Saturday, March 11, 2006


Because of my involvement with documentary film, I had heard about "Occupation: Dreamland" from a small number of people and it was all positive feedback. So, since the DVD came out this week, I went and bought it at Borders Bookstore and watched it tonight. I watched "Gunner Palace" about 3 months ago and was very lukewarm about it and so I figured "Dreamland" would be just as good or better. It far exceded my expectations.

The embedded filmmakers intimately follow U.S. troops posted at the now infamous city of Fallujah, Iraq. The timeline of the film is the months leading up to the bloody conflict with insurgents that left over 40 U.S. soldiers and over 1,000 Iraqis dead. There seemed to be at least 2 cameras rolling at all times, but maybe it could have been 3. Cameras were equipped with green night vision capability for crisp and clear night shots of raids and darkened check points, a very nice touch. Audio was excellent and it was obvious that wireless mics were attached to at least 2 soldiers at a time.

Technical praise aside, this film is excellent and deserves to be seen by many more. During the 2nd Act of the film, I found myself almost giddy with how amazingly well done everything was. The main strength of the film lies in the ultra intimate access to the soldiers themselves. We sit as observers to candid nightly banter as the soldiers lie in there beds with flashlights looking at celebrity magazines and commenting on Britney Spears's "milk-covered body" and how "if Cher gets another face lift, her eyebrows will be on top of her fucking head". Most of these intimate encounters seem very "Jim Jarmusch" in style. Quirky, random, and more importantly...real. At one point, one soldier who is clearly not a Bush Supporter begins debating with a very pro-Bush soldier. The debate is calm and civil, but very opinionated and well captured by the filmmakers. The debate is interrupted by a higher-ranking soldier who says, "Ok, stop. We're not going to bash the Bush Administration on camera".

The film is chock full of wildly engaging material and the time flies by as we get a real tangible feeling for life in Fallujah. Iraqis are interviewed who say, "We're tired of seeing guns. Everyday it's guns, tanks, and more guns. Why not build a school? Why not build a roof? Why not give us running water? Why is it always guns with you Americans?"

And during one military briefing, the ranking officer stands before a battalion of soldiers and asks, "Who exactly are we looking out for here in Fallujah". Some of the soldiers answer "the civilians" and others answer "civil order". The officer says, "No. None of those. We're looking out for outselves". When one soldier raises his hand to ask, "Then what are we here to protect?", the officer coldy responds, "I don't know".

Finally, this documentary offers some of the most "in your face" shock moments of violence and sudden attacks. Once, while the camera is running a top a moving Humvee, a huge roadside bomb explodes not 75 feet in front of the lense (look at the picture I posted) It is vividly captured and afterwards shows the 2 U.S. soldiers who suffered head wounds from it. All of this happens in real time.

This is best documentary I've seen about the Iraq War conflict and definently on my top 15 or even 10 best documentaries of all time. Sadly, it hasn't gotten the best distribution and not that many people have seen it. I would encourage everyone who reads this blog to at least rent this film and watch it.

On a sadder note, the director of the film, Garrett Scott died in an accident just a few weeks ago. It happened 2 days before the Independent Spirit Awards gave him an award for best documentary. What a tragedy for he was truly talented.

The film's official website is here: OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND
Buy the DVD here: AMAZON LINK

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