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Critic wrangle: “Operation Filmmaker.”

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06042008_operationfilmmaker.jpgLiev Schreiber, prepping for his directorial debut “Everything is Illuminated” in 2004, was captivated by a segment of MTV’s “True Life: I’m Living in Iraq” featuring Muthana Mohmed, a charismatic Iraqi film student shown searching for books on cinema in the Baghdad bazaars, his school and filmmaking dreams destroyed by the war. Schreiber invited Mohmed to come to Prague and serve as a PA on the film, and director Nina Davenport to document this act of liberal good will (and good publicity) that soon goes fascinatingly awry, the journey (and convenient metaphor for the U.S./Iraq relationship) becoming the documentary “Operation Filmmaker,” which opens in New York today to general acclaim.

“One of the grace notes of this smartly put together documentary, which fluidly weaves talking-head interviews with on-the-ground footage, is that it implicates everyone, including those Americans who thought that with their money and their good intentions they could perform a miracle,” writes Manohla Dargis at the New York Times. Michael Koresky at indieWIRE notes the filmmaker’s growing complicity in the situation:

At the outset just a prompting offscreen voice, Davenport finally is one of “Operation”‘s principal characters, in the end as unwitting a player as her protagonist, raising all sorts of ethical questions about the relationship between filmmaker and subject that she never could have predicted. The convolutions people go through to rationalize their own agendas form the heart of “Operation Filmmaker,” which yearns for closure but finds in its seemingly innocuous central act of reaching out a fussy knot of unresolvable contemporary predicaments.

“Operation Filmmaker occasionally verges on damning its subject–one of the most gripping characters seen this year on film–for being a cagey, arrogant, single-minded narcissist, but hey, that’s showbiz,” shrugs Slant‘s Bill Weber, while David Edelstein at New York adds “you can feel [Davenport’s] idealism crumble as Muthana rages at her and hits her up for money. In the end, she all but throws up the camera and wails, “Help!”–and damned if that’s not, under the circumstances, the clarion call of a real American artist-hero.” “Davenport and Schreiber clearly envisioned Mohmed’s journey as a neat, tidy little human-interest story,” suggest the Onion AV Club‘s Nathan Rabin. “Instead they got something infinitely messier and more vital: a human story and one that says a great deal about the world we live in, filmmaking and the limitations of good intentions.”

J. Hoberman at the Village Voice is a bit more mixed, describing the film as “as much virus as video documentary,” and concluding that “Aggravating as her experience may have been, the filmmaker has managed to have her cake and eat it, too.”

[Photo: “Operation Filmmaker,” Icarus Films, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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