This amazing documentary begins a new category series “Best viewing 2009,” keeping in mind I rarely go to the movies and mostly watch DVDs borrowed free from Surry Hills Library. The category will also mark notable TV. The Blood of my Brother is one of the most powerful documentaries I have ever seen. To quote the Internet Movie Database, linked at the head of this paragraph:
THE BLOOD OF MY BROTHER goes behind the scenes of one Iraqi family’s struggle to survive amidst the carnage of the growing Shia insurgency. Nineteen-year-old Ibrahim dreams of revenge when his brother is shot and killed by an American patrol. With scenes of fighting and death on the streets of Baghdad, this is the closest most viewers will ever come to being in Iraq; kneeling in prayer amidst a thousand Muslim worshipers, feeling the roar of low-flying Apaches, riding atop a sixty-ton tank, driving with masked resistance fighters to attack American positions, fleeing the threat of an overwhelming response, the blood in the street, a tank on fire, or the cold, distant stare of a dead Iraqi fighter. Written by Andrew Berends
That’s the director, and the movie’s own website is here.
For anyone who was there, whether as a US or other soldier or as an Iraqi on the ground, the film may well be quite traumatic, as even this trailer indicates.
For those of us who, like me, have merely seen much about the war in the news or on other documentaries, it is a salutary experience. It is as near as you could possibly get to being there. What I admire most is that no-one is demonised. There are sympathetic sequences of the US soldier’s viewpoint, but of course the principal viewpoint, as the summary indicates, is a Shia Iraqi family’s. And this is in the thick of the worst part of the worst part of the war.
One witnesses, without the film maker intruding his commentary, the full range of emotions. One is a fly on the wall in al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army. One is left very conscious of the culture behind that, and of how alien it must have been to the US soldiers confronting it, but one gets deeper into what it is like to inhabit that world and that world-view than one could possibly get from the seconds of footage one normally sees, and yes it is very strange (to me) and very frightening, but such is the genius of this documentary that it really remains human. As I said, no-one is demonised – not by the film maker anyway.
This reviewer raises some interesting questions about the film; I would give it a higher rating.
One over-riding question that arises while watching Andrew Berends‘ 2005 Iraq-set documentary The Blood of My Brother is, how did an American filmmaker get access to all of this, short of joining Sayid Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army himself? Several reviewers have already commented that much of the footage here puts Western media coverage to shame, and it certainly does. We see inside a mosque during prayer time with hundreds of men lined up shoulder to shoulder; we watch Shia insurgents get charged up and then battle an American tank and an Apache helicopter (feeling oddly mundane compared to scenes from Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down); and we view badly wounded civilians inside an Iraqi hospital, including young children and elderly men. It seems clear that Berends has a viewpoint he wants to get across, although his goal appears to be more humanitarian than political…
That last point is I think the great strength of this film.
One can’t help thinking, however, about how superficial the success of the whole affair, so far as it is even remotely successful, will prove to be. Possibly much the same will prove true of Afghanistan.