A week or so back, I was able to take part in a screening of "Gunner Palace", a documentary centered around the daily life of a Battalion of US soldiers based in the late Uday Hussein's Al Azimiya Palace in Adhamiya, the most volatile area of Baghdad.
I'll start off with the film's most unique feature: it is totally non-partisain. This is not an anti-war blood-on-the-pavement film- and neither is it a pro-war flag-waving film. It simply presents the lives, words, and actions of a group of young americans, thrust into a very difficult situation.
Some people might be dissapointed, on account of this. If you're looking for a film that waves the bloody shirt of Iraqis and Americans, avoid this one.
Over the course of the film, we get to know these men and women who have been sent to fight this war, and the Iraqis who have chosen to work alongside them. We accompany them on their patrols, their searches, and even their arrests, their training, and firefights. We see these people at rest, at play, in danger, and in rare moments of unrestrained, yet cynical, joy. In addition- while it's apparent that the filmmakers were every bit as much "emebedded" as your average Fox "News" team, they were able to present a far more human, honest, and thought-provoking picture of the situation in Iraq than anything I've seen on TV, since this war began.
Just as "Gunner Palace" doesn't hand easy fodder to those opposed to the Iraq War, it gives little for the war supporters to cheer about, either. Some of those we meet during the course of the film die, change sides, or voice their dissatisfaction and skepticism about the purpose of it all. A crowd of children that seems to be cheering the GIs starts throwing rocks at them. A weary trainer of the new Iraqi national guard laments: "They're only showing up for the paycheck." Those Iraqis who have chosen to aid the occupation forces must wear ski masks, to avoid being targeted for assassination.
Conceptually, overall, the film is an exercise in minimalism. The footage is exclusively of the troops- the filmmakers never enter the picture (outside of a gravelly Kerouac-style voiceover that, I hate to say, is the film's only drawback- it just sounds canned, and a tad phony, considering the reality we see unfolding on the screen.) The soundtrack, when it involves music, is supplied by the troops, themselves, whether it be the guitar stylings of one of the film's more quirky GIs, or some pretty impressive freestyle rap performances by members of the battalion. Overall, it works quite well.
At its most basic level, "Gunner Palace" is still an anti-war film- not just the war in Iraq, but all war. Even the most diehard, conservative supporter of this war would walk out of the theater, asking themselves some serious questions.
I hope it tours wide and far, but independent film has a hard time getting around in this country, today. If you see it running in your town, I suggest checking it out.