The Oberlin Review
<< Front page Arts May 5, 2007

OACLU Screens Film About Iraq

The 27-minute documentary Meeting Face to Face is a perfect example of the inability of most Americans to come to grips with the implications of the war in Iraq. The film, which was shown here on Tuesday night by the Oberlin chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, documents a tour of the United States by six senior Iraqi trade union leaders. Hosted by U.S. Labor Against the War, they commiserate with American labor and union activists, who help them to convey three essential messages to the American public: the occupation must end, Iraqi national resources must not be privatized and Iraqi workers must have the right to unionize.

The state of labor in Iraq is something we practically never hear about, so I suppose we should be grateful for anything that sheds light on it. Under Saddam Hussein, unions were illegal for the vast majority of the population, and in fact, they have yet to be made legal. And the film does deserve credit for at least attempting to give the Iraqis a human face; the people shown here are hardly the crazed terrorists we hear about in the media.

Nevertheless, the Iraqis shown in this movie don’t emerge with any more individuality or distinctiveness than the Iraqis generally shown by the media. FOX Channel gives us a mass of maniacal suicide bombers; Meeting Face to Face gives us a mass of sweet guys who just want to get by. There’s something fundamentally condescending about the film’s view of the Iraqi people — “Golly, they’re human beings, too!” One of the interviewed Americans seems surprised to discover that the Iraqis are “not terrorists — they’re just like us.” And it’s hard to come away feeling deeply uplifted by the sight of American and Iraqi workers singing “solidarity forever,” given the horrific violence that occurs in Iraq on a daily basis.

The movie touches on many important issues: the resentment that virtually all Iraqis feel toward the American occupation, the utter failure of many Americans to grasp that fact, the impossibility of the U.S. “reconstructing” a country in which its presence is despised. But it never does anything more than touch on them (how could it, in 27 minutes?). The movie lacks the scope necessary to fully flesh out all the issues it raises. Ultimately, it comes across as little more than a glorification of the American labor movement, which was magnanimous enough to help the poor, downtrodden Iraqis.

Given the ongoing violence in Iraq and the war’s increasing unpopularity in the U.S., it’s rather surprising how few people have seen any Iraq documentaries. Last year alone saw the release of at least four such films.

David Edelstein, of New York Magazine, writes: “In this terrible time for the U.S. and the entire Middle East, it’s a small band of documentary filmmakers that has provided the most enlightening views of the ongoing catastrophe in Iraq&hellip;These films deserve the widest audience possible; their makers are heroes in an age with precious few.”

I myself have yet to see any of these films. Shouldn’t someone bring at least one of them to campus and preferably one that touches on the important issues on a deeper level?


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