If Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 may be said to represent a biased barrage of opinions regarding the war in Iraq then Roger Aronoff’s Confronting Iraq may be said to present a more reasonable and reflective examination of the same issue. Both releases, aimed at theatrical circulation, ask if the war in Iraq is justified or if the government deceived the American people. Aronoff’s thought-provoking documentary submits some very satisfying answers without distorting the truth in a very well edited and well-presented documentary.
The film opens with a montage of dates and pictures of terrorist attacks in several countries all over the world. The montage ensures that one picture of destruction and havoc dissolves slowly into another. The pictures are thus allowed to form what resembles a mural of the shared tragedy since the slow transitions make the devastation seem almost like a single picture. Since it looks like one picture, a realization of the enormity of the wreckage and loss produced is not interrupted in a choppy fashion which would have been the result if the editing had been done with wipes, direct cuts or other abrupt transitions. The suggestion such a shot makes is that there is adequate reason to fight the cumulative aggression that has caused such havoc in so many diverse countries.
The title of the film is set against debris found at Ground Zero in New York City. Placing the title against the famous picture of the heart-rending remains of the World Trade Centre is an effective editing move that sets the tone of Confronting Iraq and establishes its relative importance.
The wreckage is a clear symbol of the destruction that has been inflicted by terrorists on American soil. Since the film goes on to show that Saddam Hussein had strong ties with the terrorists, the opening picture becomes very apt, especially when seen in retrospect after the connection between the Iraqi dictator and terrorist groups has been proved.
There are several scenes that employ long shots showing the World Trade Centre stretching majestically up into the calm skies. As the narrator recounts the 1998 attack on the building when terrorists had driven a truckload of chemicals into the edifice, a long shot is employed. The long shot serves three purposes. First, it is a reminder of what is now missing from the Manhattan skyline; furthermore, showing the tower reaching far up into the sky alludes to the brutal fashion in which the towers were destroyed by the hijacked planes flying in the very sky into which the towers reach up. Finally, it is also reminiscent of the enormity of the threat since showing the stately towers indicates that people who have plotted and destroyed them must be taken seriously as an evil force and must be confronted.
Several scenes like the Al Qaeda propaganda tapes are played within a computer screen. As the editor Don Wilson says, these give the impression that one is watching a QuickTime movie trailer that has been downloaded from the Internet. Such a device is similar to the technique used by Dr. Peter C. Rollins in his documentary Television’s Vietnam-The Impact of the Media. In that, footage that was similarly unclear, like the pictures of burning American planes that had been shot down during the Tet offensive, were also similarly shown on a small TV screen within the bigger screen thereby improving the quality of the shots.
The editing move serves a practical purpose here. Don Wilson further informs that the initial footage of these tapes that had been obtained by the filmmakers were very hazy since they were not original tapes. Since these copies had been made from previous copies, very little could have been done to improve their quality. The editor thus hit upon the unique idea of fitting these tapes and scenes into a much smaller computer screen. As a result, pixels could be shrunk and the clarity of the tapes enhanced. These scenes could not have been run on a full frame T.V. screen since that would have made them very grainy. The editing move was, as Wilson put it, “an easy way out” but it is noteworthy in that it allowed for the inclusion of important footage even while heightening its impact.
In the section entitled “Bringing the War to Iraq” the accompanying montage renders the desert assault very vivid. Don Wilson called the section “Going to War” and likened it to a music video montage. Quick images of combat, accompanied by dramatic music, follow each other communicating the progress of the advance in a matter of seconds. It starts with the entrance of the soldiers into Iraq, is followed by the battles, fires and destruction that were caused, then shifts to cheering Iraqis, the toppling of the tyrant’s statue and finally fades away into a black screen. When asked about the montage, Wilson said that his intention was to edit the section in such a fashion that it would grab attention, and yet he did not want to over-edit it so that it could be absorbed easily. The editing pace makes the section quick and chaotic to match the force and intensity of the war.
When the narrator mentions the accusations of deceit that had been hurled at President Bush, a shot of the White House accompanies his words.
Another interesting editing choice is being made here because the White House, a symbol of the trust placed by the American people in the leader of the country, is juxtaposed against accusations of mendacity. Since the film goes on to argue that there was indeed justification for going to war, the shot acquires significance as it vindicates that in spite of the allegations that the narrator was giving information about, there should be no indictment of the White House.
As the narrator discusses the violence let loose on the Iraqi people by Saddam Hussein’s regime, the accompanying footage shows green trees and magnificent buildings. There is an enormous incongruity between what the narrator is saying and the picture that accompanies her words. The scene set to the voiceover is evocative of the peace that can be gained in Iraq because of the U.S. intervention. It illustrates a picture of what Iraq could be, but as the voiceover informs, is not.
As scenes of civilian progress in Iraq occupy the screen, the narrator reports that fifteen million people have been set free in Iraq and that the rights of women and minorities have been upheld. The very next scene shows American protestors claiming that the war was fought for oil. The juxtaposition of these two scenes helps to validate the positive effects of the war and it shows that many of the protestors who claim that the war was fought for the wrong reasons are ignorant of the full picture.
Additionally, a picture of the captured Saddam Hussein is followed by scenes depicting the violence that had been perpetrated in Iraq under his regime.
Since anti-war supporters might be inclined to criticize the capture and incarceration of the deposed leader, the scenes that immediately follow emphasize the evils he was directly responsible for, thus effectively eliminating such criticism. Quick cuts have been utilized here to shift between scenes of progress and those of the captured Iraqi leader in an attempt to show that a sudden yet swift change in the condition of the Iraqi people has occurred.
Confronting Iraq is a positivistic look at the Iraq question. The editing in the documentary has been done to gain the maximum effect possible from using a variety of techniques: montages, long shots and juxtaposition of scenes of torture with scenes of progress. By employing an assortment of different shots and techniques, Roger Aronoff and Don Wilson ensured that the film succeeded in achieving unity through variety. The result is a feature length documentary that very specifically deals with some of the criticisms that have been leveled at the Bush administration by its anti-war critics.
Confronting Iraq. Dir. Roger Aronoff. Autumn Documentary Productions, 2004.
Television’s Vietnam -The Impact of the Media. Dir. Peter C. Rollins. Accuracy in Media, 1985.
By Sayanti Ganguly
Oklahoma State University