Iraq documentary generates book and Oscar hopes

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Charles Ferguson’s documentary “No End in Sight” has more than lived up to its name. A year ago, the political scientist-turned-documentarian was preparing to launch the Iraq-themed film at the Sundance Film Festival.

A U.S. soldier with the 4th Platoon, Bravo Company I-327th Infantry 1st Battalion 101st Airborne Division Air Assault takes position during a patrol in Siniyah, around 70 km (40 miles) north of Tikrit, November 23, 2007. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

“No End” examines in carefully assembled detail key decisions made by a small cabal of Washington war strategists during the early days of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. Although documentaries about the war have proliferated, Ferguson’s contribution immediately distinguished itself, winning a special jury prize for illuminating “the misguided policy decisions that have led to the catastrophic quagmire of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq.”

Independent distributor Magnolia released the film theatrically in July. Although “No End” collected just $1.4 million theatrically, the distributor also made it available as a day-and-date offering on parent company 2929 Entertainment’s HDNet, and it was released on DVD in October. It’s on the shortlist of 15 films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is considering for the best documentary Oscar.

But Ferguson hasn’t yet moved on to another project. Next month, the publisher PublicAffairs is issuing a book, “No End in Sight: Iraq’s Descent into Chaos,” that draws on the 200 hours of interviews Ferguson conducted for the film as well as added interviews he has done since the film was released.

In effect, the movie has become a catalyst for an ongoing examination of the fateful decisions that determined the course of the war.

“A number of people, having seen the film, came forward to say that they had additional information, and a number of them had very interesting things to say,” Ferguson says.

In addition to fleshing out details surrounding the decisions made in April and May 2003, the book also follows up with an examination of last year’s military surge, which took place after the film was completed.

Among those lending new perspective are Col. John Agoglia, who was one of the Central Command planners and who had advocated recalling the Iraqi army. Agoglia says that in an early May 2003 briefing with Paul Bremer, who was dispatched by Washington to serve as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, he explained that “one of the key parts of our postconflict plan was recalling the Iraqi army.” Agoglia maintains that Bremer, in the presence of Gens. Tommy Franks and John Abizaid, appeared to acknowledge the detailed plans that were being developed.

In response to Ferguson’s probing questions, Agoglia says that, in retrospect, it is clear that Bremer, following orders from Washington, planned to disband the Iraqi army even as he seemed to be listening to the opinions of the military personnel on the ground in Iraq, who were in favor of the army’s recall. “So once again we have an example of a guy coming in and saying, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ and nodding up and down as if these generals are a bunch of idiots and (the Washington strategists) have all the goddamn answers and the generals don’t,” Agoglia says.

On September 6 -- partly, in would seem, in response to Ferguson’s film, which takes a highly critical look at his tenure -- Bremer published an essay in the New York Times defending the decision to disband the Iraqi army, arguing that “the decision not to recall Saddam Hussein’s army was thoroughly considered by top officials in the American government. At the time, this decision was not controversial.”

Ferguson takes issue with Bremer's article in a filmed response on the movie's Web site,

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter