According to Don Wilson, the primary editor on the documentary Confronting Iraq (2004), many editors rely on instinct when piecing a film together: they just seem to know when to fade away from a shot or when to make a cut. Visual “Instinct” allow editors the ability to set the tone of a film and segment images to drive home a message. Different editing techniques in Confronting Iraq set a serious tone for the documentary. With the help of these editing tools, the director, Roger Aronoff, establishes that the situation in Iraq was one of escalating threat, thus the Iraqi war and the removal of Saddam Hussein were necessary steps in ensuring the safety of a multitude of people.
Confronting Iraq enlists the aid of the cut-away when presenting the message of their film. (A cut-away shot allows the filmmaker to get the point across without making overt statements or employing narrative devices, which may appear heavy-handed.) As a tool, the cut-away subtly enforces the message and allows for a more stylized finished product. The majority of the cuts in the film are smooth because the film applies fades or dissolves to present material in a steady serious manner. The majority of early segments do not abruptly cut; they linger as a ways and means of driving a point. The technique changes about midway through the film. In the section entitled “A Long Short War,” cuts become more fast-paced and urgent. The quickness of the editing pace demonstrates the chaos of war and the pressures felt by the US troops. The different choice in editing creates a frantic feel, reinforcing the idea that the situation in Iraq was one of escalating threat. Had the film maintained the same pace throughout the film the exigency of the situation might not have been apparent. Changing the cuts shows that Iraq was in league with terrorists, thereby justifying the war and United States aggression.
Another tool, which helps reinforce the message of Iraq’s culpability, is montage. As Don Wilson describes, images in a montage can either reinforce the visual that came before or point to the picture that comes next. Confronting Iraq’s multiple montages set the tone. For example, the opening shots are a montage of archival footage of the September 11th attacks. Unlike other treatments, specifically that of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, Confronting Iraq shows graphic images that revive the horror of those terrorist attacks. Rather than just having sound and a black screen (as Moore does), Confronting Iraq forces a remembrance of the experience because it shows visuals of the planes flying into buildings, the mass exodus out of Manhattan, and the collapse of the two towers. These images help to reignite the patriotism exhibited in the days following 9/11; therefore, promoting the message of a justified US invasion of Iraq. Confronting Iraq pointedly places the montage directly before the main title of the film in order to firmly establish the gravity of the situation.
As a rebuttal to Fahrenheit 9/11, the film also enlists other techniques. In Fahrenheit, Moore’s editing and sound manipulates audiences by lightening the mood. It accomplishes its objectives by presenting the war and the elements leading to the battle in a comical fashion. Confronting Iraq, on the other hand, establishes its seriousness from the beginning. For example, the filmmaker’s choice to place interviewees in front of a black screen demonstrates respectability almost nonexistent in Fahrenheit 9/11. Rather than cutting away to some type of popular culture reference Confronting Iraq allows the experts to say what needs verbalizing. The choice of black backgrounds and slower paced cuts creates a somber and respectful mood for the film. Unlike the ridiculous antics of Fahrenheit, Confronting Iraq gives the situation in the Middle East, the threat of terrorism, and the disturbing world events the treatment they deserve in a documentary.
One of the only times the film veers away from the formula, however, comes when discussing the Moore’s influence in mainstream perceptions of the war. The film inserts a montage of Moore’s many public tirades against President Bush and the war all the while showing the outrageousness of the situation. The narrator sarcastically alludes to Moore as the savior of the American people, getting the truth out to the masses with his film. In one scene, the light even softens make it look like Moore has a halo or divine light framing him. Of course, all this comes across with an air of the absurd, but the types of manipulations employed are not far from the editing tricks of Moore and Fahrenheit 9/11.
Confronting Iraq employs standard story telling devices to present the issues. As Wilson put it, there is a distinct beginning (the September 11th attacks and the events leading up to the war), middle (the war itself), and end (the ramifications of the war). The three-part structure allows for a deeper understanding of the conflict in the Middle East. By working within the medium of film and the devices it provides, the film establishes a message without overt manipulation. The editing decisions help to present the idea that the crisis in the Middle East is not just a spontaneous or recent happening. The filmmakers cleverly apply techniques such as cuts, dissolves, and montages to present a serious documentary, deserving of more recognition and study. Rather than promoting stereotypical negative images of the war and the situation in the Middle East, the film gives its subject matter proper treatment. Confronting Iraq establishes itself as a work of art because it refuses to let popular sentiment override the truth; and it is this type of filmmaking, which should garner more respect than the overtly commercial Hollywood productions masquerading as documentaries.
Aronoff, Roger. Telephone Interview. 4 February 2005.
Confronting Iraq. Dir. Roger Aronoff. Autumn Documentary Productions, 2004.
Ellis, Jack C. The Documentary Idea: A Critical History of English Language Documentary Film and Video. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1989.
Wilson, Don. Telephone Interview. 4 February 2005.
Oklahoma State University