Operation Filmmaker, a documentary directed (and more!) by Nina Davenport, is a film that brings up so many questions, on so many diverse topics, it’s difficult to know where to start. A young filmmaker’s school in Baghdad is destroyed by American bombs, thus destroying his dreams. But lo, weirdly enough MTV comes to his rescue, doing a short piece about him. Liev Schreiber, preparing for his directorial debut, (the great EVERYTHING IS ILLUMINATED), decides to make both a symbolic and magnanimous gesture, a American Jewish filmmaker reaching out to a devastated Iraqi film student, asking him to come work with him on his first film. So far, so good in movie land, right? But that’s when it all come crashing to a halt. For basically one reason. Human nature. Yes, you can say it was also a culture clash. ( I can’t help believe that the U.S. vs. Middle Eastern views on women played a large part in this, Ms. Davenport being one of the most long-suffering and generous filmmakers, almost to the point of financial and emotional exhaustion.) The most interesting aspect about the situation is that religious beliefs really don’t seem to have played in any part of this, it seems to be all about human conflict. Our Iraqi film student goes forth into the brave new world of Western filmmaking/life in general. But he doesn’t like the Production Assistant duties he’s assigned (as we pause to hear the laughter of every P.A. in the world), he doesn’t like getting people snacks and coffee. The concept of starting from the bottom, and being grateful just to have the job, does not seem to be in his vocabulary initially. And he needs help with his Visa. And he needs help with his finances. His initial charm and thanks rapidly turn into bursts of anger and insults. (Of course the fact he makes a comment in favor of George Bush doesn’t increase his popularity with the film company.) And more demands for money and help with his Visa problems. So unfortunately everything falls apart, but Muthana Mohmed, (who seems to have more lives than a cat in the film world) gets a P.A. job on DOOM, where he finally learns to at least fake job enthusiasm. He also takes Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson” for entry fees into a prestigious English Film School Director’s program. Along with constantly asking everyone he knows, EVEN the documentary director, for help with money and his Visa problems. At one point he even holds his presence in the film, AND the director’s film and some equipment for ransom! Theoretically he is from a well-to-do family in Iraq, father supposedly in a government position, and claims the family had a chauffeur. Mother is described as one who took care of his every need. (Perhaps he was trying to put the documentary filmmaker in mom’s place?) It’s very difficult to know what is false and what is true. But it’s an absolutely fascinating film to watch–his last, defiant speech is textbook Machevilli.
From a psychological point of view this young man looks to be suffering from borderline personality disorder. How much of that is due to suffering through the American invasion of Baghdad, how much of it is due to the confusion and trauma of starting life over in a foreign culture, and how much of it is due to no longer being a spoiled rich kid? (If he was one.) And, as he seems to have raised manipulation to an art form, how much of it is just his real personality? The contradiction of someone who is perceived to have talent but shows no real drive or accomplishments, vs. someone like Philip Glass, an acknowledged genius whose work ethic is “to get up and write all day” is truly astounding.
A suggestion: Why doesn’t he set himself up as a consultant to the Iraqi government–if they hired him to raise funds the country would be rebuilt in 6 months!
There will be a panel discussion after the Saturday matinee (7/26) @ 4:30pm, which should be fascinating! I say we all go! (Imagine the stories that COULDN’T be put in the film!)