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Occupation: Dreamland, Ian Olds and Garrett Scott (2005)

It will be a long time before some as-yet-unborn Ken Burns has the proper perspective to deliver a comprehensive film history of the war in Iraq. Given the sheer volume of extant footage and imagery from the media and the thousands of cameras in soldiers’ pockets, it may never even happen at all. In the interim, interestingly, what we do have are dozens of little documentaries like this popping up on cable TV and at film festivals like so many mushrooms. Typically directed, shot, edited, produced, financed, and marketed by two guys with a digital camera and a sense of mission, docs like this one follow around a unit of real soldiers and interview them with the same reverence major TV networks reserves for wonks. This is among the best of the genre I’ve seen. The soldiers — an 82nd Airborne unit in Fallujah in 2004 — are given their say, and the filmmakers’ politics, while hardly invisible, are clearly and consciously subordinated to what the troops have to say. A few moments of real poetry, as when a well-meaning soldier chats with a very nervous Iraqi, trying to teach him the word “jacket” and to learn the Arabic for same, but the Iraqi misunderstands, and tells the soldier the Arabic word for “leather,” which is what the jacket is made of. Somewhere there’s a soldier trying to buy a jacket and getting handed leather, and an Iraqi man vice-versa.

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