The War Tapes Blog

The War Tapes: Director's Statement

Director's Statement

We all have pivotal defining moments in our lives. For me, one of those was stumbling across James Agee and Walker Evan’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.

Agee’s philosophy of “living journalism,” of getting close enough to hurt, of investing to the core of your being in the lives of those you are documenting, became my mantra. To get their stories, you have to give of yourself—confront the wall of “objectivity” and smash through it. It’s about being human first, a journalist and filmmaker second. And it is only when we are human beings first that we approach truth.

February 12, 2004, I received an offer from the New Hampshire National Guard to embed as a filmmaker. I called the public affairs officer and asked if I could give cameras to the soldiers instead. He said yes—but it would be up to me to get soldiers to volunteer to work on the project.

Less than two weeks later I was on a plane to Fort Dix, N.J. I stepped out in front of those 180 men and shared my vision. I was met with a hailstorm of questions.

Are you for the war?

Are you against the war?

What are your politics?

How are you going to take and twist our words?

What do you want us to film?

Why should we believe you?

Why should we trust you with our experiences?

I told them we would do this together. We would tell the story—their story—and go wherever it took us, no matter what. Ten soldiers volunteered. Zack Bazzi, Mike Moriarty, Steve Pink, Duncan Domey and Brandon Wilkins were the five soldiers that filmed the entire year. In total, 21 soldiers contributed to the project.

Each soldier was given a one-chip Sony MiniDV Camera, tripod, microphones, various lenses, and piles of blank tape. My communication with the soldiers varied: some simply shot footage and turned in their tapes, while others communicated with me regularly via instant messaging and email. Tapes on average took two weeks to get from Iraq to New Hampshire.

I believe the power of film, image and sound, is in its ability to evoke empathy. If war negates humanity, then film—especially film that shows war from the inside—can ensure that even when we fight, we hold on to and bear witness to our humanity. We found a way in this film to smash through that wall. We found the possibility of empathy in the middle of war.