Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: Tipping a Hat to ‘Full Battle Rattle’ and Other War Docs

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Ack! Not another doc about Iraq! Ah yes, this Wednesday we are being treated to Full Battle Rattle, another film related to that unfortunate war we’re waging, and I’m quite sure we doc fans are soon going to be treated to more newspaper stories declaring the film DOA at the BO, relegating its fate along with Taxi to the Dark Side and Standard Operating Procedure, and fictional films such as Redacted, In the Valley of Elah, Lions for Lambs and Stop-Loss.

Trust me, I am not happy about this. Full Battle Rattle is a very good doc: directed by Tony Gerber and Jess Moss (who made Speedo: A Demolition Derby Love Story which aired on POV in 2004, and I’m told is a filmmaker to look out for), the film examines a U.S. army game-simulation exercise that is conducted in California’s Mojave Desert. It’s basically a really elaborate version of laser tag used to train U.S. soldiers. They have a town, real Iraqi exiles who play villagers and police, U.S. soldiers who play insurgents, and then they send in American soldiers to see if they can maintain peace in the village. The film is well-shot and interesting; it’s compelling to watch the simulation and illuminating to hear about the lives of the soldiers as well as the Iraqis “living” in the village.

But what struck me most about the film is how generously it treated the soldiers. Not that that’s surprising, but it got me thinking about how so many of the docs about Iraq have been respectful to our soldiers. As they should be. Even Errol Morris‘s SOP, Gibney‘s Taxi to the Darkside and last year’s No End in Sight by Charles Ferguson, three films that decry the war, manage to represent American soldiers as brave men and women caught up in a situation beyond their control. And, for that, I think we should take a moment to reflect: the “liberal” doc world has managed to turn out a lot of strong films about the war while honoring the humanity and sacrifices of the soldiers. (I should note that on October 16, POV will air Soldiers of Conscience; I look forward to seeing if this film can be counted along with these others). It makes me think back to Murderball, when those injured Iraqi war vets met with the disabled wheelchair rugby players. It was such a poignant moment, one of many that docs have brought us regarding American soldiers since this Iraq war mess.

So, I’ll take back that initial “Ack!” and put aside all the kicking stones that many of us (including me) do regarding the withering reception docs are getting in theaters, and instead tip my hat to filmmakers like Moss and Gerber for providing a lasting document from this era that we will all be proud of.

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki