Tonight we decided to rest here in Utrecht and save our energy for tomorrow night in Amsterdam. After dinner we put on Iraq in Fragments by James Longley, director of Gaza Strip. The film hasn’t been released, and we (Svetla, Bram, Ilke et moi) previewed it for a possible screening at ConU in the fall as part of Cinema Politica. After seeing it, we are pretty much in agreement.
Fragments, much like Gaza, is a poetic masterpiec of sound, image and story. The camera seems to only capture incredibly breathtaking scenes from a war-torn Iraq, for example: silhouettes of children climb a small hill pushing a large tire, while the remnants of a blazing red sun bruise the night sky in the background. Even the shots of a young Mohammed being scolded and hit with a stick by his boss are captured with quiet sincerity, humility and respect. Longley is clearly a master at cinematography, and like Gaza, he has chosen another country whose wounds are ripped open around him.
The film is divided into three chapters (fragments) and in his non-interventionist style, incredibly intimate scenes are presented that depict an Iraq made worse by American (and coalition forces) invasion and occupation. As one man cries: “Before we had one Saddam, now we have 100.” Fragments offers us three pieces of Iraq that no American-deposited “democracy” can ever bring together: the Sunnis, the Shia and the Kurds. As people living in Iraq from all three of these fragments begin to rebuild their lives from the rubble that was once a country without any help from the US (people in the film comment on food that comes in for the US forces, but not for the locals), they also are rebuilding identities.
In reimagining their own nation-states, these three fragments’ spokespeople (all men, there are no women in this film) talk of civil war, of religious insurrection, and of making peace with one another. One thing is sure, be it war or peace, both may drive out the Americans, but the latter will do so with less blood shed.
It is not surprising that Longley took three of the top prizes for documentary at Sundance this year: he has made a poignant and poetic portrait of a country torn apart by war and occupation, and one that shows signs of resistance, rebirth and recovery, but also signs of an intense inner conflict that could keep embattled Iraq’s wounds open for many years to come.
We will show this film in the fall on 35mm, thanks to Ryan at Typecast Films, and hopefully we will be able to bring Longley himself to lead a discussion after the screening.