Inside Iraq
dir. Shiley
Opens Fri Dec 31
Cinema 21

I suppose I should take Mike Shiley's word for what Iraq is like. After all, he's actually been there, whereas all I do is sit on my ass reading The New York Times and bitching. But after watching Inside Iraq, Shiley's documentary/memoir about his time as a photojournalist in the country, I can't help but think there's a lot more to Iraq than either an ambitious journalist like Shiley or a lazy malcontent like myself can realize.

To be fair, Inside Iraq offers more than its share of stuff that you probably haven't seen. There's the post-Saddam pornography craze, the graffiti that reads "slow death for USA," the 13-hour-long lines for gas in the petroleum-rich nation, the devastation of a civilian bomb shelter hit by a bunker-buster.

But for every revelation, there's 10 minutes of negligible footage. And despite Inside Iraq's focus on the aftermath of the U.S.'s actions, Shiley largely settles for documenting only the rosiest aspects of America's influence.

There's one moment in Inside Iraq that simultaneously sums up the film's highs and lows. Hearing an explosion, Shiley finds a still-burning husk of a car decimated by a prematurely ignited car bomb. When U.S. troops arrive, what they do is pragmatically shocking: they hire an Iraqi passerby to clean up the body parts smeared on the asphalt. But as Shiley zooms in on the largest remnant--a scalp--he censors the gore with a superimposed black box. I wasn't exactly stoked to see the bombing's aftermath, but to actively censor it out of an independent, supposedly daring film is hardly brave or candid--for a film that purports to reveal the real Iraq, Inside Iraq feels more than a bit superficial.