motives are unclear to them.As a film that strives to merely record history, Occupation: Dreamlandsí failure to answer those questions in understandable. The current administrationís failure to do so is less forgivable.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.