Arts Listings

Moving Pictures: Film Documents Rising Tensions In 2004 Falluja By JUSTIN DeFREITAS

Friday February 24, 2006

Early on in the documentary Occupation: Dreamland, soldiers of the 82nd Airborne are seen patrolling the streets of Falluja, talking with the city’s residents along the way. At one point an Iraqi man stands before a soldier and tells him that the Iraqi people simply cannot accept colonialism, that resistance is an innate part of the Iraqi identity. “Bear with me,” he says to the soldier. “This is something that is pent up inside our hearts … know it, record it, transmit it.” 

That line informs the film and the filmmakers, for directors Garrett Scott and Ian Olds do just that, removing themselves from the action and allowing the soldiers and Iraqi people to tell the story.  

The documentary follows members of the 82nd Airborne’s Alpha Company in Falluja in early 2004, before the city became a major battleground. Pacific Film Archive is screening the film at 7 p.m. Saturday as part of the traveling exhibition of the Human Rights Watch International Film Festival. Occupation: Dreamland received much critical praise upon its release in 2005, including numerous awards, and is now available on DVD at 

We get to know the soldiers along the way; we learn their backgrounds, their politics, their plans for the future. There is no censorship here; the soldiers clearly have no reservations about expressing their opinions of their mission and of the war itself.  

On the homefront, the Left declares the war unwinnable and calls for these young men to be brought home, out of harm’s way. The Right tries to stifle criticism of the war by claiming that it undermines the morale of the soldiers on the front lines. But these young men hardly exist in a jingoistic vacuum.  

What Occupation: Dreamland makes clear is that it is not the opinions of the Cindy Sheehans and Bill O’Reillys that make them doubt the value of their mission; it is the murky justifications for and logistics of the mission itself. Whether they agree with the politics or not—and both sides are represented in Alpha Company—it is the danger and futility of their work that chips away at their resolve. 

As in Vietnam, the soldiers must fight an unseen enemy. Every day they roam the streets in search of a shadowy insurgency that is inflamed by the sight of soldiers roaming the streets. It is part of the madness of war, a Catch-22 that Joseph Heller’s Capt. John Yossarian could appreciate: Alpha Company venture forth from their barracks to put down an insurgency that is only provoked by the company’s visibility. 

“What exactly are we securing?” a company commander asks during a debriefing after an insurgency attack. The company had been providing security for a Falluja city council meeting when a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) exploded on the road in front of them. “Raise your hand if you think they’re going to RPG the sheiks and all the important people in Falluja.  

“So what are we securing then? We’re securing, essentially, ourselves. So what exactly are we protecting? I don’t know.” 

Occupation: Dreamland provides a first-person glimpse of a city of rising tensions, just before it erupts into widespread violence. It is a harrowing portrait of the uncertainty of war and of the uncertainty of the young men we send to fight it.  



Human Rights Watch International Film Festival  


7 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24:  

Videoletters, Program 1 


8:35 p.m., Friday, Feb. 24:  



5 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25: 

Winter Soldier  


7 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25 



8:40 p.m., Saturday, Feb. 25: 

State of Fear  


3:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26: 

Living Rights 


5:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 26: 

Videoletters, Program 2 



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