My Country, My Country

Written by:
Les Wright
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What is so astounding, disorienting, and engaging about the documentary Laura Poitras has made becomes clear by contrast to the absurd and even shocking lack of any serious reportage in the United States about the American war in Iraq. U.S. reporters are strategically "embedded" (held so close to U.S. military leadership nothing can escape the omnipresent military censor’s eye). U.S. "news" is collected, processed and distributed over corporate-owned mass media networks (half infotainment, half bald propaganda, and always serving corporate owner interests). My Country, My Country breaks the spell thus cast by examining real people in Iraq, as they are forced to cope on a daily basis with painful, insane, impossibly irreconcilable dynamics, all caused directly or indirectly by the American occupation.

Poitras went to Iraq where she worked for eight months alone, filming and interviewing everyday Iraqis living under American occupation. Making the happenstance acquaintance of Dr. Riyadh while she was seeking interviews at Abu Ghraib prison, much of the final documentary ended up focusing on Dr. Riyadh and his family during the momentous period leading up to and following the historical nation-wide elections in 2005. Dr. Riyadh, a medical doctor and father of six, also was a Sunni political candidate. By the time of the elections, his party had withdrawn its name from the voting list, a dynamic explored to illustrate the complex and difficult politics of bringing democracy to Iraq, the inanity of doing so by American military force, and the profoundly devastating toll all of this has been taking and continues to take on many good, capable, well-intended people like Dr. Riyadh. Iraq is a place where the best of intentions are rendered meaningless on a daily basis.

As Riyadh’s political aspiration and dreams of democracy for his country tatter, Poitras captures him at work, his office flooded each day with patients experiencing increasing war wounds and psychological ravages, as the violence grows greater and more chaotic. Such everyday reportage stands in stark contrast to the mind-numbing bland generics of body counts and incident reports on American media. Interspliced are scenes of the American occupation, staffed by what prove to be huge numbers of paid mercenaries, exposing the lie of the outsourced occupation to "private contractors," along with embarrassingly candid scenes of UN officials struggling to do the right thing and put an international face on the U.S. orchestrated voting process. What clearly emerges are two wars which have seemingly nothing to do with each other–the American "spin," the American preoccupation with making things look right to play well back home in the U.S., has seemingly nothing whatsoever to do with the nightmare of the insurgency happening on the ground. Often the chaos seems to be caused by American aggression, a covert war against Iraqis.

Poitras lets her interviewees speak for themselves, and editorializes primarily by constructing her film. As the eye-witness evidence compounds, it becomes difficulty not to see the U.S. as engaging in the same old nineteenth-century practices, with the U.S. cavalry shooting up the redskins (or brown skins in this case). It begins, ever so stomach-churningly, to look like a racist genocide in the making. This film represents journalism at its finest, as has not been practiced in the U.S. in some time. Because it is a series of dispatches from the front, literally, the world still too much in the midst of it, it is impossible to draw broader perspective observations about My Country, My Country. It is important that the film has been made. It is important that its message get out into the world at large.

Les Wright

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