The Making Of
Director Nina Davenport becomes embroiled in a moral quagmire and an intense power struggle between herself as filmmaker and her subject: a 25-year-old George Bush-loving Iraqi film student who has been rescued from the rubble of his country by well-meaning Hollywood players.
What led you to make OPERATION FILMMAKER?
In the spring of 2004, I got a phone call from David Schisgall, who had directed the MTV piece, True Life: I’m Living in Iraq, asking if I wanted to go to Prague for five days to film an Iraqi intern on the set of a Hollywood movie. It sounded like an interesting job, but probably not an interesting film. When I arrived on set and realized that Muthana and his American benefactors were at odds with each other—a perfect metaphor for the war in Iraq—I decided to commit to a longer term project. Three long years later, I’d finished OPERATION FILMMAKER.
What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?
The main challenge was dealing with a protagonist who wanted something from me in exchange for being in the film. The fact that he was from a country that had been bombed into submission by my own [country] made that dynamic all the more complicated and confusing.
How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?
Given the way that Iraqis felt about Americans as a result of the war (which was not altogether positive to say the least), the issue of Muthana’s trust in me was an ongoing struggle and conflict. And, in fact, it became part of the subject of my film.
How did you balance your presence in the film with the rest of the story?
This was the most difficult challenge in the edit room: to figure out how much of my character to include. It was resolved by virtue of many long and painful months of slugging it out in the edit room.
What were the most positive and most frustrating things about working with Muthana?
I think that’s a question that is best answered by the film itself.
What didn’t make it into your film that you would have liked to have included?
Many, many hours of Muthana and I arguing and fighting; some of it was painful to watch, but much of it was rather humorous.
Were there any technical challenges you faced while shooting, and if so, how did you resolve them?
The emotional and moral challenges of this film far and away trumped any of its technical challenges.
What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?
People have responded extremely well to the film at festivals. It has won a number of awards, including Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary at the AFI Festival, Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature at the Florida Film Festival, Official Selection at the Toronto Film Festival, Special Jury Prize at the Chicago International Film Festival and Dutch Film Critics Award at the Rotterdam International Film Festival.
Actor and director Liev Schreiber, whose idea it was to bring Muthana out of Iraq in the first place, loved the film. Muthana, on the other hand, did not.
The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?
An irrational but obsessive need to tell stories.
Why did you choose to present your film on public television?
Because PBS reaches the most diverse audience of any channel on TV.
What didn’t you get done when you were making your film?
Making a film is extremely all-consuming, so this would be a very long list.