Voices of Iraq (movie 2004)

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The week before the 2004 U.S. presidential election, a documentary called Voices of Iraq opened in ten cities across the country. The PR firm Manning Selvage & Lee coordinated publicity for the movie.

Promotional materials called the movie "innovative," "unprecedented," and "startling." The producers "distributed more than 150 digital video cameras across the country" and then "condensed more than 400 hours of footage." The film promised to make "evident that American opinions - whatever they might be - are based on filtered and occasionally faulty information about the Iraqi people" (October 18, 2004 press release).

While announcing that his Magnolia Pictures would distribute the film, Mark Cuban said, "This is the one movie everyone should see before they vote. ... If the war in Iraq is an issue that impacts your vote, you have to see this movie first" (October 19, 2004 press release).

Questions Raised about the Film

Journalist Eartha Melzer wrote of the movie, "People seem happy that Saddam is gone and optimistic that, if the United States stays in Iraq, democracy will prevail. They seem unafraid of bombs going off nearby. People say Saddam funded al Qaeda. Former Iraqi political prisoners are shown laughing off the stories of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib – what Arab man wouldn't want a female American soldier to play with his penis? ..Among the notables interviewed, but not identified, is Sharif Ali, the cousin of Iraq's last king. " [1]

The timing of the movie's release, its tone, and the fact that the same PR firm used by the U.S. Army, MS&L, promoted it led Melzer to question its intent. "According to MS&L Managing Director Joe Gleason, he and his colleagues also deliver key targeted messages about the war in Iraq to specific constituencies," wrote Melzer. "Was the left-leaning art house crowd one of those constituencies? Is the government hiring documentary filmmakers to propagandize the U.S. population?" [2]

An American soldier stationed in Iraq felt otherwise, "the film accurately portrays the feelings and opinions of the majority of the citizens of Iraq. The opinions exhibited show both pro and anti US sentiments. The fact that the majority of the voices are positive is a direct reflection of the actual opinions of the majority of Iraqis themselves. To anyone who has expressed their opinion that this is right-wing pro-Bush propaganda, I challenge you to put up, or shut up. Come over here and ask an Iraqi citizen what they think."[3]

A Filmmaker Responds

Martin Kunert, took exception to Melzer's questions. He wrote, "If Iraq is a hot topic during the election, Magnolia would have to be dumb to wait until the elections over to release the film. Mark Cuban is not dumb. I also doubt Melzer actually saw the movie, despite her gross generalizations of how Iraqis in the film feel. If she did, she would have seen children at the river-front terrified by a nearby explosions, or Iraqis unhappy with the US and wanting Saddam back. She also would have realized that Sharif Ali isn't identified in the film because the man doesn't appear in the film. So Melzer's misrepresentation of the film arises either from her own deceit or ignorance." [4]

Regarding MS&L's role in promoting the movie, Kunert added, "Manning, Selvage & Lee is a massive, 64 year-old, international publicity company whose numerous clients include the US Army, General Motors, Nestle, Philips and Procter & Gamble. . ... Are makers of SUV’s, chocolates, and toothpaste hiring documentary filmmakers to propagandize the U.S. population?" [5]

Iraq Foundation Involvement

The filmmakers were assisted by the Washington DC-based Iraq Foundation, which receives funding from the State Department and the National Endowment for Democracy. The Iraq Foundation, or “The Free Iraq Foundation” as identified on its tax return, is 99.9% funded by U.S. government grants. [6] According to Melzer, the Iraq Foundation helped the filmmakers "figure out how to get around and who to give the cameras to," as well as providing "torture footage." [7]

Kunert wrote, "The Foundation provided the images of beatings and a hand being cut off. The remaining, majority of torture footage was riped [sic] from DVD’s being sold on the streets of Baghdad." He added that many people and groups assisted the filmmakers, including "taxi drivers, hotel workers, families, scientists, people on the street, Kurds up north, the the Iranian backed, militant Shiite Iraqi Dawa Party - and the mass of people you see in the film with cameras." [8]

Movie Reviews

The movie received many positive reviews, including:

  • San Francisco Chronicle: "'Voices of Iraq' is a must-see for anyone still coming to terms with the chaos in Iraq." [9]
  • Los Angeles Times: "By turns heartbreaking, amusing and disturbing, the film features people from different regions, economic classes and religions, recounting stories that are sometimes bleak, sometimes encouraging, but always compelling." [10]
  • New York Times: "If this film cannot claim to represent the political "truth" about the war - what film could?" [11]
  • Variety: "In a season of political documentaries that take one side or the other on the war in Iraq, a film has emerged whose purpose is not to address American politics but the Iraqi people." [12]
  • Wall Street Journal: "At a time when shrill political diatribes dominate the documentary scene, along comes an authentic work that dares to let the subject speak for itself – literally." [13]
  • Washington Times: "'Voices of Iraq' is neither partisan nor conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. However, as an attempt to get behind the filter of the main stream media – as a picture of reality unmediated by editorial commentary – it’s a more potent negation of Michael Moore, Craig Unger, Noam Chomsky and Co." [14]

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