Not all war films created equal


SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain -- Getting your film to stand out 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 crowd.

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 press 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 such as 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 explained. " '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' "In the Valley of Elah."

Makhmalbaf's "The Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame," which had its European premiere here Saturday, is a different species entirely. A quiet poetic tale of a 6-year-old girl and her struggle to find money to buy a school notebook, "Buddha" 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, admits news coverage of the war in Afghanistan could help the film's boxoffice, but he sees the category 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. It could benefit from the fact that it's something that's in the papers everyday, but it's a very different view."

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

But first it has to get picked up. While "Redacted" and "In the Valley of Elah" both have U.S. distributors in place, "Battle for Haditha," with amateur actors and little in the way of flashy camera work, is still looking.

"I think it will take a brave distributor to put it (in the U.S.)," Broomfeld acknowledged. "A lot of distributors like to take the easy option and go for the easy buck and I'm not sure my film is either of those things ... But I made the movie for an American audience, to start a discussion on what we should do about Iraq."

Pamela Rolfe contributed to this report.