First pic "filmed and directed by the Iraqi people" since Saddam Hussein's fall, "Voices of Iraq" marks an interesting experiment with low-cost digital video cameras but also reveals the crucial role of film editing. With Iraqis pointing cameras at each other, the result is cheerier than might be expected.

First pic “filmed and directed by the Iraqi people” since Saddam Hussein’s fall, “Voices of Iraq” marks an interesting experiment with low-cost digital video cameras but also reveals the crucial role of film editing. With Iraqis pointing cameras at each other, the result is cheerier than might be expected. This could mean: That things are looking up in Mesopotamia, or that an agenda dictated the content of the edited tape. Exclusive U.S. release on Oct. 29 to the Landmark Theatre chain was likely geared to generate brief pre-election interest, but better numbers will pop in homevid.

Pic is anomalous in that there’s no credited helmer or lenser; rather, a trio of Yank producers arranged the mass distribution of 150 inexpensive lightweight digital video cameras to Iraqi citizens. They then passed the cameras on to whomever they wished. The real makers of “Voices,” though, are film editors Robin Russell, Martin Kunert (who also co-produced) and Stephen Marks, who have trimmed more than 400 hours of footage — shot from April to as recently as September — down to less than 80 minutes.

The threesome’s work creates a highly-charged pace (further propelled by hip, rock-meets-Arabic music by bands Narcicyst and Euphrates), but typically permits only brief glimpses of what appear to be more than a hundred camera subjects, raising a serious question about what was left on the cutting room floor.

The fact that remarkably few complaints by citizens about the occupying U.S. and coalition troops ended up in the final cut — complaints long reported by every serious Western journalist who has spent time in Iraq — suggests a guiding hand overseeing the editorial outcome.

Early views of youngsters in Baghdad itchy to get back to their home in Falluja, plus brief comments by a translator that things were better under Saddam, hints that pic will display a balance of positive and negative views. However, hatred of Saddam is legion, rampant and universal in the pic, which either indicates that the cameras were distributed to Shia and Kurdish groups who endured years of Hussein’s brutal tyranny — and not to Sunnis who fared relatively well under the Baathist regime — or that voiced support of Saddam, or criticism of the U.S., was excised.

As would be expected, young people have a ball with the cameras, turning them on themselves in the bathroom or for dance routines or for family gatherings, while older folks often sit and talk. (One female dentist proudly displays her new passport, the film’s supreme symbol of living freedom.) Little or no insight, though, is expressed in the dialogue.

Docu pulses with life, nonetheless, and delivers emotionally when the cameras are pointed at outrages endured under Saddam by the Kurds in the north and displaced groups in the south, as well as torture victims who have lived to tell their tales. As a true or accurate portrait of the real Iraq, however, pic pales in comparison to various in-depth U.S. and European reports, and to Bahman Ghobadi’s brilliant new drama on wartime Kurdish refugees, “Turtles Can Fly.”

Voices Of Iraq

Iraq-U.S.

Production

A Magnolia Pictures release of a Voices of Freedom and Booya Studios production. Produced by Eric Manes. Co-producers, Martin Kunert, Archie Drury.

Crew

Camera (color, DV-to-35mm); editors, Robin Russell, Martin Kunert, Stephen Marks; music, Narcicyst , Euphrates; sound (Dolby Digital), Fareed Elcott; translators, Yasmine Hannaney, Rachel Gandin, Hesham Issawi, Yousef Shehadeh, Walid Younes, Rani S. Zuhdi . Reviewed at The Lot screening room, Los Angeles, Oct. 25, 2004. Running time: 79 MIN. (Arabic, Kurdish, English dialogue)

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