Eight months earlier, I was at home in New York City reading an article in The New Yorker by George Packer. It was November 2003 and I was filled with despair about the war and the direction it was going. Packer’s article chronicled the first months of the occupation: the failure to plan beyond the military invasion, the tragic contradictions of the U.S. mission, the efforts of people on the ground (both Iraqi and American) to make it work despite these fatal mistakes, the bombing of the U.N. offices and the death of Sergio de Millo. Among the many people Packer profiled is the story of a young U.S. military captain who during the day is the de facto mayor of a town, and at night breaks down doors and terrifies children. Packer asked the captain: Isn’t there a contradiction between your daytime and nighttime job? The magazine fell from my hands with the realization that I would make a documentary about this war and its tragic contradictions.
I contacted all the journalists I knew to seek advice about how to make it happen. Following the suggestion of one, I emailed the U.S. military requesting access to film the military’s nationbuilding efforts in Iraq. To my surprise, and to their credit, they agreed. The only restriction the military placed on me when I filmed them was not to reveal classified information.
I traveled to Baghdad in June 2004 one year into the U.S. occupation. It was two months after the Abu Ghraib photos were published, six weeks after Nicholas Berg had been beheaded and one month after major uprisings in Najaf and Fallujah. Things were not going well. I went there alone, doing my own camera and sound work.