Directors say war films make up for poor reporting
LONDON (Reuters) - Two Hollywood directors who are part of a wave of films about the war in Iraq and the broader fallout from the September 11, 2001 attacks have said they were only doing what media failed to do -- telling the truth.
Brian De Palma's "Redacted", arguably the most shocking feature yet about events in Iraq, hits theatres on Friday, using a documentary style to tell the true story of the gang rape and murder of an Iraqi girl by U.S. troops in 2006.
Paul Haggis also based "In The Valley Of Elah", already released, on true events linked to the war, although, unlike De Palma's cast of unknown actors, he employed major stars Tommy Lee Jones, Charlize Theron and Susan Sarandon.
Both film makers have attacked mainstream media for their coverage of the Iraq war and events leading to it.
"There is a very big difference between the Vietnam war, where we saw the pictures, and the Iraq war, where we don't," De Palma told Reuters at the Venice Film Festival, where "Redacted" premiered and where he won the best director award.
"I am very angry because I think this is an important issue. I think the fourth estate has let us down terribly."
He told reporters: "It's all out there on the Internet, you can find it if you look for it, but it's not in the major media. The media is now really part of the corporate establishment."
Haggis, who also showcased "Elah" in Venice, agreed.
"During the Vietnam war, we had terrific journalists doing their job, reporting on things that we didn't want to hear.
"Now we don't have that. I think that when that doesn't happen, then it's the responsibility of the artist to ask those difficult questions," he added.
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Steven Barnett, professor of communications at London's University of Westminster, believes many in the U.S. media admit that reporting of the war, and particularly the failure to question the reasons given for it, left much to be desired.
"I think American journalism generally agrees its own press was supine, and it is fair to say that Hollywood, perhaps a little belatedly, is picking up the baton."
He agreed that reporting in Iraq was more dangerous than many previous conflicts, and there were reporters in the United States and Iraq who had broken important stories.
Barnett singled out Seymour Hersh of The New Yorker magazine for his stories about abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison, although such cases, he added, were "few and far between".
Mark Cousins, movie critic and author of "The Story Of Film", pointed out that documentary film makers had already distinguished themselves in the case of Iraq, a fact often overlooked by Hollywood.
"Just as in Vietnam so in Iraq, documentaries are in there from the start and there are some masterpieces," he said, naming last year's "My Country, My Country". "Documentary film makers can always be relied upon to be the social conscience."
He also argued that attacking the media was one way for directors to market their movies.
"When you are marketing a film, you have to say 'We need it, it's unique ... here's why you have to come and see my work because you haven't seen the like of it in TV.'"
Yet many recent films dealing with wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the repercussions of the September 11 attacks have failed to find an audience, including those who feature top talent.
"In The Valley Of Elah" earned just $9 million at the box office worldwide, according to Web site www.boxofficemojo.com.
"Rendition", a film about detaining terrorism suspects and starring Reese Witherspoon, earned $15 million globally, while audiences for "Lions For Lambs", with Tom Cruise in an Afghan war-themed plot, have been disappointing, according to reports.
(Editing by Paul Casciato)