Dialogue: Nick Broomfield
Nick Broomfield's documentary career began in the early 1970s and has spanned topics from fetishists, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love to female serial killer Aileen Wuornos and white supremacists. The filmmaker is shifting his approach. His last two movies have been scripted movies based on facts. For his latest, he turns his attention to the conflict in Iraq with "Battle For Haditha." The picture, which unspools here today, is an investigation into the massacre of 24 Iraqis allegedly shot by U.S. marines avenging the death of one of their own in a roadside bombing. Broomfield, who premiered the film at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, talks to The Hollywood Reporter's Charles Masters and Stuart Kemp about the project.
The Hollywood Reporter: Why did you decide to make a film about the Iraq war?
Nick Broomfield: I felt that I didn't really understand the Iraqi situation. The reporting has all been pretty much from the green zone and drip-fed from Washington. Questions such as who are the Iraqis and what is the culture and who are the insurgents were what I wanted to ask. I was looking for a story to get beyond all the statistics and daily reporting on the war and build a very human account of the conflict.
THR: Why this specific incident in Haditha?
Broomfield: I think that the incident at Haditha is a very important part of the Iraq war and something that will always be remembered. When we read about these things in our homes we have no sense of how quickly and why these decisions are made and cinema can take people to that place like no other art form.
THR: How do you feel about presenting the film to an Arab audience? Do you think there'll be a difference of appreciation?
Broomfield: It's my first time in Dubai. I'm very looking forward to seeing what the reaction will be to the film. It is, in fact, the only film (about Iraq) that has sympathetic Arab characters in it, and in a way deals with the Arab culture. I think their viewpoint is put across in a sympathetic way and I think the film is very respectful of them. So I expect a very positive reaction. The whole point of doing the film from three points of view -- that of the U.S. Marines, that of the Iraqi insurgency and that of the everyday people living in Iraq -- was to do something that would really put forward those points of view in an understandable and sympathetic way.
THR: By showing the U.S. Marines as not only perpetrators, but also victims of this massacre, were you worried about reaction?
Broomfield: I think it's always very important to separate 17-year-old kids from minority groups and poor backgrounds from the government policy that has put them there. I think as 17-year-olds, they were exposed to stuff that no one could deal with. I think what they did is reprehensible ... but I think it's very important if you're doing a feature film and you're commenting on it, that it's looked at within a context, and that context is that these guys are disposable. If you blame someone, blame George Bush for creating the situation.
THR: How did you go about researching the film?
Broomfield: We met with three of the Marines who were there on Nov. 19, 2005. It was very hard to meet them. It took a great deal of work, persuading them to talk, persuading them that we weren't going to reveal their identities. Then we went to Amman and we met with survivors from the massacre, and also some of the people who were certainly very sympathetic to the insurgents, if indeed they weren't insurgents. I didn't go to Haditha, it was much too unsafe at that time. You'd be lucky if you'd survive a cup of tea there.
THR: How hard was it to film, given the locations and circumstances?
Broomfield: It was difficult because we were the first film (to shoot) in Jordan and so we had to iron out all the problems with the army, getting licenses for taking explosives and organizing the shoot. It was also very difficult dealing with the Marines who hated Iraqis and Iraqis who hated the Marines. It wasn't until halfway through the shoot that the two sides began to discover they liked each other. It took a lot to get them to calm down and have a conversation.
THR: This is the second film you've made with non-professionals. What do you think you gain using non-actors?
Broomfield: Nobody knows better than the real thing. The Marines that we used had all seen extensive action in Iraq. ... For Iraqis, initially we were going to use Jordanians. I soon realized that we really needed Iraqis, and Iraqis that had experienced the conflict. The thing with non-actors is that you really need to cast them very carefully. You need to cast them because they're very close to the character that you want portrayed, and then they can just be themselves. You don't really want them to act, you want them just to be who they are. As soon as they start acting, you're doomed.