Directed by Deborah Scranton, and produced by Robert May (The Fog of War) and Steve James (Hoop Dreams), THE WAR TAPES is Operation Iraqi Freedom as filmed by Sergeant Steve Pink, Sergeant Zack Bazzi, and Specialist Mark Moriarty. Steve is a wisecracking carpenter who aspires to be a writer. Zack is a Lebanese-American university student who loves to travel and is fluent in Arabic. Mike is a father and resolute patriot who rejoined the Army after 9/11. These soldiers captured over 800 hours of footage, providing a glimpse of their lives in the midst of war. The result is a raw portrait of three men--and their families--as they face, and struggle to understand, their duty.
Reduced from some 800 hours of raw footage to one compelling, 96-minute film, The War Tapes, while not the first documentary about U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq (cf. 2006's Off to War, which covers similar ground), is unusual insofar as it was shot entirely by men on active duty in Iraq--specifically three National Guardsmen (or "citizen soldiers," as they call themselves) from New Hampshire who served in that benighted country in 2004. The three are by no means alike. Spc. Mike Moriarty is a patriot who, much to the dismay of his family, re-enlisted after 9/11 and frankly hopes to be "someone's hero." Sgt. Steve Pink is motor-mouthed wiseacre who grows increasingly cynical as his tour plays out. Sgt. Zack Bazzi, a Lebanese-American who speaks fluent Arabic, reads The Nation and doesn't much care for George W. Bush, but is nonetheless ready to fight. Yet despite their differences, their experiences are similarly grim. After some training at home, we see them arrive in the Mideast, where the first words they hear are, "Welcome to Iraq. Only one year to go," followed shortly by a mortar explosion near Camp Anaconda, their base. Thereafter, we see them in a variety of settings: in Baghdad and Fallujah, on the road (their duties include escorting truck convoys), fighting insurgents (several of the battle scenes are very intense and fairly graphic), in the camp cafeteria (where one of them excoriates Halliburton, who seems to have a hand in every aspect of the war effort, for charging the government $28 for a single styrofoam plate), in their quarters (their idea of recreation is staging a death match between a scorpion and a spider), and so on; we also visit their families back in New Hampshire. What emerges from all of this is a striking portrait of bitterness, resignation, and outright hostility, especially towards Iraqis on both sides. Moriarty perhaps sums it up most succinctly when they return to the States: "I'm so glad I went. I hated it with a god-awful passion, and I will not go back... I've done my part... It's someone else's turn." Nearly two hours of bonus material includes extended outtakes and extra footage, follow-up interviews with the three soldiers, and more. --Sam Graham