Battle For Haditha
When politicians talk about the battle for hearts and minds in a conflict situation, they are usually talking about winning over the support of the local citizens caught in the war zone, though it could also apply to their own constituents, whose tacit approval allows the fighting to continue.
In The Vietnam War, the phrase was a favourite of Lyndon Johnson, who believed that by supplying the Vietnamese with electricity and hope for a better future, the US could undermine support for the Communists.
In the end, though, it was the hearts and minds of the American people that insisted the war must end, a popular groundswell that was undoubtedly influenced by the graphic images of violence and suffering that became a regular feature on the nightly news.
The US military (and our own) learned its lesson, and we get far less of that kind of coverage from Afghanistan or Iraq - which is why it's fallen to filmmakers to show us what these conflicts really look like on the ground.
On November 19, 2005, 24 Iraqi civilians were massacred by the Marines' Kilo Company, apparently in retribution for a roadside bombing that had claimed the life of a comrade.
Broomfield made his name in first person documentaries, but has recently shifted towards cinema veritée style dramatic reconstructions, as in his last feature, Ghosts.
In this case his strategy resembles the one Paul Greengrass adopted for Bloody Sunday and United 93. It involves documenting the run up to the violence from three different perspectives: Corporal Ramirez (Elliot Ruiz), a sympathetic Marine who is showing the strain of his prolonged tour of duty; a typical Haditha family preparing for a large gathering to celebrate a wedding; and two Sunni insurgents, neither of whom is a religious extremist, but who agree to plant a roadside bomb (IED) for personal profit, self-protection, and because they want the Occupiers out of their country.
Broomfield isn't as gifted a filmmaker as Greengrass (let alone Gillo Pontecorvo, whose classic The Battle Of Algiers set the template for this kind of movie), and Haditha takes a while to exert its grip. Even so, the film affords a fascinating glimpse of what Iraq must look and feel like - Jordan standing in for its near neighbour - and supplies credible insights into the psychology of those who are stuck there.
His smartest choice was to cast non-professional actors. The Marines are played by Iraq veterans, for example. Their behaviour and protocol rings very true. Unlike De Palma, Broomfield doesn't demonise any of his characters - all of whom are to some extent at the mercy of larger forces. This only makes the subsequent turn of events even more harrowing and depressing.
Broomfield obviously cares passionately about this movie - apparently he bought it back from the original UK distributors out of his own pocket to organize the release more to his liking and get the film out there as soon as possible. (At present it is still waiting for a US distribution deal.) It deserves to be widely seen and isn't easily forgotten.
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