DID YOU READ

Nick Broomfield on “Battle for Haditha”

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05062008_battleforhaditha1.jpgBy Aaron Hillis

It was only a matter of time before renowned British documentarian Nick Broomfield (“Kurt & Courtney,” “Biggie & Tupac,” “Aileen Wuornos: Life and Death of a Serial Killer”), whose on-camera muckraking begat Michael Moore and Morgan Spurlock, would tackle the Iraq War. But what’s surprising for a guy who’s been developing his doc style since the early ’70s is that “Battle for Haditha,” based on a 2005 tragedy in which U.S. Marines slaughtered 24 Iraqi men, women and children as kneejerk retribution for an IED attack, isn’t a documentary at all. A progressive but blisteringly angry re-enactment that may be the first Iraq-themed narrative with any intelligent sense of the complexities at hand, Broomfield’s drama casts real-life Iraqi civilians, insurgents and U.S. marines to depict the humanity from each side of the story. I sat with a no-nonsense Broomfield at NYC’s Film Forum to discuss the film, political apathy and his thoughts on how cinema may be more effective than the media.

Why did you want to make a film about this particular event, and what led you to casting non-actors?

Before this, I did a film called “Ghosts,” using the same technique with non-actors. It was about illegal Chinese immigrants coming to England, and I used illegal Chinese to basically be themselves. I got amazing performances from them because, obviously, they knew what that world was.

I also wanted to make a film about what happens in the vocabulary of war — generally portrayed as good guys and bad guys, cowboys and Indians. Both sides always think they’re right or have their vision. I’m very anti-war and mindful that, at the end of the Second World War, there were all these pronouncements that this was to be the war that ends all wars, and warfare is not a way of resolving disputes because it would always involve the killing of innocent civilians.

This film happens to look at Haditha, a symbolic incident of the Iraq War, which I think the American public will remember. It’s something that I think happens every day because of the situation, the uncertainty, suspicion, paranoia, and the desire to live longer — all those pent-up emotions that happen in any war. Innocent people get killed because they bend in the wrong direction. As much as anything, I think people need to think through what war represents, and it’s not enough to blame the Marines who are, in a sense, doing what we want them and have trained them to do. It’s the bigger thing: what is this conflict going to achieve? Hopefully there will be a desire to move forward and establish a real dialogue with the Iraqis; have a sense of them, their culture and their civilization, which is, as we know, one of the oldest in the world. Dialogue can never happen when there’s warfare, and there’s a circle of violence that emanates inevitably from it.

05062008_battleforhaditha2.jpgThough it’s loosely scripted, what made you decide that narrative was a better medium than non-fiction to tell this story? Did you need more control to get specific points across?

Depending on what medium you’re working in, you choose the subjects to fit. A documentary couldn’t have done of this particular story, certainly not on this emotional level. Members of the insurgency would not take part in the film. I met the insurgency, and you know, they don’t want to be filmed. Marines wouldn’t be identified on camera either, those we had met from Kilo company. You can’t get [within] that emotional proximity to the people who were involved. Also, in order to show that circular motion that has the inevitability of doom and clash, that sort of repetitive worsening of the situation, I think you need to see an event or drama unfolding in front of you to really appreciate what happens. I’m not saying that talking heads aren’t useful in another kind of context, but I don’t think they would’ve worked here.

You mentioned before that ending the war requires the start of a dialogue. What part in that conversation do you hope people will instigate after seeing your film?

What cinema can do is stand back from the plethora of information we get from the television — which tends to become very inhuman after a while — and establish a sense of humanity. Put a face on the Iraqi people. You’re never going to achieve a peace or a lasting solution until you have some respect — you need to personalize the Iraqis as one needed to the Vietnamese. Cinema can do that on a very emotional level. I think people can empathize with an Iraqi family trying to raise kids, have a love affair, or just exist in this situation. It can bring humanity to the Marines at the same time, and the insurgency, and it all becomes much more complicated.

How do you get people to engage when they’re shying away from Iraq-themed films in droves? To many, it seems like an extension of the news, or homework, or eating one’s vegetables.

It’s any political film, really. People keep comparing this to the Vietnam films. I think it was a different time. People were marching about everything and felt like their vote counted, that they could register their feelings. The whole civil rights movement was based on being listened to, that somehow taking to the streets mattered and would have a significant impact. I don’t think people believe that anymore. There’s a feeling of impotence, that everything is beyond our control: “I’m going to get on with my life, raise my kids, make money, laugh at Britney Spears, and that’s all I can deal with.”

So once again, how do you convince people to pay attention when there’s a collective apathy?

05062008_battleforhaditha3.jpgI guess no one has really come out with that solution. Maybe when there’s a feeling of a new vision, that there’s some statesman-like character leading us to a new way of seeing the world, apolitical people will take control of their lives and what’s happening around them. I think there’s a lack of empowerment at the moment, a lack of belief that anyone’s views are represented. The cinema, entertainment and everything else reflects that. It comes from the top, doesn’t it? It comes from the administration and the overall political situation of the country.

Have any conservatives reacted to the film, and is it preaching to the anti-war choir?

Funnily enough, the conservatives in Jordan and places like Dubai, where the film has been shown, feel it doesn’t portray the freedom fighters in as strong or patriotic a way as it should. They shouldn’t be shown accepting money, they should be the conscience of Iraq, total heroes, you know. Here, the conservatives on both sides are essentially the same: “There shouldn’t be any criticism whatsoever of what’s happening because it’s an unfolding conflict. This is a conflict we’ve got to win, and this isn’t helpful.”

I think the film will people [who] don’t have any information on both sides. The Iraqis have very little idea of what is going through the minds of the marines. They just see them as evil, as the devil. I think by humanizing the marines — showing that these are vulnerable kids who have problems with what they’re doing, and they’re kind of victims, too — is a revolutionary thought for a lot of Iraqis who’ve seen the film. I hope the same will be true with the Americans who get a sense of what the Iraqis are going through, that the insurgency is not “the insurgency.” They’re not all Al-Qaeda members. A lot of them are guys who were in the army, who became disillusioned with the liberation when they realized they weren’t able to vote, their army was disbanded, they didn’t have electricity, their kids couldn’t go to school. They saw what was actually a — I wouldn’t say an amazing economy, but certainly people could function and drive across their city — disappear, and they felt they had to take things into their own hands. It’s humanizing both sides, and that’s the way forward.

[Photos: “Battle for Haditha”; director Nick Broomfield, Hanway Films, 2007]

“Battle for Haditha” opens in New York on May 7.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.