Operation Filmmaker

"Good"

Operation Filmmaker Review


It's not hard to understand what gave Liev Schreiber the idea; sure he's an actor and filmmaker but still human like the rest of us. While prepping for production on Everything is Illuminated in 2004, Schreiber caught an MTV segment about Muthana Mohmed. A 25-year-old Iraqi film student whose school had been reduced to rubble, Mohmed seemed like a bright-eyed kid with potential that was being wasted in a war-torn city. Knowing that working on a film set would be a dream for any film student, much less one whose country was in the middle of civil war, Schreiber and one of his producers set Mohmed up in Prague as an intern on Everything is Illuminated. Documentarian Nina Davenport started hanging around to chronicle Mohmed's transition and work. Operation Filmmaker is her chronicle of how things went so horrendously wrong.

Although never hard to watch in the sense of being poorly constructed or without engaging characters, Davenport's unnerving film becomes grindingly uncomfortable not long after its cheery beginnings, when the reality starts to set in. It quickly becomes apparent to everyone involved -- from the cast and crew (many of whom, including Elijah Wood, freely offer their two cents on Mohmed) to Davenport and even the subject himself -- that Mohmed is a terrible fit for his new job. Though jovial and charming, he seems to look down on gofer tasks like fetching coffee. Given a simple editing project, he blows it off to go to a party. Meanwhile, the news from home gets worse, with all his friends and family telling him to stay in Europe until the situation improves. Moments of embarrassing discomfort begin to mount, and soon as filming on Everything is Illuminated starts to draw to a close, it becomes clear that the achingly homesick and adrift Mohmed has done nothing to get his visa extended.

On reflection, the warning signs that this internship would be a bad fit were all there in plain sight. Mohmed was a quarter-century old and yet still a student living at home where he was waited on hand and foot. He considered George W. Bush a hero for liberating Iraq (the sight of film industry liberals flummoxed by facing a pro-Bush Iraqi is in itself practically reason alone to see the film). Although a film student who claims a passion for the craft, he seems still stuck in an extended adolescence. (This impression of Mohmed is reinforced by footage shot by his Baghdad film school buddies, who come off as not just a comically directionless bunch but also refreshingly nonreligious and apolitical.)

Mohmed's spoiled nature hits rougher territory once he's done with Everything is Illuminated, as he enters a brutal grind of visa renewals, scavenging for work, and begging for favors. Even a stint as production assistant on the Prague-shot film Doom -- during which Mohmed digs in his heels and comes into his own -- provides only limited relief against the backdrop of the war back home and his borderline refugee status. At this point, Davenport brings herself more into the film as she becomes more visibly agitated with Mohmed's lack of focus, constant demands for money, and his frustration with her for continually hanging around waiting for something good to happen (the last being a disturbingly honest admission rarely heard from a documentary filmmaker). Although her frustration with Mohmed's well-honed line of B.S. and passive nature is easy enough to understand, Davenport is a good enough filmmaker to balance that out with the hint that she is exploiting him just as much as he tries to exploit her.

As one of Schreiber's producers is at least honest enough to admit, their think-first, ask-questions-later approach to Mohmed's internship illustrates exactly the same sort of misguided thinking characterized by the planners of the war they hate so much. Davenport fortunately doesn't make it too explicit that her film can or should be read as an analogy for the Iraq War. The mere sight of Mohmed set adrift in a foreign land by benignly thoughtless well-wishers makes that argument dramatically enough.

He's going for the water on the knee next.



Facts and Figures

Run time: 92 mins

In Theaters: Monday 1st October 2007

Distributed by: Icarus Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 91%
Fresh: 30 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 7.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director: Nina Davenport

Producer: Nina Davenport, David Schisgall

Starring: Alberto Bonilla as Himself, Steven Chinni as Himself, Nina Davenport as Herself, Hedwig Herzog as Herself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, Muthana Mohmed as Himself, as Himself, as Himself, as Himself

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