Directed by two-time Oscar winner Bill Guttentag in collaboration with Australian journalist Michael Ware, Only the Dead See the End of War examines the Iraq War and its moral consequences through the story of the rise and fall of jihadi terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Iraq and the progenitor of ISIS. A harrowing and graphic account from both sides of the war zone, as well as an illuminating window into the origins of a modern terrorist organization, the film is told through visceral hand-held video footage culled from hundreds of hours that Ware shot while reporting over the course of the war. This unique, on-the-ground view is combined with eye-opening narration for a frank, unsparing look at the Iraq War unlike any before.
Arriving in Baghdad in 2003 as a novice reporter, Michael Ware was initially on a three-week assignment to cover the invasion of Iraq. He left seven years later, having gained unprecedented access to the Iraqi insurgency and American troops, as well as a myriad of demons -- the after-effects of witnessing seemingly endless, horrific violence.
While covering the invasion of Iraq in the hopeful days after the fall of Saddam Hussein, Ware, along with the other journalists living in the Time magazine bureau house in Baghdad, was among the first to realize something was going wrong. As the violence mounted, he “[became] possessed by the idea of how someone could do these things.”
The journalist’s curiosity led him into the dark trenches of the Iraqi insurgents, who took him on their strikes in the dead of night and gave him a window into their war. Soon, the rise of terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi became personal when Ware received a DVD containing footage of terrorist attacks and suicide bombers’ last moments from a Zarqawi contact, making him “an unlikely go-between for anti-Western militants.”
Ware was the rare reporter trusted by multiple sides, and put himself in incredible danger, even after being kidnapped and nearly executed. His footage captures the violence, fear and confusion that defined the Iraq War, as well as his self-described “darkest moment” of the war, which haunted him long after he left the country.
The powerful documentary is the recipient of three 2015 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards (the Australian equivalent of the Academy Awards), including Best Direction in a Documentary, and the 2015 Walkley Documentary Award (the Australian equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize). The film had its U.S. premiere at the Telluride Film Festival.
Only the Dead See the End of War was directed by Bill Guttentag and Michael Ware; written by Michael Ware; produced by Patrick McDonald and Michael Ware; executive producer, Justine A. Rosenthal; editor, Jane Moran.