Muthana Mohmed (r) was “rescued” by Liev Schreiber (l)
in the same way that Iraq was rescued by George W. Bush
“Operation Filmmaker” is at once a searing indictment of colonialism in Iraq and the phony do-goodism of Hollywood, all revolving around the interaction between Muthana Mohmed, a twenty-five-year-old Baghdad film student, and his various “rescuers” in the film industry. At the conclusion of Nina Davenport’s excellent documentary, you don’t know who is more disgusting–the military men who have ruined Iraq or the film executives who have turned Muhtana into a psychologically and economically dependent tragicomic figure.
Shortly after the war in Iraq began, MTV interviewed Muthana in Baghdad about how an errant American bomb had just leveled the only film school in the country, thus destroying his dream of being a director. After listening to the interview, American actor and director Liev Schreiber decided to “rescue” him from Iraq and make him an intern on the latest film he was directing in Prague: “Everything Is Illuminated”. Muthana came to Prague with dreams of learning the craft of filmmaking, but his job was to be a “gopher”, bringing coffee to the cast, cleaning Schreiber’s shoes and preparing vegan snacks for one of the producers. Preparing the snacks is a real production, involving the exact combination of nuts and dried fruits. Muthana is told that if the combination was not correct, there would be hell to pay.
As a typical Hollywood Jewish liberal, Schreiber is almost as insufferable as Stephen Spielberg. When he finally sits down with Muthana–a Shi’ite–he is disconcerted to discover that George W. Bush is his hero for having liberated his people. As Schreiber and producer Peter Saraf–another Jewish liberal–continue to hear Muthana praise Bush, the relationship cools visibly even though they pledge in good liberal fashion not to hold that against him.
Saraf, the producer of a film on Nelson Mandela and the execrable “Little Miss Sunshine”, is particularly annoying. As Muthana’s internship is coming to an end, he lectures him about the need to “set something up”. The fact that he hasn’t made contacts in the U.S. or Great Britain tells Saraf that he doesn’t have much of a future in the film industry where hustle is all-important. Although Muthana always wears a smile on his face during these encounters, you can almost read his thoughts: “I would like to kill this mother-fucker”.
Despite being a Shi’ite, Muthana is not the least bit religious. He likes to drink and screw around with the women on the set. The film also interviews his friends back in Baghdad who are just as secular-minded as him. The steady deterioration there has led one of them to conclude that all religions are “fucked”.
Just as Muthana’s visa is about to expire, he keeps getting extensions. Word from Iraq is that things are just too dangerous for him to come home. Even with the visa, he is still not sure he can make it in the West since film jobs are relatively hard to come by, even with his high visibility as an Iraqi struggling to make it. After his gig with Schreiber is up, he gets another low-level job on the movie “Doom”, a zombie b-movie starring the ex-wrestler Dwaye “The Rock” Johnson. Muthana confides to Nina Davenport that the script is horrible and is further distressed by the site of actors made up to look like their flesh has been eaten. It reminds him too much of the footage he watches each night on Al Jazeera.
Just one step ahead of the immigration cops and the bill collectors, he relies on friends and associates for legal help and for hand-outs. His relationship with Nina Davenport becomes particularly strained since he sees her as exploiting him for the purpose of her documentary. He demands cash payments from her and when she refuses, he keeps her latest tape hostage.
As the film concludes, Davenport is heard saying: “I always hoped that there would be a good ending with my collaboration with Muthana, but more and more I was looking for an exit strategy.”
“Operation Filmmaker” will have its American theatrical premiere on June 4th at the IFC Center in New York City. It will also open on June 10th at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington, Long Island, on June 13th at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and on June 20th at the Brattle Theatre in Boston, with other national dates to follow throughout the summer and into the fall.
Very highly recommended.