Oct 24, 2005
Occupation: Dreamland is a new documentary about the war in Iraq. It was made by two journalists, Garrett Scott and Ian Olds, who spent six weeks in early 2004 with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, then stationed at Falluja, Iraq.
In November 2004, the U.S. military told the 300,000 residents of Falluja to leave the city, and then practically bombed it to the ground in the name of “fighting the Iraqi insurgency.” This brutal assault on Falluja was in response to a rising popular resistance there. Portions of this documentary give an idea about the reasons why people in Falluja were so angry at the U.S. occupation. Camera in hand, Scott and Olds follow the soldiers in their night raids. We see doors busted down, Iraqi civilians, including women, children and elderly, humiliated and intimidated in their own homes. We also see people getting randomly arrested, handcuffed, hooded, and taken to prison for interrogation.
Not surprisingly, these raids make the soldiers themselves uneasy too. Describing how it feels to raid civilians, one soldier says that if Iraqi soldiers raided his home in Chicago like that, he would pick up his guns and go at them.
The film also shows soldiers patrolling the city and doing what the military brass calls “public relations”: talking to Iraqis in the street through translators. During these conversations we see Iraqis complaining about the living conditions, the raids and arrests, and the military occupation in general. One Iraqi says: “Where is everything the Americans promised? We have no jobs, water, electricity, gasoline, but all we see is guns.”
In those weeks, shortly before the spring of 2004 when the rebellion in Falluja reached its peak, the troops are keenly aware of the wide rift between them and the population. Some soldiers question the reasons behind the occupation and mention the contracts awarded to companies like Dick Cheney’s Haliburton, while others say they would rather “not talk about politics” on camera. But on one issue there seems to be widespread agreement among the members of the 82nd Airborne, which is a well-trained, elite division: that they are not helping Iraqis and that the Iraqis don’t want them there.
Occupation: Dreamland is not the first documentary of its kind – Gunner Palace, released earlier this year, followed U.S. troops around in Baghdad in similar fashion. Still, this new film is interesting for showing Falluja in the process of an emerging uprising (once Scott and Olds even captured on camera a roadside bomb going off near the soldiers). One thing we see is that the revolt in Falluja did not have to be the making of “foreign fighters,” as the Bush administration claimed – Iraqis had enough reason to want the U.S. military out. The American soldiers, on the other hand, are the real foreigners there, and in more than one way – not knowing the city, the language or the customs, and carrying an enormous amount of weaponry and gear which makes them look completely out of place.
Even if in a small way, Occupation: Dreamland does something the big media has refused to do: give an idea of what it really means to occupy Iraq – on the ground and on a day-to-day basis.