The Reel Iraq

A new documentary challenges conventional takes on the war

| September / October 2005

When Stephen Marshall queued up for the bathroom on a flight to the Middle East, he had no idea he'd get a feature-length documentary out of it.

In 2003, six months after the fall of Baghdad, Marshall, who co-founded the Web-based independent news organization Guerrilla News Network (GNN), took a flight to Jordan with his GNN colleague Anthony Lapp? to research a book. While in line for the bathroom, he started chatting with the guy behind him, an affable Iraqi named Frank who was returning to his homeland for the first time in 13 years. Frank, it turns out, was an exiled Iraqi freedom fighter who had fought against Saddam Hussein during the Persian Gulf War.

'He started telling me his story, and I said, 'Hey, can we go back to my seat and get the camera?'' Mashall said in a phone interview. 'I just started filming him, and that was the beginning of the movie.'

For Marshall, it was simply the first of many random encounters that led to Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge, his award-winning film about the American occupation of Iraq, which recently debuted on Showtime. Filmed in just three weeks, Battleground resists any easy interpretation of the war by interviewing a diverse cast of characters -- among them, a pro-Saddam Iraqi translator, an African-American soldier who thinks the war is about geopolitical interests, and an Egyptian businessman who believes the American occupation will help Iraq thrive. Marshall, who had been a staunch opponent of the war, was surprised to find his own views about the occupation tempered somewhat after making the documentary.

'My cynical view of the war was that it was a lie, that it was a self-interested campaign framed as a humanitarian and defense issue in order to get public support,' Marshall said. 'On the other hand, Frank told me several times, 'I don't care if Bush takes all the oil in the country. For me, seeing my family again is paramount.'

'Once I met Frank, I could actually see the benefits reaped by a lot of people in the country. That did complicate it -- it had to complicate it.'