My Country My Country (2006)

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Review #258 of 365
Film: My Country My Country (2006) [NR] 90 minutes
WIP™ Scale: $13.75
Where Viewed: Starz FilmCenter at the Tivoli, Denver, CO
When 1st Seen: 26 September 2006
Time: 8:10 p.m.

Directed by: Laura Poitras (Flag Wars)

Click for 'Review Lite' [a 150-word or less review of this film]
This year there have already been an astonishing number of documentary films of startling image and story covering issues surrounding the USA-coalition Led Invasion of Iraq. This new documentary, My Country My Country, directed by Laura Poitras, stands head and shoulders above most of them despite some often less than perfect scenes of the featured Iraqi family's children behaving a bit like spoiled brats. The reason for this is that none of the other films really give international audiences a sense for what the real Iraqi people want. In both Gitmo and Road to Guantanamo, the films leave the possibility for lingering doubts because the credibility of the witnesses can always be challenged. In this film, however, Ms Poitras documents the life of a physician from a neighborhood of Baghdad who is beloved by his neighbors and decides to run for the new Iraqi general assembly to be formed by general, democratic elections the end of January 2005. The filming begins approximately one year before the elections and documents the UN plan to run the elections, a private Australian security company hired to provide security, and, of course, Dr. Riyadh's life during this war torn year. The reels unfurl like real life. There's no obvious intention to capture specific things to prove specific points later. In that, Ms Poitras marks herself as one of the best documentarians of this subject. To be sure, the USA does not come out looking that great in the film. And, it's true she may have edited out what little good has been done. The film, however, does not play that way. Instead, it plays as if she just randomly went out and followed whomsoever she could and the doctor so as to capture the real flavor of what was going on.

Dr. Riyadh is first and foremost a physician not a politician. He cares for everyone in his area at a small hospital staffed by eleven voluntary doctors. In one particularly compelling scene, he gives a woman a huge sum of money from his own pocket because she has a husband who's taken up with the wrong people and has spent all of their income. She needs a way to feed herself and her family. He is short the exact amount she claims to need, and he instructs her to come back in a few days to collect the rest. He is, by all senses gathered from the film, a candidate for person of the year. All the while, however, as a Suni Muslim he proclaims it essential for the voice of his people to be heard in the elections and the assembly. Unfortunately, the leaders of his political party have decided that the elections are being designed against them, and as they are the minority population in the nation, they will, instead boycott the elections as opposed to participate thereby legitimizing them. Poitras makes no conclusion on their decision herself, but clearly Dr. Riyadh has his opinion. He is furious.

All the while during the film, actual broadcasts of the nightly news can be heard and, in some cases, seen in the film. There are stories daily of fouled efforts on the part of the coalition to do just about anything right. You get the definite sense that the USA is seen as an occupying force not a liberating one. In one chilling scene there is the Deputy Secretary of State Armitage making grand pronouncements in front of anyone who will listen that the USA is going to do such a much better job of handling this Iraqi election that anyone will think was ever possible. Not long after, the USA led an all out assault on the mostly Suni city of Fallujah leading to the reported deaths of many woment, physicians, and children. This nearly plummets the country into chaos as no one can possibly imagine the logic of this attack. Dr. Riyadh meets with the commanders of the mission and states that he feels this will only lead to more problems and not fewer problems in a very passionate plea for an explanation. The three, very young, military commanders, all looking extremely uncomfortable about the meeting, listen intently. Finally, the leader says, "You've touched my heart." The scene ends without further explanation for obvious reasons.

"...contains powerful concepts and is one of the best portrayals of what the Iraqi people themselves have been living under during the extended liberation."
As the months move closer and closer to election day, there is tons of coverage of the UN director of the election having meetings with people about registration security, voting security, and how to keep the faith of the people that the elections will be transparent and honest. The US military is ordered to keep out of the entire process to ensure one dimension of this. However, it is clear from conversation and television coverage that the people believe the USA government will control the outcome. One average, cynical man says, "If even 60% of the people elected disagree with the USA government, do you think they will let that happen?" as if to imply the figure could be much higher. In another compelling comment a person says, "The Americans said they would make this better, it's been two years and there's still no running water in Baghdad, no reliable power, and no security." With sentiments like this among the common populace, it is very easy to understand why there would be extreme doubt about the integrity of the elections. Moreover, you really would have to give the Iraqi people no credit for being even slightly intelligent if you didn't anticipate their mistrust of elections overseen by an invading power. Worse, if you are a USAer, you've got to wonder, "Sure, what would happen if they held the elections and every single winner was anti-USA?" Pretty much, the only people who do not seem anti-USA are the Kurds who admit they love the USA for ridding the country of the evil government. This leads to much speculation that the only way to save the country would be to divide it into three nations: one for Kurds, one for Sunis and one for Shias. What a terrible thing to have to have happen.

This is not a perfect documentary by any means. Yet, it contains powerful concepts and is one of the best portrayals of what the Iraqi people themselves have been living under during the extended liberation. One thing that rings through in every documentary this year on this and related subjects, is a sense of extreme arrogance on the part of the US-led coalition. There is a complete and utter lack of regard for the Iraqi people themselves. One interesting thought experiment that can help anyone see that this is the case no matter how much nationalistic pride one holds, is to quite simply put oneself in the position of the Iraqi people. This ought to be thought experiment 101 for every politician, military person, or contract worker sent to Iraq. Put yourself in their position and ask yourself, would you want to be treated this way? This film really allows viewers to do this because Dr. Riyadh's family is pretty typical to any upper middle class family in the USA right down to the spoiled daughters who say to their father, "I voted for you, and I didn't even charge you." On a final note, one has to seriously wonder, again, about the logic of the people involved in running the elections. They know there have been death threats issued for weeks against anyone who plans to vote in the elections. Yet, they persist in having each voter dip his or her finger in a bottle of ink that doesn't wear off for, at least, a day so that no one can vote more than once—hmm, we don't seem to do this in the USA, wonder why? Why on earth would you want to permanently mark, in a visible fashion, every person who voted and then send them out onto the streets where people who have vowed to gun down any one who voted are waiting? Put yourself in their position, it's a lesson that must be absorbed into the consciousness of every person on earth.

My Country My Country (2006) Review-lite [150-word cap]
There have already been an astonishing number of documentary films of startling image and story covering issues surrounding the USA-coalition Led Invasion of Iraq this year. My Country My Country, directed by Laura Poitras, stands above them because none of the other films give international audiences a sense for what the real Iraqi people have been going through. She documents the life of a beloved physician, Dr. Riyadh, from a neighborhood of Baghdad who decides to run for office during the year before the formation of the new general assembly. While not a perfect documentary, it contains powerful concepts and portrays what the Iraqi people themselves have been living under during the extended liberation. It forces one to think about what it would be like to be in their shoes and to have your people, your culture, your country, and your heritage treated this way.

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