Think of it as Boots On the Ground meets reality TV. And then think again. The War Tapes, a documentary that will be featured at the 7th Annual Mirror Image Film Festival on September 14, deals more vividly than could this year’s Trinity Rep production that presented the experiences of Rhode Island soldiers in Iraq, and its violence is more significant than the voyeurism of a show like Cops. The festival, which runs September 13-18, is part of the current Pawtucket Arts Festival.
SELF-AWARE: Sgt. Bazzi in The War Tapes.
The War Tapes was “directed” by Deborah Scranton, who offered mini-DV cameras to the 180 New Hampshire National Guard soldiers about to deploy, to film their experiences, mostly in 2004, during the year-long tour of the 172nd Infantry Regiment’s C Company. Ten took her up on the offer, and the resulting footage, culled from more than 1000 hours, is almost exclusively from three men.
The three soldiers, whom we often see together as they jounce along in their Humvee, are as varied as the stock central casting assemblage from WWII movies. One is gung-ho, one is an aspiring writer, and one is a wisecracking immigrant fluent in Arabic.
At 34, Spc. Michael Moriarty is 10 years older than the other two. He signed up in the wake of 9/11, after visiting the site, asking to be sent to Iraq. He wants his son, who looks to be about seven, to think of him as brave. He bought the boy a GI Joe doll, which we see unwrapped, and tells him that he’s going to Iraq “to beat up the bad guys.” But the kid panicked, we learn from his mother, when kids in school informed him that his daddy might actually die.
Sgt. Steven Pink keeps a diary that we occasionally see him scribbling in under his voice-over. A carpenter at home, he is the project’s scribe and sometime narrator, describing such things as the heated argument two soldiers had about whether a chunk of exploded flesh looks like raw ground beef or an uncooked roast. He stops preening over his prose (“Today was the first time I shook a man’s hand that wasn’t attached to his arm”) and gets upset when their vehicle hits a young woman who tries to run through the speeding convoy. We see what’s left of her as he laments how they came to help Iraqis but end up killing them.
The smartest and most self-aware is Sgt. Zaher “Zack” Bazzi, who at age 10 fled the civil war in Lebanon with his mother. A self-described “political junkie” who reads The Nation, he nevertheless separates the soldiering from the thinking. At one point he snaps at a fellow soldier: “You’re the reason we’re always going to war, Bauer — you and your evil Ford-1000s.” Yet by the end, back at home, he can say: “I love being a soldier. The only bad thing about the army is that you can’t pick your war.”