Occupation: Dreamland, a chilling documentary directed by Garrett Scott and Ian Olds about the Fallujah in January 2004, just prior to the U.S. siege, opens on September 23 at Cinema Village. The Rail’s Williams Cole recently sat down with Scott.
Williams Cole: So we’re starting to see lots of different types of media coming out about Iraq. I’m thinking of books like John Crawford’s The Last True Story I’ll Ever Tell and Kayla Williams’s Love My Rifle More Than You, docs like Gunner Palace, and the right-wing reality series Over There, among many examples. Is there room for Occupation: Dreamland?
Garrett Scott: Well, it makes it very difficult for us because there’s a sense of a saturated market in terms of Iraq. Between the nightly news, Over There, other documentaries on various cable networks and PBS, as well as Gunner Palace, there’s a real resistance on the part of theater owners to show more films about Iraq, and for reviewers to write about it. The operating idea, I guess, is that people aren’t interested in the War, or they’re not willing to pay any money to come see it.
Rail: Is this because they feel like audiences are so saturated already?
Garrett Scott: Maybe, and that’s really interesting because it’s the most political issue there is and it’s suppressed in a way, numbing everybody because it’s sort of everywhere in the media, newspapers, etc. The TV show Over There is a perfect example. It doesn’t really have anything to do with the reality of what’s happening in Iraq; it’s very cynical in the sense that it’s trying to capitalize on people’s reasonable desire to know what’s going on. But even though it’s supposed to simulate what’s happening in Iraq, it has absolutely nothing to do with it. People watch this thing and they’re just watching television in a way; it numbs them to the War first and foremost.
Rail: You spent a great amount of time with these guys in the 82nd Airborne. How do you think they feel about the fact that there is so much media saturation?
Garrett Scott: Well, the guys I’ve talked to, for instance, hate the series. They feel like it’s insulting to see these Hollywood actors acting rough and tough while the show’s being broadcast probably six or seven people die or lose their feet or arms or something. But the Army guys are pretty sophisticated—the one in our film especially. I think most of them think the media in general is just a warped mirror when it comes to the war.
Rail: It’s interesting that in the film that you actually get these guys to open up politically analyze things. They’re really self-critical. Can you talk a little about that? Was it the luck of the draw, or was it your relationship with them?
Garrett Scott: Possibly luck of the draw, but I think it would have been equally interesting regardless with who we ended up with, because I think it’s very human to wonder how we—or how I—arrived at this point in life. Here I am in Iraq, in the Army without much power, making the best of it. Sure some people are patriotic and gung ho, but a lot of people, it’s just ridiculous to think that they aren’t questioning what they’re doing, what’s going on around them, what their experience means. That’s just a totally normal aspect of everyday life, wherever you are, whatever you’re doing. The fact that that’s excised from these narrative conventions about war is a crime—it’s just horrifying. People try to suppress the idea that these guys all have very articulate, sophisticated ideas about the world around them; that they are very young and wondering what they’re going to do with their lives. To say that all they think about is doing their job and they don’t think about politics or anything else is a grand lie. People like to be respected. They opened up and that was really important.
Rail: Do the soldiers you show think you capture the truth of their situation well?
Garrett Scott: Yeah, absolutely. I think the only disappointment I’ve sensed from military people comes from people in positions of command because they feel like the movie doesn’t represent what the commanders see and want to carry out. This movie is about the enlisted men. It’s about a squad that received orders and very little information, and they just do what they’re told. That’s what the film is all about. I know everyone in the film likes it very much, and feels as though it testifies to their experience in the field, and that’s a very powerful thing for me. But then we get these right-wingers or family members of people in the military who say the film is slanted. And what really throws people off, on both the right and left is the chaos. But it is chaos and the soldiers are trying to bring some order to it as best they can. But it looks like confusion, mayhem, and what they do is try to control themselves within this madness.
Rail: Which members of the upper echelons of the military have actually seen it?
Garrett Scott: Well, the head of the 82nd Airborne, the division commander, who is as big as you can get, he’s a general. I am sure the people in the Pentagon have seen it. I was assured of this fact by one of the members of the unit. He told me that the moment that it gets out, they are going to know about it. So, I wouldn’t say that people in the administration necessarily know about it, but the army is very, very wary of its public image. One of the main battlefields they are fighting on is the media. The battalion commander has seen it, the division commander has seen it, the public affairs division officer has seen it—they are all people who have to cover their asses and let their commander know what’s coming. We’ll find out more when we show it in Fayetteville at Fort Bragg in September.
Rail: This is kind of a cliched question, but what do you hope people will take away from the film?
Garrett Scott: I want people to come away with two things: One, with a sense of how day-to-day operations and activities are conducted, what the rhythm of this Army guy’s life is, because that’s something we never really understand. We just see Army guys in the streets: we don’t know why they are there or what they are doing. So I want people to see that experience unbroken for a while and to come to understand that a little bit. And then at the same time, I want people to come away with a sense of what the internal struggles are for these men. What it means to them to suppress resistance in Fallujah. I want people to make guesses about whether their operations seem to be effective, or whether they’re alienating the Iraqis that they are supposedly managing in a way.