My Country, My Country

Documentary short list: A look at the films vying for a nom in Oscar's docu feature category

Country: United States

Director: Laura Poitras

Topic: In the months leading to Iraq’s first democratic election in three decades, Poitras follows Baghdad-based physician/Iraqi Islamist Party candidate Riyadh al-Adhadh in his quest to advocate voting among his middle-class Sunni Muslim neighbors.

Financing: Poitras funded the documentary with grants from the Independent Television Service and Praxis Films as well as P.O.V./American Documentary and the Sundance Institute Documentary Fund.

Budget: $400,000

Shooting format: DV camcorder

Why it stands out: Because Poitras worked mostly alone, she was able to achieve a “backstage pass” of sorts from Dr. Riyadh’s family and associates, as well as increasingly jaded Iraqi citizens, Abu Ghraib prisoners, and even members of the U.S. military. And Poitras allows her subjects to act and speak for themselves, accompanied by a soundtrack of haunting music and frequent bomb blasts.

Memorable scene: A cadre of sun-glassed and scruffy Aussie mercenaries hired to assist the U.S. military in election safeguarding buys guns from a chatty Kurdish arms dealer.

Distribution status: Released by Zeitgeist Films in August, the docu has played in 25 U.S. cities; it was also broadcast nationally on PBS in October, sponsored by P.O.V. Zeitgeist is set to release the DVD in early 2007. It has earned more than $33,000 in limited release.

On the making of the film: “There’s been a huge power vacuum in Iraq since the U.S. came in,” Poitras says. “This country is making decisions about how Iraqis live and die, and it’s very hard for the Iraqi government to be independent and legitimate if we are standing behind them. At the same time, I think there would be massive bloodshed if we just left.”