Theft is good

…but it depends who’s doing the stealing and who from

Nick Broomfield and the Battle of Haditha

Battle of Haditha centres around true life events, when marines in the US army went on a rampage in a suburb of Haditha after falling victim to a roadside land mine. The marines kill 19 innocent Iraqis, some as young as 3 and as old as 76. For those of you who do not know who Nick Broomfield is, he is the director of Battle of Haditha and also the equally good, if not better, Ghosts (2006), about the 22 Chinese cockle pickers killed on Morecambe Bay.

Broomfield’s documentary style is a little controversial, he has deliberately chosen high profile events and changed some of the reality of the events. The result is a fact based drama, I think the reasoning for this shift is political.

Firstly, would Ghosts have made the same impact if it chose to approach the subject as a straight documentary? Can we get a sense of what it is like to work as a Chinese illegal immigrant, having to work up to 16 hours a day, with two jobs, below the minimum wage and shafted by landlords and agency firms for money? Would Broomfield have been able to even get close to the illegal shipping of persons from China, or the illegal employment of immigrants on destitute wages? The answer is a resounding no, as the this Guardian article puts it:

Would Ghosts have functioned just as successfully as a straight documentary? One can easily imagine Broomfield interviewing the Morecambe bay survivors and door-stepping the corrupt enforcers (Chinese and English) at their suburban homes. But perhaps that would have lacked the claustrophobic intensity of this fact-based fiction; the sense of being inside looking out, as opposed to the other way around.

The main bulk of Ghosts is based on the experiences of a female Chinese Guardian journalist, who worked undercover as an illegal immigrant to expose the trafficking of people from China, she ended up in Lowestoft (of all fucking places) as a farm labourer, unable to pay for the goods she produces from the local supermarket and living in squalid cramped conditions.

Eventually the immigrants end up in Morecambe picking cockles and it is here when political reality and the depiction of reality in films collided. While filming the crew and actors were subject of a violent racist attack by real English cockle pickers, Broomfield then used the filming of this attack in the film to draw attention to illegal labour being used by capitalism to sustain profits, while persecuting and sustaining racism towards that very minority. It is the only ‘real’ event to happen in this documentary about ‘reality’.

The same is used to similar effect in Battle of Haditha, the roadside bomb was planted by two Iraqi resistance members, while in reality, the roadside bomb was in fact a landmine. The portrayal of the two Iraqis gives Broomfield the opportunity to show the Iraqi resistance as ordinary human beings motivated by the violence of the oppressor and the occupation to commit acts of terrorism, while their leaders are still shown to be the Western caricature of Islamists, the ‘ordinary’ Iraqis drink, swear and aren’t good at their job. Both the soldiers and the resistance members (after their bomb provokes the massacre in Haditha) are shown to feel regret for their role.

It’s still far from the description of the resistance in the film by Louis Proyect as bloodthirsty militants, though this may be because he sees the resistance with rose-tinted spectacles. Proyect also argues that end scene where a soldier rescues a child is reminiscent not of reality but of some Hollywood movie, I agree more with this assertion from Proyect, humanism isn’t usually found in war, but at least it gave Broomfield the chance to paint the marines as being human and sickened by their actions.

So far from showing “innocent civilians being caught between the pincers of an occupying army and a bloodthirsty insurgency” Broomfield twists reality to show the true problem in Iraq, the occupation, and it is only when that changes, when things may return to some kind of normality.

Battle of Haditha has been used a number of times by the Stop the War Coalition to highlight the brutality of the occupation, 100 attended the screening at my college alone. His changing of reality is something that should be commended as bold and innovative, because it has allowed his more broader political ideas to be sketched.


April 28, 2008 - Posted by | Art, Culture, Films, Iraq | , , , , , , , , , , ,


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