IN THE SHADOW OF THE PALMS
The only documentary filmed in Iraq prior to, during and after 'liberation', the film documents changes in Iraqi society and the lives of ordinary Iraqis by focusing on everyday realities for a cross-section of individuals, documenting a part of Baghdad life not portrayed in the media.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Snapshots of girls at a school, men talking superficially about poetry at a regular weekly meeting in a café, people in the markets and the streets ... just days before the American coalition invades Iraq. A schoolgirl has a message for President Bush: "fuck you". Her English is good. The impending war is all about oil, say some of the subjects.
The Baghdad depicted here is a happy place, with birthday parties and jovial people going about their daily lives, without a worry in the world. A week before the invasion, there is a feisty convention with Saddam Hussein exalted. The picture is of a contented, happy Iraq, honour, religion and friendship in every corner. And a loving, benign Saddam. In that respect, the film is somewhat misleading - like a film that showed only Iraqis being tortured and killed by Saddam's henchmen would be.
A short centre segment covers explosions and bombs that replicate footage we have seen on news from the war, but adds little meaning. Indeed, meaning is what I miss most from this film, while the daily life - the genuine reality tv aspect - is certainly interesting and fresh. (Coles-Janess produced a series of my social documentary program, Front Up, at SBS.) If there is no sense of meaning, at least there is a message: bad Americans are destroying a peace loving nation for colonial purposes.
The aftermath, the third 'act' of the film, explores personal consequences of the invasion, a mixture of lucid and confused stories about Iraqis in the immediate post-war phase. WE get to ride with a US patrol and learn about their personal fears and this short segment is more effective in serving the filmmaker's editorial ambitions than much of what goes before.
The shoe repair guy we meet early on is diffident about the outcome, thankful for the removal of Saddam but uncertain about the future, as are others. In this final 'act' Coles-Janess brings together our own feelings about what we have seen and it is indeed, a slide of the story we never saw before. In that respect, it is revelatory and important work, largely because he humanises the Iraqi people - they're individuals in front of his cameras, not a labelled mass of cutouts.
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IN THE SHADOW OF THE PALMS (Exempt)
PRODUCER: Wayne Coles-Janess
DIRECTOR: Wayne Coles-Janess
SCRIPT: Wayne Coles-Janess
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Wayne Coles-Janess
EDITOR: Wayne Coles-Janess
PRODUCTION DESIGN: n/a
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Ipso Facto Productions
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: Brisbane: April 27; Melbourne: May 4, 2006; Sydney: October 5, 2006
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