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Moving “War Tapes” puts viewers on frontlines

Erin McGinn | Wednesday, September 27, 2006

With constant exposure to media of all kinds, it can sometimes be difficult to separate fact from fiction. The most difficult, unsettling and eye-opening aspect of watching the documentary, “The War Tapes,” is that all of the scenes are real. This is not a Spielberg-treatment of an old battle – this is the war taking place right now on the other side of the world.

Although other documentaries exist detailing the war in Iraq, none share the uniqueness of “The War Tapes” and its presence on the front lines. The movie closely follows three National Guardsmen from New England who volunteered to shoot footage during their yearlong tour in Iraq with Sony miniDV cameras given to them by the filmmakers.

A 34-year-old mechanic, Spc. Mike Moriarty, signed up with the National Guard after Sept. 11 and wanted to serve in Iraq – leaving behind a wife and two children. Sgt. Stephen Pink, 24, signed up because he wanted to “accomplish something” and get help paying for his college education. Sgt. Zack Bazzi, a 24-year-old student, joined in order to give back to the country that he became a part of as a child. His family escaped the civil war in Lebanon to come to the United States when he was a child, and burden of translator often falls onto his shoulders.

All three men serve in the same unit, whose main duty is to protect military supply convoys.

What separates this film from others of its kind is that “The War Tapes” places the viewer straight into the minds, emotions and experiences of these soldiers. It openly shows the audience the daily chaos the soldiers endure. Even though the soldiers appear committed to the cause, they show an awareness that the issues involved are far from being black-and-white.

Sgt. Bazzi is by far the most articulate and cynical of the three soldiers. More than the others he recognizes and comments on the racist and ignorant overtones of many of his colleagues. He emphasizes that there has been little training about Iraqi culture given to the soldiers, causing a great deal of unnecessary strife.

The handheld, frontlines camerawork is a personal tour of what the soldiers experience at all times. The audience is witness to the roadside attacks and sees the bloody corpses on the ground. In a particularly upsetting moment, the soldiers are all shaken up by an Iraqi woman who was killed in a hit and run accident crossing the street, and they demonstrate their concern that the army’s presence has many unforeseen consequences.

Although the movie does its best to not force opinions on the Iraq decision, many of the soldiers are quite vocal about what they witness. Far from “patriotic,” most of the soldiers view this as nothing more than a job, but the longer they are there, the more cynical they become. They are particularly bitter towards their duty of convoy guards for the Haliburton/KBR trucks – who they realize will continue to make money by over-charging the army as long as they remain in Iraq.

The film does an incredible job allowing the viewers to see the lives of these three men, both in Iraq and back home in the U.S. Interspersed between footage from Iraq is footage taken of the men’s families as they wait for the men to return. After their tour is over, they are reintroduced to civilian life and their family and friends are interviewed about the changes that they see in the men.

“The War Tapes” is a hard-hitting film that tackles head-on the realities of the war in which this country is currently involved. It deftly tears down any and all preconceived notions of the conflict in Iraq – and certainly leaves far more questions than answers.