No End In Sight

The nominations:

  • Documentary Feature : No End In Sight

The Black-and-White:

This is one of three nominated documentary features about American military forces in the Middle East. Here is the oscar.com synopsis of this one:

Analyst and scholar Charles Ferguson examines the process behind the Bush Administration’s decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Evidence of errors in judgment, ignored intelligence information, and a lack of any follow-up plan on the part of those in the government who orchestrated the invasion are presented within the context of the history of U.S./Iraq relations.

As noted in the synopsis, the documentary focuses on the period from just before the invasion in March 2003 to late 2006 when Congress finally began to acknowledge the failures and lack of planning and preparation for post-Saddam Iraq (remember “go big, go long, go home”?). Ferguson documents the key decisions (or omissions) that each contributed a knot in the big tangled mess the war has become.

This is familiar territory for anyone who has been keeping up with the news and reading journalists’ accounts and books about the policy decisions about the war. The documentary brings those accounts to life, with footage of the events and interviews with the folks who were there.

I certainly found this piece interesting, as it connected many of the events I remember reading in the news into one story. I also found the interviews with the soldiers and their stories of trying to do right despite the folks in charge particularly compelling.

Still, the film lost my trust (and my vote) about halfway through.

Ferguson is a first time filmmaker and not a journalist so he may not realize that when you interview someone, the interviewee is the one who is supposed to be talking. Several times, you can hear (presumably) Ferguson off camera interrupting the interviewee, or changing the subject from what the interviewee is trying to talk about. Also, some of the most damning evidence in the film comes only from someone off camera making a statement about someone’s actions, and the interviewee simply saying “Yes” or “No.”

To me, that is poor journalism. If you can’t get the interviewee to tell the story herself or himself, you aren’t doing your job. That’s what I was taught in journalism school, anyway (by this guy).

Also, these tactics make the film unreliable. Having watched the movie, I know that there are things that the interviewees were trying to say about the events which they didn’t get to say because they were interrupted. And although I am pretty confident that the questions to which the interviewees were answering “yes” or “no” actually were the questions that you hear off camera, there’s just no way to know because the interviewee is not in the shot. That’s why you want the interviewee to make the damning statement.

Because I started to mistrust his interviewing, I also started to distrust the facts strewn throughout the film. I’d look at the black screen with some tally of something or some dollar figure of something else in big white letters and wonder where it came from instead of simply believing it was true. And then I started wondering whether the footage accompanying certain assertions was actually from the time period (and place, for that matter) in which it was supposedly occurring, and on and on.

The bottom line is that I think that the information in the film is worthwhile. I don’t think that Ferguson misrepresents any of the major policy decisions, or assigns responsibility to anyone who doesn’t deserve it.

But I found the film too editorial and too edited, which to me doesn’t make it a documentary — best or otherwise. On the other hand, if March of the Penguins could win, then…. who knows?

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