Helmers decry 'war film' label


Getting your film to stand out from the crowd at a major festival can be hard enough in the best of times, but these days if your subject is the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is even easier to get lost in the shuffle.

Films as varied as Nick Broomfeld's "Battle for Haditha," Paul Haggis' "In the Valley of Elah" and Hana Makhmalbaf's "The Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame" all get lumped together as "war films."

At the news conference following the competition bow of "Haditha," Broomfeld repeatedly dogged reporters' attempts to link his movie — a dramatized retelling of the massacre of 24 Iraqi civilians by U.S. Marines in November 2005 — with other Iraq titles like Brian De Palma's Venice Silver Lion winner "Redacted."

Broomfeld called talk of a new raft of Iraq films "lazy journalism."

"I think it is just a way of not dealing with how different these films are," Broomfeld said. " 'In the Valley of Elah' is really a murder mystery, with Iraq as a subtext. My film and 'Redacted' deal superficially with a similar subject (Iraq War atrocities) but come to diametrically opposed conclusions."

De Palma's deliberately provocative approach in "Redacted" is indeed miles away from the carefully balanced documentary feel of Broomfeld's film or the thriller quality of Haggis' "Elah."

"Buddha" is a different species entirely. A quiet, poetic tale of a 6-year-old and her struggle to find money to buy a school notebook, it takes place in Afghanistan, but the only sign of war is in the games the local boys play — one side being the Taliban, the other the "Americans."

Jose Maria Morales, head of Wanda Films, which is releasing "Buddha" in Spain, noted that news coverage of the war in Afghanistan could help the film's boxoffice, but he sees the label of "war film" as more of a distraction.

" 'Buddha' is not a war film," he said. "It has its own personality. It's a vision seen through the eyes of children, and that's its charm."

That contrasts with Broomfeld, who said he hopes "Haditha" can be "a platform for a discussion of the real situation in Iraq."

Pamela Rolfe contributed to this report.