OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND, A Historical Document of 2004 Fallujah


Director Ian Olds in conversation with writer Christian Parenti, a collaborator on his film OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND. ©Lou Aguilar

Director Ian Olds in conversation with writer Christian Parenti, a collaborator on his film OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND. ©Lou Aguilar

Dreamland was anything but an idyllic place. The former Ba’athist retreat in Fallujah, Iraq turned U.S. army camp was ripe with instability and confusion with a soundtrack of helicopter blades and explosions.

Tuesday evening’s film, OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND, paints the raw portrait of a U.S. army squad stationed at “Camp Dreamland” in January 2004. The soldiers’ dialogue reflects tediousness and boredom, interspersed with moments of confused interactions with local Iraqis and vaguely explained bursts of violence. The walls of their bungalow are lined with pictures of half nude women, and the soldiers listen to heavy metal rock music as they put on military garb and load their weapons.

At the start of the film, one soldier inquires, “I need some clarification of what we’re doing here, but I guess someone else smarter than me knows.”

The soldiers are young, some just out of high school, and they explain the reasons they enlisted, “I had no money,” and “I had no idea what to do with my life.” At the same time, they are not naïve. One soldier describes his disillusionment with the American government’s intentions in Iraq, “You put two and two together. War is money.”

Based on the editing of sound bites and scenes of fearful faces of Iraqis in their homes as U.S. troops raided them, the film appears to a have a viewpoint. Yet, what the audience experiences feels raw and unadulterated. Indeed, during the Q&A after the screening, director Ian Olds said that the soldiers depicted in the film affirmed to him that it was a truthful portrayal of what life was like at Camp Dreamland.

Olds’ co-director, Garrett Scott, died of a heart attack at age 37 just a day before OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND won the 2005 Independent Spirit Award. Olds said that this screening was the first time in many years that he had watched this film, and it reminded him of his partner he had lost.

There are a few remarkable things about this documentary. First is the filmmakers’ access, which can be partly attributed to brilliant timing. Olds explained, “At that time, things were still very unregulated. We flew to Jordan and showed up at the camp, knocked on the door, and said something like, ‘We’re making a film about the day in the life of a soldier.’”

But, the regulations were about to change. After the violent siege of Fallujah just three months later in April 2004, access for journalists altered completely.

Another notable aspect of the film is the sound design, done by Jim Dawson, which is a bombastic backdrop to the steady escalation of violence in Fallujah, which ultimately leads to death of 1,000 Iraqis and 42 U.S. marines in the city’s siege.

Olds said that he and his co-director, Scott, wanted “to make a historical document” of a moment in wartime.

Stranger Than Fiction’s Winter 2015 season runs from February 3rd to March 24th, taking place each Tuesday night at the IFC Center. The season features an eclectic mix of sneak previews and retrospectives, including appearances by filmmakers Marc Levin, Ian Olds, Liz Garbus and film subject Seymour Bernstein.

Director Ian Olds with writer and collaborator Christian Parenti following the screening of OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND at Stranger than Fiction. ©Lou AguilarDirector Ian Olds with writer and collaborator Christian Parenti following the screening of OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND at Stranger than Fiction.


Writing by Maya Albanese, a New York City based multimedia reporter, writer, producer, and filmmaker covering social and environmental sustainability as well as innovation in the arts, food, and technology worlds. Maya has produced content for print, digital, and broadcast media, including The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, NBC Nightly News, The Today Show, GreenBiz.com, Fresh Cup, Coffee Talk, Heritage Radio and TellurideTV. In 2015, she is producing two documentary films and will receive a Masters degree with an emphasis in Documentary Filmmaking from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. Twitter @mayaalbanese.

Videography by Steff Sanchez, a filmmaker and designer based in New York City. Twitter @steffsanchez.

Photography by Lou Aguilar, a photographer based in New York City. Twitter @Luberta.


Monday Memo: Bruce Sinofsky Passes at 58, CITIZENFOUR Continues Awards Sweep


Bruce Sinofsky - Photo by Jamie McCarthy of WireImage

Bruce Sinofsky - Photo by Jamie McCarthy of WireImage

In a week where Oscar pervaded our minds and the Independent Spirit Awards remind us that Hollywood and what the industry considers the indie film scene no longer seems to have an accurate dividing line, we’re left ruminating on the tragic loss of another beloved member of the documentary film community in Bruce Sinofsky. Known for co-directing the PARADISE LOST trilogy, BROTHER’S KEEPER, and METALLICA: SOME KIND OF MONSTER, among others, Sinofsky passed away in his sleep early Saturday morning at age 58 due to complications stemming from diabetes. The news came directly from his friend and collaborator Joe Berlinger via a post on Twitter. Brent Lang of Variety reported the news, as did Tim Kenneally for The Wrap, various staff at IndiewireSam Barsanti for A.V. Club, and Fandor’s David Hudson. At Loudwire, Chad Childers relayed a statement from Metallica on the loss of their “family member”.

As you’ve certainly heard by now, last night the Oscars proceeded without a hitch and the Film Independent Spirit Awards transpired the day prior, both of which saw Laura Poitras, and her documentation of the watershed moments in which Edward Snowden revealed the ongoing secret espionage campaigns of the US government in CITIZENFOUR, continue their historic sweep of critical acclaim by taking home the awards for Best Documentary. Snowden himself reacted to the news of CITIZENFOUR winning an Oscar via Lauren Duca of The Huffington Post. Andrew Pulver of The Guardian, Dave McNary at Variety and Daniel D’Addario of Time reported on the Oscar news, while, writing for The Atlantic and The New Yorker respectively, Conor Friedersdorf and Amy Davidson ruminate on why CITIZENFOUR’s win matters and remains much deserved. As reported by The Hollywood Reporter, director Ellen Goosenberg Kent and producer Dana Perry won the Oscar for Best Documentary Short with their film CRISIS HOTLINE: VETERANS PRESS 1. News of the Independent Spirit Awards win came in via Fandor’s Keyframe , Variety, IONCINEMA’s Eric Lavallee, as well as Indiewire thanks to Katie Walsh.

Tomorrow, the Winter ’15 season of Stranger Than Fiction continues with directors Ian Olds and Garrett Scott’s 2006 Independent Spirit Truer than Fiction Award winner, OCCUPATION: DREAMLAND. Ian Olds will be on hand for a post-screening Q&A.

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BEST OF EGG THE ARTS SHOW: Scrambled Eggs with a Side of Art


Following a one-night special showing the best of EGG THE ARTS SHOW, series producers Jeff Folmsbee and Mark Mannucci discuss the making of the unique PBS series with Beth Levison, Amy Teutenberg, Mary Recine and Tom Patterson. ©Lou Aguilar

Following a one-night special showing the best of EGG THE ARTS SHOW, series producers Jeff Folmsbee and Mark Mannucci discuss the making of the unique PBS series with Beth Levison, Amy Teutenberg, Mary Recine and Tom Patterson. ©Lou Aguilar

From 2000 to 2003, EGG the Arts Show took audiences down weird and wonderful paths. Each with its specific theme, these paths coalesced around the various forms art takes within American culture and the curious characters behind its production. In Tuesday night’s screening at the IFC Center, audience members were in for a treat: The Best of EGG, a kind of scrambled medley representative of the unique and experimental PBS show.

In the Q&A following Tuesday’s screening, executive producer Jeff Folmsbee and series producer Mark Mannucci were joined onstage with other editors and producers instrumental in the television program’s genesis. Each emphasized the independent spirit behind the series’ formation.

“We had incredible creative freedom,” said Mannucci. “No one knew what they were doing.”

Folmsbee agreed that the show’s one of a kind style was a result of its creators’ willingness to experiment with the typical TV program format.

“It was like making a show that nobody else looked at.” Folmsbee said with a smile. “And we exploited that.”

The original show was 30-minutes long and composed of various stories that played off each other. Each had to have the ability to stand on its own, while also mixing in with other stories. All embodied a common theme. For those podcast listeners, think a quirky television version of This American Life.

EGG was an opportunity to "cull from the incredible New York talent pool," many of whom attended the STF Best of Egg screening.

The creators noted that for the production of “The Best of EGG,” it was difficult to capture the essence of EGG without having a hard theme to hone in on. Instead, they tried to simply include segments that illustrated high art versus art produced by unconventional, but equally passionate people throughout the country. A quick recap of the segments making up “The Best of EGG” is summarized below.

Act 1: What’s the big idea behind conceptual art? With self-portraits carved from aspirin and paintings done with paint-dipped hair, this segment honed in on artists who emphasized the idea behind their pieces over the objects utilized to actually convey that idea.

Act 2: A behind-the-scenes look at the work of Sid Laverents, an American amateur filmmaker who started making films at home at the age of 50. What began as just a hobby evolved into videos that, while eccentric, demonstrated impressive technical experimentation.

Act 3: When does something you love become something you don’t? “Giving Up the Ghost” followed photographer Sally Mann and her fascination with death.

Act 4: Never let age keep you from doing what you love. This segment highlighted a physical trainer and Alvin Ailey dancer who embody the spirit of that statement.

Act 5: Never did barbershop-singing tug at your heartstrings more than with this segment set in Harmony College. While the men come to better their craft and master the art of blending voices seamlessly, the sense of fellowship among the singers at Harmony College is this mini-doc’s main takeaway.

Act 6: A behind-the-scenes at Joe Sacco, a Maltese-American cartoonist whose series on the Bosnian War and ethnic cleansing uniquely blends the realms of serious journalism and cartoon art.

Act 7: Famed Broadway actress and singer Elaine Stritch’s one-woman show gives audiences an unfiltered look her rollercoaster life and career. The actress, who was also the voice of EGG during its series run, holds nothing back.

Act 8: This segment on Burning Man gives viewers an inside look at the creative minds and personalities behind the renowned week-long festival in Nevada’s desert. By depicting various radical takes on self-expression at the festival, this mini-doc highlights those who are no longer satisfied by just looking at art.

Stranger Than Fiction’s Winter 2015 season runs from February 3rd to March 24th, taking place each Tuesday night at the IFC Center. The season features an eclectic mix of sneak previews and retrospectives, including appearances by filmmakers Marc Levin, Ian Olds, Liz Garbus and film subject Seymour Bernstein.

Jenna Belhumeur is a current student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. After graduating from UCLA in 2013, she moved to Thailand for 8 months to teach English and backpack around Southeast Asia. After Columbia, Jenna hopes to report internationally for a major broadcast network or pursue her passion for video through long-form documentary production. Follow her on Twitter @jenna_bel and on Instagram @jennabel.

Videography by Steff Sanchez, a filmmaker and designer based in New York City.

 

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Monday Memo: Remembering David Carr, Berlin Concludes, True/False Line-up Revealed


David Carr in 2008.  Photo by Stephen Chernin of Associated Press.

David Carr in 2008. Photo by Stephen Chernin of Associated Press.

With NBC news anchor Brian Williams losing the world’s trust over a pack of lies and the tragic death of 60 MINUTES correspondent Bob Simon in an automobile accident, this week has been rough for journalism, but the passing of beloved New York Times cultural commentator David Carr late Thursday evening may be the toughest to take for many in the documentary filmmaking community. His family at The Times have put together a loving tribute with various articles from co-workers like A.O. Scott and many links to video moments with Carr, while Andrew Rossi, the director of PAGE ONE: INSIDE THE NEW YORK TIMES, a film in which Carr came to the fore as the heart and soul of the newspaper, wrote his own memorial to the man who he inevitably became friends with following the film.

In the wake of the unfortunate news, Variety’s James Rainey wrote his own appreciative piece on Carr’s unlikely career in journalism and Realscreen’s Barry Walsh collected responses to the news from the documentary community. Just hours before Carr collapsed in the offices of The Times, he hosted a discussion with the team behind CITIZENFOUR – Laura Poitras, Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden – as part of the TimesTalks series hosted at The New School’s John L Tishman Auditorium in New York.

Looking up, Stranger Than Fiction continues tomorrow at the IFC Center with BEST OF EGG: THE ARTS SHOW (2000-’03), curating the cream of the crop from a show considered by many to be one of the best arts programs ever broadcast in America. The screening begins at 8pm with a post-screening Q&A featuring producers Jeff Folmsbee, Mark Mannucci and others to follow.

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FREEWAY: The CIA, the Iran Contra affair, crack in Los Angeles and a man named Freeway Rick Ross


Director Marc Levin explains the 20+ year story of how he came to make the film, FREEWAY: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM. ©Lou  Aguilar

Director Marc Levin explains the 20+ year story of how he came to make the film, FREEWAY: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM. ©Lou Aguilar

This post was written by STF blogger Jenna Belhumeur.

Freeway Rick Ross’s job in south-central Los Angeles in the 1980s was to get as many people high as he could. However, the crack he sold had a much bigger story behind it, linking Ross to the CIA and the Nicaraguan Contra rebels.

In Tuesday night’s screening of FREEWAY: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM, audience members were introduced to Ross’s childhood, his booming drug empire, his demise, his redemption and a side story outlining his lawsuit with the famous rapper who shares his name. Getting involved with drug dealing early on in order to make a name for himself within a tough inner-city environment, Ross’s struggle to reclaim his name from the famed rapper by the film’s end seems fitting enough.

Following the screening, director and producer Marc Levin explained how he was first introduced to the idea about making a film exposing the U.S. government’s involvement in Los Angeles’s booming crack scene.

A media producer for Bill Moyers during the Iran-Contra affair hearings in the mid-80’s, Levin remembers hearing the chant, “CIA! Crack in America!” After meeting Gary Webb, the investigative reporter whose series of stories first examined the crack-cocaine trade’s links to members of the anti-government Contra rebels, he learned about Freeway Rick Ross.

Levin was eager to make a film about Ross, but there was one thing standing in the way: Ross’s life-in-prison sentence after purchasing 100 kilograms of cocaine from a federal agent in a sting operation.

“He was confident he was going to get out,” Levin said, while also admitting his own doubt in Ross’s capability of reducing the sentence.

However, against all odds, Ross’s case was brought to a federal court of appeals and his sentence was reduced to 20 years. In 2009, Levine received a call.

“Get your ass to L.A.,” Ross told him. “We’re going to make that movie.”

Levin explained how FREEWAY: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM is not only the story of a man who quite literally “finds the free way” during his path towards liberation, but also gives audiences a glimpse into how the system really works.
Some black men are still serving excessively long sentences in prison for minute possessions of cocaine in the 80’s which Levin describes as both a “tragedy and a travesty.”

“Part of the passion for wanting to [make this film] is because we are at a tipping point on the war on drugs and criminal justice reform,” Levin said. “It’s critical that as the #BlackLivesMatter movement continues, we understand what this injustice is rooted in.”

FREEWAY: CRACK IN THE SYSTEM will premiere in two parts on March 1st and March 8th on Al-Jazeera America.

Stranger Than Fiction’s Winter 2015 season runs from February 3rd to March 24th, taking place each Tuesday night at the IFC Center. The season features an eclectic mix of sneak previews and retrospectives, including appearances by filmmakers Marc Levin, Ian Olds, Liz Garbus and film subject Seymour Bernstein.

Jenna Belhumeur is a current student at Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. After graduating from UCLA in 2013, she moved to Thailand for 8 months to teach English and backpack around Southeast Asia. After Columbia, Jenna hopes to report internationally for a major broadcast network or pursue her passion for video through long-form documentary production. Follow her on Twitter @jenna_bel and on Instagram @jennabel.

Videography by Steff Sanchez, a filmmaker and designer based in New York City.