Zeitgeist Films // 2005 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brendan Babish (Retired) // March 28th, 2007
An unforgettable journey into the heart of war-ravaged Iraq in the months leading up to the January 2005 elections.
On the forth anniversary of the war in Iraq, Zeitgeist Films is releasing this enlightening documentary on its 2004 elections. My County My Country made its television debut in October 2006 on PBS's invaluable documentary series P.O.V. Every year, P.O.V. brings some of the world's best documentaries to a wide audience (please check its website to see the 2007 season schedule). My County My Country, a heartbreaking film profiling a brave Iraqi doctor, exemplifies what a precious commodity this series is. Anyone with a serious interest in the Iraq War needs to watch it.
This is not to say My County My Country can encompass in any way the four years of fighting over there. No documentary -- especially one that is only 90 minutes long -- could do that. Instead, My County My Country narrowly focuses on the myriad of preparations for Iraq's 2004 elections -- the country's first ever attempt at democracy. Half the film is devoted to disparate factions that have come together to ensure the elections even occur. The factions include military staffers, private security groups, and election monitors, who explain why Iraq is the most challenging country they have ever worked in.
However, the soul of the movie, and the reason I strongly recommend it, is Dr. Riyadh, a Sunni doctor, strong critic of the occupation, and selfless humanitarian. As this documentary reminds us, so much of the violence in Iraq is due to the intractable discord between Iraq's minority Sunni population (which flourished under Saddam Hussein) and the resurgent Shiites, many of whom are embittered by decades of repression. Dr. Riyadh is an educated and respected member of Baghdad's Sunni community, and a candidate for a seat on the Baghdad City Council. Throughout the film, locals come to both his doctor's office and his home, seeking advice and a sounding board to complain about the violence, the elections, their debts, whatever. Riyadh is obviously a compassionate man, and he turns no one away, but as the country's troubles mount so does the pressure on him to miraculously fix those of his community.
The film's clear strength is that Riyadh's family allowed director Laura Poitras almost unlimited access to their home. Several segments feature Riyadh's family arguing amongst themselves about the war. Riyadh's two young daughters are particularly outspoken opponents of America's involvement in their country. As many Americans have had similar arguments with their own family or friends, it's intriguing to see how an Iraqi family discusses these same issues. At one point, a family friend mocks the oft-repeated American mantra: "We're fighting them over there so we don't have to fight them here." As he accurately points out, that's a pretty raw deal for all the innocent Iraqis who must serve as cannon fodder to provide specious security for Americans.
In one of the movie's most haunting scenes, a family friend arrives soon after his son was kidnapped. The man initially seems composed, but in the midst of the conversation he gets a call from the kidnappers. In the brief exchange the kidnappers accuse him of contacting the Americans and vow to kill his son. Riyadh and his family silently watch their friend weep as his imagines the horrors being inflicted on his child.
Another of the film's strengths is that it does not attempt to moralize on the war or the occupation. Dr. Riyadh makes clear he was against the invasion, but the film certainly doesn't focus on this viewpoint. Instead Poitras allows Riyadh's words and deeds to speak for themselves. Some of his acts -- such as visiting Abu Ghraib Prison to check on the prisoner's conditions -- are clearly commendable; others -- such as boycotting the very election he's a candidate in -- not so much. Still, he is clearly an intelligent and caring individual who is doing the best he can, in face of long odds, to make his country inhabitable.
In the DVD insert, Poitras remarks how CIA officials in Iraq consider Riyadh to be a "bad guy." I suppose this can only be due to his anti-American stance. However, as this film shows, allegiance and gratitude to the American occupiers is hardly a prerequisite for doing good in Iraq. This is the sort of idea that ardent supporters of the war might object to, and these are the people who would be best served by watching My County My Country.
In addition to the film and an informative insert, the DVD contains a theatrical trailer and 15 minutes of additional footage of Dr. Riyadh's inspection of Abu Ghraib.
Review content copyright © 2007 Brendan Babish; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Zeitgeist Films
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Abu Ghraib Inspection: 15 Minutes of Additional Footage
* Original Theatrical Trailer
* My Country My Country PBS Web Site
* P.O.V. Official Site