Richard Rowley: Dirty Wars

I watched this film online (on the excellent idfa “docs for sale”) today after it had been announced as one of the nominees for the Oscar award in the feature documentary category.

The film has this synopsis description on the Oscar site (link below): “One of the least-known components in the war on terror, the Joint Special Operations Command conducts its work in secret and seemingly without limitations. With no existing record of their actions or personnel, the JSOC carries out strikes against those deemed a threat to U.S. security while remaining entirely outside the scope of public knowledge.”

… which is actually not really how the film appears. Its is much more a film that has taken all its storytelling tools from fiction, a thriller, a detective story with journalist Jeremy Scahill in the leading role as himself, the reporter who with his notebook never gives up in his year-long search to reveal American war crimes in Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia with some looking back at Iraq. He finds out the existence of the JSOC before it goes public, having success in finding and killing Osama bin Laden. It is a well-made film and no doubt that Scahill is a good journalist, but also a writing journalist, a man who works with words and has published praised books on his journeys into the secret world of the US fight against terrorism, a fight that with JSOC, as the film shows, has cost many lives of civilians. It is a formatted film with the journalist always at work, always on a case, seriously interviewing Afghans (the Gardez case where innocent, pregnant women were killed) and Yemenits about what really happened, when their dear ones were killed by the counterterrorist JSOC, accompanied by strong images of corpses, and clips from American television shows where his investigations were made into stupid entertainment. Scahill is serious but also a man, who constantly talks in first person (I decided to go but could not etc.) and only at the end when he meets the father of Anwar al-Awlaki, American citizen, who was killed because of his role in al-Qaeda, with the consequent killing of his 16 year old son, what did he do other than being the son of… you sense that the journalist – portrayed as a hero – has some feelings for what he is doing.

USA, 2012, 87 mins.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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