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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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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…


IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.


IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).


IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.


IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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GIFs via Giphy

Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.


IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.



IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….


IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.


IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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