Good intentions lead to a moral quandary when a star-struck Iraqi film student is whisked from Baghdad to a Prague-based Hollywood shoot and an uncertain future in timely docu “Operation Filmmaker.” Meaty issues of media responsibility and individual self-determination, coupled with inside-baseball aspects of set politics and immigration policies, elevate this unintentional analogy on U.S. involvement in Iraq to a hot-button level that will compel fests and distribs to have a look.
Shortly before entering production on his 2005 directorial debut, “Everything Is Illuminated,” thesp Liev Schreiber saw an MTV piece featuring 25-year-old Iraqi Muthana Mohmed, whose wistful dream in the face of his film school’s bombing is to go to Hollywood and meet Angelina Jolie. Working with his producer, Peter Saraf, Schreiber arranges to have Mohmed flown to Prague, and for nonfiction helmer Nina Davenport to document his adventures as a P.A. on the shoot.
At this point, a fatal cause-and-effect occurs. Nobody seems to take the time to clue the euphoric young man in to the realities of his station, and he subsequently can’t hide his bitterness upon realizing he’ll see more of the craft services table than the set.
Confessing his love for President Bush to the liberal producer and flubbing his editing responsibilities on the wrap party gag reel, Mohmed finds himself scrambling to find an ally for a visa extension at shoot’s end. With Schreiber and Saraf gone, he manages to stay legal and get a job on the “Doom” set, eventually finding an unlikely financial savior for a London film school berth in Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. But that euphoria is also short-lived.
Increasingly exasperated at Mohmed’s seeming inability to take control of his life and her own dogged unwillingness to stop filming him, Davenport likens her increasingly volatile relationship with her subject to the U.S. military predicament: “I had wanted a happy ending,” she frets on one title card. “Now I’m just looking for an exit strategy.”
For his part, Mohmed is a walking conundrum, part victim of liberal guilt and part arrogant opportunist, fueled by friends and family who urge him never to return to Baghdad. “I’m trying to be like you, but I can’t,” he says early, underscoring a cultural divide not of his making.
Pic raises pithy questions sure to provoke animated discussions pro and con. Credit Davenport for a mostly unbiased presentation that presents her own disenchantment in a balanced manner. Her intuitive camerawork leads a tidy tech package.