Combat reporting doesn't get any more immediate than the harrowing dispatches in the white-knuckle docu "Liberia: An Uncivil War." New pic from "The Farm: Angola USA" co-helmer and producer Jonathan Stack, working here with vet Brit frontline journo James Brabazon, provides a tense and vivid account of the summer 2003 conflict.

Combat reporting doesn’t get any more immediate than the harrowing dispatches in the white-knuckle docu “Liberia: An Uncivil War.” New pic from “The Farm: Angola USA” co-helmer and producer Jonathan Stack, working here with vet Brit frontline journo James Brabazon, provides a tense and vivid account of the summer 2003 conflict. Pic is tentatively set to air July 6 on the Discovery Times channel but is strong enough for fests and specialized theatrical bookings prior to solid ancillary.

Established by freed American slaves in 1847 as the first independent state in non-Arab black Africa (“the only country in the world worthy of the label ‘Made in America,'” pic says), the initially idealistic and freedom-loving Liberia had sunk into religious and ethnic strife by the shady 1985 election of president Samuel Doe. Five years later Doe was assassinated, replaced in another questionable referendum by 21st president Charles Taylor, who promptly sparked an escalation of civil strife that resulted in a decade-long civil war.

Though largely eclipsed in the world spotlight by the then-fresh Iraq conflict, events in Liberia were coming to a boil by the summer of 2003. The smooth-talking Taylor, indicted for numerous war crimes, agreed to step down once peacekeepers arrive. But the authorities wanted Taylor gone before they would step in. The 16 indigenous tribes who make up the opposition forces declare, “Taylor is our only enemy.”

With Stack ensconced in Monrovia and Brabazon advancing toward the capital with the startingly youthful rebel LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) army, the stage is set for a bloody urban shootout. In the days and hours before the confrontation, helmers dig deeper into Liberian life and the larger geopolitical picture.

Stack talks with numerous players, including weary 26-year vet medico Sister Barb Brilliant, who still maintains “I love ‘em all,” while Brabazon, under seemingly constant fire, interviews rebel commanders, glimpses one young soldier holding a victim’s heart aloft along the road, and watches as fighters from both sides dance while shooting.

Finally, after 18 days of intense, chaotic fighting, 700 Nigerian peacekeepers arrive, followed shortly by 200 American Marines. In the eyes of the citizens, this is too little too late, a feeling which is underscored by the playing of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” over closing credits.

Of value both as a history lesson and visceral wartime suspenser, pic offers enough background and context to satisfy savvy auds and geopolitical neophytes alike. Tech credits are clean given on-the-fly conditions, with subtitles employed often to clarify regional patois. Though Brabazon is listed as co-prod and co-helmer, Stack has solo card as prod and director in opening credits.

Liberia: An Uncivil War

Production

A Gabriel Films presentation of a Discovery Times Channel production. Produced by Jonathan Stack, James Brabazon. Executive producer, Bill Smee. Directed by Jonathan Stack, James Brabazon.

Crew

Camera (color/B&W, DVCam), Brabazon, Axel Baumann, Tim Hetherington, Stack; editor, Michael Kovalenko; music, Barnaby McAll; sound, Brabazon, Baumann, Hetherington, Stack. Reviewed on videocassette at SilverDocs AFI/Discovery Channel Documentary Festival (competing), Silver Spring, Md., June 14, 2004. Running time: 99 MIN.

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