Meeting Resistance

A few weeks ago, the Embassy was treated to a preview showing of the documentary film Meeting Resistance, by Molly Bingham and Steve Connors. They are veteran photojournalists of numerous conflicts. Connors was a soldier in Northern Ireland. This is their first film. Here is IMDB.

Meeting Resistance introduces the viewer to eight or so insurgent fighters from one Baghdad neighborhood. They appear in silhouette, out of focus, or outside the frame. The rest of the footage is B-roll shot around the neighborhood plus a little news footage. Aside from occasional title cards, there is no narration.

The screening was arranged by our Red Team. I would guess that between 200 and 300 people attended. I stood in the back.

Ms. Bingham and Mr. Connors interviewed their subjects between August 2003 and June 2004 in the Adhamiyah area of north Baghdad. This period encompassed the capture of Saddam, the Ashura bombing, and the scandal at Abu Ghraib. In addition, many of the interviewees discuss events immediately after the invasion.

The insurgents are mostly Iraqis, both civilian and military, Sunni and Shia. Their motivations for fighting: indignant patriotism, Arab nationalism, defense of family, revenge, defense of Islam. The interviews were anonymous and the filmmakers have no way of contacting their subjects today.

The insurgents’ language was absolutely devoid of any forward-looking political program, of any kind whatsoever. After the screening, an audience member commented on this and the filmmakers remarked that the insurgents themselves deliberately avoid any discussion of what might happen after the occupation ends.

If you have some context, Meeting Resistance is an interesting film, a narrow window into the original insurgency. But in Baghdad time, the footage is ancient. (I do not recall that the age of the footage is directly indicated in the film.) Many shots are allowed to speak for themselves in ways that may be misleading.

There is one scene that borders on the truly deceptive. In a short on-street sequence, a U.S. soldier checks out the camera several times (there are cuts, so we can’t tell how much time passes) and finally fires at it, apparently killing the cameraman (the camera tips to the ground, though without the violence you see in real combat footage). I wondered how they got a U.S. soldier to film such a manipulative scene and, briefly, whether the uniform was stolen.

The first audience question was “what happened to the soldier who killed the cameraman?” Actually, as Mr. Connors explained, he was filming and the shot was a warning, 2 feet to his left. The filmmakers defended the sequence because (1) “this is what it’s like for average Iraqis” and (2) cameramen had been shot, accidentally or otherwise, in other cases. There are other scenes where American heavy-handedness is clearly implied, but that answer leaves them all in doubt. The only question that got applause from the mostly military audience criticized this practice: specifically, the implicit attribution of slain children to the U.S., when insurgents often kill children or include them in their defenses.

Ms. Bingham and Mr. Connors deserve credit for their work. They did go to Adhamiyah every day and drink coffee in the cafes. They did film long interviews with more than a dozen insurgents. They did skip the combat footage to keep attention on the interviews. And they did bring the film to a potentially tough audience in the International Zone. They said ruefully, we get criticized by both sides. Arab audiences ask why we didn’t show a surprise house search in the middle of the night, instead of a polite daytime search.

The message of Meeting Resistance, heavily implied by the last spoken line and the final title card (and reiterated several times in the Q&A session), is that the insurgents are motivated by the simple presence of the occupation, and will never stop fighting. Sectarianism is dismissed by several interviewees, who came from intermarried families. No complications enter the film’s political model, although during Q&A the filmmakers did acknowledge Sunni/Shiite violence and the current power struggle among Shiites.

Baghdad today is very different from May 2007 or January 2007, let alone late 2003.

MORE: A brief comment from Wretchard, whose commenters were rather more harsh.

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