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PARK CITY ’07 DAILY DISPATCH | Iraq Doc Stirs Talk at Sundance; “No End in Sight” Fuels Outrage

PARK CITY '07 DAILY DISPATCH | Iraq Doc Stirs Talk at Sundance; "No End in Sight" Fuels Outrage

As President Bush made his now infamous landing on a U.S. aircraft carrier declaring victory in Iraq with bravado, an onslaught of lawlessness and widespread looting raged in full view of the American military, decimating not only livelihoods, but the ancient country’s cultural heritage. Even worse, the chaos exposed a political vacuum that opened in an Iraqi capital plunged into anarchy. Unlike most news networks operating in the United States 9 including the U.S. version of CNN and Fox News), international outlets such as BBC revealed a glaring difference between the “liberated” Iraq the Bush Administration propagated and the reality. That lack of journalistic critique at home abetted one of the worst historical debacles of modern times, the subject of Sundance Film Festival doc competition feature, “No End in Sight.” Directed by Charles Ferguson, the film includes interviews with military and diplomatic experts and some former Bush Administration officials, on the growing and seemingly endless quagmire. In Park City on the day of Bush’s State of the Union speech, the filmmakers and officials gathered to talk about the new movie and the situation in the Middle East.

Written and directed by Ferguson and executive produced by filmmaker Alex Gibney (“Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room”), the film is touted as the first of its kind to explore the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Included are interviews with Former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, Ambassador Barbara Bodine, Lawrence Wilkinson (former chief of staff to Colin Powell), and General Jay Garner who lead the occupation of Iraq until Spring of May 2003), as well as Iraqi citizens, U.S. soldiers and analysts,

While the film does not indict the U.S. media for its roll in the degeneration of Iraq, it takes a sobering look at the results of the Bush Administration’s series of incompetent errors, denials, and arrogance that has produced the unprecedented strife that the U.S. public is still grasping to fully appreciate. Unlike fellow competition doc “Ghosts of Abu Ghraib” by Rory Kennedy, which focuses on one particular calamity at the hands of systematic abuse, Ferguson’s doc reveals the overarching blunders, including the chaos that ensued after the invasion, destroying everyday Iraqis’ confidence in the U.S.’s intentions to secure their safety.

“I hope the next time the U.S. goes to war, it’s done more intelligently then [this],” commented Ferguson during the morning press conference where he was joined by three individuals who figure prominently in his film. “The fact is that the [decision makers] didn’t have military backgrounds, and ignored the advice of those with a military background.”

One particularly egregious historical gaffe occurred when the U.S.’s leader in Iraq following the invasion, Paul Bremer, announced a program of de-Ba’athification — essentially unemploying thousands of people in Iraq’s professional classes for party membership in Saddam Hussein‘s notorious Ba’ath party. Never mind that most had joined the party not out of political loyalty, but in order to make a living.

“You’ve created a loss of loyalty when there was no [attention given to] law and order,” commented American Bodine at the press conference. “[Their actions] showed that their lives and well-being were not an issue for the Americans.”

Ambassador Barbara Bodine also commented that at home, the Bush Administration displayed similar disregard for anyone showing any form of opposition or questioning of policy. “It wasn’t just military experts that were excluded, but an experienced diplomatic corps too… You were un-American or even ‘evil’ for speaking out, [then] you’d be marginalized [professionally] or even excluded.”

But it was not just civil servants who lost their jobs during de-Ba’athification in Iraq, it was also thousands of well-trained and well-armed Iraqi soldiers who suddenly found themselves with no future prospects, a growing hatred toward the Americans, and the means to inflict a raging insurgency.

Coming on the heels of the Bush’s Administration’s recent announcement of a “surge” in U.S. forces to try and wrestle control of the ensuing chaos, the Sundance screening of “No End in Sight” seemed to leave the audience in Park City with perhaps a deeper sense of outrage than prior to seeing it. Ferguson himself was briefly overcome with emotion, choking back tears momentarily after being re-introduced for the Q&A.

“My own personal view is that we’re past the point where 20,000 troops will help. [Iraq] is so far out of control and in such a [state] of chaos.”

Inside indieWIRE On the Scene: Park City

NEW FRONTIER NOTEBOOK | Frontier Section Receives Makeover, With A New Focus and Main Street Presence

Dennis Lim reports from Sundance’s experimental Frontier section, commenting on several films. “The experimental Frontier sidebar, until now little more than an afterthought category where films are usually sent to be ignored, has been beefed up and rebranded New Frontier,” he writes. “With more movies, panels, workshops, multimedia installations, microcinema presentations — and, let’s not forget, sponsorship opportunities — it practically constituted a film festival unto itself.”

REVIEW | Woman on the Beach: “Never Forever” Tells Overripe Tale of Female Desire

Anthony Kaufman reviewsNever Forever,” which was directed by Gina Kim and is screening in Sundance’s Dramatic Competition category. “‘Never Forever’ has all the ingredients of a solid Lifetime movie,” he writes, but “what makes the film better than cable TV is…cinematographer Matt Clark‘s intimate, naturalistic camera, which is most effective in the pivotal scene in which the intercourse turns from cold and practical to hot and steamy.”

REVIEW | The Showgirls of Sundance: Deborah Kampmeier’s “Hounddog”

Steve Ramos reviewsHounddog,” which was directed by Deborah Kampmeier and is screening in Sundance’s Dramatic Competition category. “Bad festival movies are common,” he writes, “but ‘Hounddog,’ with its loony characters, piles of hillbilly stereotypes, heavy-handed visual metaphors and silly dialogue worth repeating is awful to the point of playful ridicule.”

REVIEW | Sound Machine: Irene Taylor Brodsky’s “Hear and Now”

Susan Gerhard reviewsHear and Now,” which was directed by Irene Taylor Brodsky and is screening in Sundance’s Documentary Competition category. “Taylor Brodsky wisely sets the thought-provoking portions of the story most often outdoors,” she writes, and “conflict emerges from the varying results each parent initially sees from the operation, and we are shown surges of insight and disappointment, jealousy and anxiety as they cope with the beginnings of a new ‘sense.'”

INTERVIEW | Jessica Yu: “I was intrigued by the path of someone who tries to shape his life in one particular direction…but who becomes so engrossed that he becomes the opposite of what he had intended.”

The Sundance Documentary Competition director of “Protagonist” (Jessica Yu) discusses how the idea for the film emerged out of a challenge, and the difficulties of creating the overall concept for the film in her interview in today’s indieWIRE.

INTERVIEW | Masha Novikova: “I wanted to make a film about the two wars in Chechenya, told through the eyes of ordinary people.”

The Sundance World Documentary Competition director of “Three Comrades” (Masha Novikova) describes the challenges of having subjects that her own people caused to suffer, and why she was so impressed by them, in her interview in today’s indieWIRE.

INTERVIEW | Xiaolu Guo: “It is very much a writer’s film which I think [stems] from my background as a novelist.”

The World Dramatic Competition director of “How is Your Fish Today?” (Xiaolu Guo) talks about how the idea for her film came about, as well as what influences her filmmaking in her interview in today’s indieWIRE.

INTERVIEW | James C. Strouse: “I don’t believe in moving the camera or doing a close-up just for the hell of it.”

The Dramatic Competition director of “Grace is Gone” (James C. Strouse) explains why he believes that the script should dictate how a film should be shot, why his camerawork is so restrained, and why unexpected moments on set can be a blessing and a curse in his interview in today’s indieWIRE.

Get the latest coverage of Park City ’07 in indieWIRE’s special section here at indieWIRE.com

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