More than a simple record of a couple of embedded helmers in Iraq, “Occupation: Dreamland” gives voice to usually tightlipped GIs in and around the volatile city of Fallujah. Docu helmers Garrett Scott and Ian Olds offer a sympathetic look at the average Joe doing duty in hell — as well as a sharp indictment of the Pentagon’s cavalier support for the troops. Obvious political tone may hamper small-screen play, but fests and rep houses should keep circulation high.
Scott and Olds joined up with a unit of the 82nd Airborne Division in the early days of 2004, at their base facetiously known as Dreamland. A motley group of mostly twentysomethings, the soldiers are charged with maintaining order and suppressing resistance, but with no sensitivity training, it’s inevitable the locals treat them with fear and suspicion.
Many still aren’t sure why they’re even in Iraq: One soldier shrugs off the question with, “I guess someone smarter than me knows what’s going on.” Others feel their blood is being exchanged for oil. Helmers don’t need to pry too hard to get diverse opinions, ranging from gung-ho warriors hepped up for action to quiet introspective types insecure in their role as occupier.
Using night lenses, the camera follows the unit in an evening raid, revealing women and children huddled on the floor in fear and hatred, their reflective eyes like animals in a spotlight.
Back at the base, in an especially chilling exchange, a recruitment officer tells the soldiers they have nothing else in their lives anyway, encouraging them to re-enlist, with the argument that they’ll never be able to reintegrate into civilian life. Docu ends with Marines coming in to replace the strung-out unit just before the devastating siege of Fallujah.
Fearlessly following their subjects in all sorts of confrontations, Scott and Olds manage to keep a steady and objective eye without outside narration. Considering the frequently dangerous set-ups, sound quality is surprisingly crisp.