Doc Blog

Covering War

On the second of the Doc Talk series, Covering War, we had a chance to listen to Phil Donahue, Ellen Spiro and Michel Tucker discuss the rewards and challenges of making documentaries about war and its consequences.

Donahue and Spiro premiered their documentary Body of War at this year's festival.  Donahue stated that after watching the Iraq War vote on C-SPAN in 2002, he wanted to do something to voice his concern for the state of affairs in the United States.  He said he was in "shock and awe" of the TV footages of the war and how inaccurate they appeared to be.  Later, he met Tomas Young, the young Iraq war veteran who was paralysed after being shot while on duty, and Senator Byrd from West Virginia. Donahue began visiting Tomas in the hospital and after at his home; thus, building a relationship with them.  Once the decision was made to tell Tomas' story, the purpose became "to show the pain of war."  This is when Spiro comes into play.  She joined Donahue and became co-director of this film.  The result was a powerful portrayal of this man's struggle because of a war that most people do not know much about.  This documentary, like others, was to fill the void of stories that are not shown on the news or mainstream media.

Michael Tucker is known for his documentary Gunner Palace along with other projects.  Gunner Palace was in fact one of the first documentaries on the Iraq war.  When making that film, he was conscious it was a soldier's story.  Gunner himself was in the military; thus, he knew the story already.  He appreciates how different filmmakers provide different perspectives on this war.  He is now working on another film titled Bulletproof Salesman; about a man who sales armoured cars to important figures in the Middle East.   From the clips Tucker shared with us, it is evident this film will have lots to contribute on the subject of the war and its impact on the economy of the countries involved.

The discussion continued to the idea that protesting against war "is not good for business," as Donahue stated.  It is difficult to sell films that are dark.  Unfortunately, people still have the idea that film is a form of entertainment and this is why documentaries do not get the attention the deserve.  Even in documentary filmmaking, Tucker says, "there is pressure to make it emotional and entertaining."

The film Body of War still has no distributor but both Donahue and Spiro hope this festival will be a vehicle to have it picked up by someone.   In the case of Tucker's Bulletproof Salesman, he hopes to finish shooting in Afghanistan and show it at Sundance next year.  The idea is to continue making these films because there is a serious need to inform the world of the consequences and casualties of war.

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