The official dates given to the Persian Gulf War are January 16 through the end of February 1991. During that brief time, American-led coalition forcesunder the guise of defending the often ignored international principle of territorial sovereigntysuccessfully ousted the Iraqi army from Kuwait at an estimated cost of more than 100,000 Iraqi deaths and 148 American losses (predominantly the result of "friendly fire"). While coverage was intense in the popular media at the time, little attention has since been paid to issues surrounding continuing policies in the region. In the years since the war, U.S. and British-imposed economic sanctions against Iraq and periodic bombing campaigns have effectively extended the travails of the Iraqi people, while Saddam Hussein remains in power.
In conjunction with the tenth anniversary of the onset of the Gulf War, we have compiled a series of works that variously revisit history and bring us up to date with issues that for many speak to a continuing human tragedy.
(Thursday) 7 pm
January 20 (Saturday) 9:30 pm
A documentary about the war and postwar experiences of Iraqi children and their families, Greetings from Iraq takes viewers on a journey through a diverse and broken Baghdad. The work features three families from varying religious and economic backgrounds who recount their memories of the war and are shown dealing with difficulties imposed by the embargo. Included is a Chaldean-Christian priest who introduces the malnourished children in his congregation and explains how they are the direct victims of the economic chaos caused by the sanctions. As it documents the public health crisis, the video offers a picture of the Iraqi people as neither war culprits nor victims.
Directed by Werner Herzog
Germany 1992, 35mm, color, 52 min.
German with English subtitles
Shortly after the Gulf War, filmmaker Werner Herzog teamed up with cameraman and coproducer Paul Berriff to document the postwar devastation inside Kuwait. The result is a Dantean view of apocalyptic spectacle: lakes and deltas of thick black oil; burning wells sending towers of flame skyward and superheating everything around them. The film is organized into thirteen "chapters," narrated by Herzog in an appropriately hushed and awestruck voice and set to music by Mahler, Wagner, and Verdi. Lessons of Darkness was chosen as the best film of 1995 by J. Hoberman of The Village Voice, who proclaimed that the film "could have been made to illustrate the Book of Revelations."
Director John Greyson in
January 20 (Saturday) 7 pm
The Gulf War forms a subtle backdrop of malaise to Canadian filmmaker John Greysons inventive new adaptation of the novel by Dale Peck. Set in 1991 in the provincial town of Sarnia, Ontario, The Law of Enclosures is a twice-told tale of a marriage and its apparent failure. Sweet-natured Beatrice (Polley) meets Henry (Fletcher), who suffers from an odd, egg-shaped tumor at the base of his neck. After successful surgery, the couple begins a life together. In an uncanny parallel story, Bea (Ladd) and Hank (Sean McCann) try to recoup their squandered life together by building a dream home. The Gulf War has a narrative presence in the life of another couple the film follows, whose story we also see in foreshortened temporality. Direct casualties of the wider conflict, their own betrayals and disappointments bubble up like oil rising to the surface.
Directors Gerard Ungerman
and Audrey Brohy in Person
January 22 (Monday) 7 pm
Directed by Gerard
Ungerman and Audrey Brohy
US 2000, video, color, 64 min.
This wrenching work uses little-seen media clips and documents to explore pressing questions about that quintessential "media war" titled Operation Desert Storm. The invasion of Kuwait, the reasons behind U.S. involvement, and the subsequent embargo of Iraq are all examined with clear-eyed inquisitiveness, prompting discomfiting conclusions about our countrys role in that international crisis. Narrated by Academy Awardwinning actor John Hurt, Hidden Wars of Desert Storm is a compelling interrogation of the moral relativism of U.S. foreign policy.
January 22 (Monday) 7 pm with "Hidden Wars" (above)
Award-winning journalist John Pilger argues that the effects of ten years of sanctions against Iraq, imposed by the United Nations and enforced by the United States and Britain, have killed more people than the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. Director Lowery follows Pilger as he escorts former Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations Denis Halliday back to Iraq for the first time since he resigned in protest over the sanctions in September 1998. Together they reveal an extraordinary portrait of life in a country with a decaying infrastructure and a population that Pilger says is being held hostage to the compliance of Saddam Hussein. Pilger also exposes the suffering caused to the civilian population by the bombing campaign being conducted by the U.S. and Britain in the "no-fly zones" in northern and southern Iraq.
Director John Gianvito in
January 25 (Thursday) 7 pm
Directed by John Gianvito
US 2001, 16mm, color, 168 min.
With Thia Gonzalez, Dustin Scott, Robert Perrea
Shot over a period of six years on a minuscule budget and with a cast of nonprofessional actors, The Mad Songs of Fernanda Hussein revisits the experience of the Gulf War through a reverse lens, focusing on the wars reverberations in America. Set in a different desert, the film presents three stories in three cities as it follows characters whose lives are altered as a consequence of the war: a Mexican-American woman who has acquired the name Hussein through marriage; a teenage boy adrift in his anger and struggling to affect change; a returning veteran indelibly marked by what he has witnessed. Working in the space between fiction and documentary, Gianvitos film seeks to resurrect the memory of a time that was too quickly filed away but whose tragic consequences continue to be felt, most profoundly among the twenty-two million people of Iraq. Historian Howard Zinn has called it "both a work of art and a critical piece of history...thoroughly engaging as a story and provocative as an examination of American values." Proceeds from this preview screening will benefit the American Friends Service Committee.