Interview with James Longley
How did you meet Sari and his mother, and what inspired you to make a film about them?
I had been to Iraq a couple times before the war started when Saddam Hussein was still in power. That regime was a little too controlling, and I couldn't start filming until after the war had begun. At that point I found a situation where the country was in chaos, but it also meant that there was a kind of freedom which had not been there maybe ever for documentary filmmakers like myself to work in. I was looking for stories of people's lives to get a bigger picture of what was going on in Iraq. I started filming in different areas in Baghdad, up in the north, down in the south, following people I had met, hoping to make a series for television. That eventually wound up being my feature film Iraq in Fragments.
In the film, Sari's mother describes Iraq as a carcass that both the Americans and the Iraqis are picking away at. It's a powerful metaphor and moment. Why did you include it?
Well, I think most of the decisions that were made by the United States in Iraq since the invasion began really don't have anything to do with ordinary people. The average bureaucrat in Washington probably can't imagine what the concerns of ordinary people are in Iraq. I think in order to formulate intelligent policy it's a prerequisite to be able to put yourself in other people's shoes, to be able to see the world from another point of view. Unfortunately that's something which in general as a country I think we're not great at. We're very centered in our American-ness. We always look at the world from inside that bubble and it's unusual for Americans to take themselves out of it and look at the world from a different vantage point. And that's something we really need to do in order to relate more intelligently to what's going on in other places.
It seems like most Americans are in the dark, or even indifferent as to the concerns of average Iraqis today, in terms of the cost of the war. Why do think that is?
I guess for people who think that what happens with ordinary people in Iraq, that it doesn't have anything to do with them should remember that we are there as an occupying power, and as such we have certain responsibilities, more than just from a legal point of view being an occupying power and what that means. It's important to remember how Iraqis look at our presence in Iraq informs their view of who Americans are. So if we invade Iraq and create a situation where the kind of social infrastructure that most people take for granted - schools, hospitals, roads, water - if those basics cease to function under our watch, ordinary people come to the conclusion that the United States as a country simply isn't concerned with ordinary Iraqis. And that unfortunately colors how people view Americans as individuals. And not just in Iraq, but people all over the world. And unfortunately the last seven, eight years of the Bush administration has really pushed things into a kind of crisis where many people who had viewed the United States as a kind of ideal nation are really losing that kind of rosy view of our country. And I think it will take a long time to get that back.
What do you hope audiences take away from the film?
I hope that when people watch the film they are simply cognizant of the idea that Iraq is filled with good people, with beautiful and wonderful people. And while you see a lot of drama on television - bombings and killings - there are families all over the country, and they have their own problems. They have their own issues parallel to the things that war and occupation has brought them. I would encourage people to look at the situation there from a human point of view, and not as much from a cold, political point of view.