When an email from my editor popped into my inbox last week about covering a pre-screening of The Western Front I quickly offered to review the film. It would be my first Tribeca Film Festival viewing since moving to the city last May and although completely ignorant of the storyline or even genre, I was eager to attend.
Before heading to the Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum, where the film would be shown, I began reading up on Zach Iscol’s political documentary about his time served in Iraq. Once I guessed the complex issues sure to addressed in the film, I became less than enthused about the pending evening. After a surprise introduction from co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival, Jane Rosenthal, the film began. Despite my initial reservations, I was blown away by this man’s story.
Primarily taking place in violent Al Anbar in 2004, the audience witness the disastrous effects that arise when violence is the only form of communication between nations. Zach tells of one night where a local man continued driving through a checkpoint, and was shot and killed by a fellow marine who judged him as the enemy. The next day the dead man’s brother comes forward to collect “blood money” and tells of his brother’s poor eyesight and the faulty brakes on his car. Zach knew that the meager $2500 given to the brother was not nearly enough to support the large family whom he was now responsible.
In another powerful scene, a man walks by a graffitied wall that looks like a wall one might see anywhere around the New York City. As the translated words “Don’t be afraid to kill Christians and Americans” creep onto the screen, I felt perhaps an ounce of the impact Zach and his fellow soldiers experienced during their time in the Middle East.
Near the conclusion of the film the audience watch as the Marine Corps implement counterinsurgency, realizing that killing one’s enemy does not defeat them. Through working with town Sheiks, the city slowly begins to return to its earlier state. These leaders have been guiding their districts for thousands of years and have tremendous influence over their people. With a group-based society rather than an individualized society, it is understandable why democracy “lit their country on fire.”
One theme that remained constant throughout The Western Front was the necessity of Arabic translators. Viewers effortlessly fell in love with one U.S. Marine Corps translator, Khalid Abood. Zach and his fellow soldiers were dependent on this man for communication purposes, which also helped them gain trust from locals and other community leaders later on. At the end of the film, a Q&A session took place where Abood and his family kindly answered questions about the struggle their family faced while living in Iraq and aiding the “enemy.”
For someone who grew up with a Marine Colonel for a father, I have tremendous respect for the brave soldiers who fight for our country. I’ve never been very interested in politics, casting aside issues I assume do not concern me. What this film made clear to me is that war directly affects everyone and not just in this country but in countries all over the world. I definitely recommend buying tickets to this film, where it shows at the Tribeca Film Festival this upcoming week.
While it will roughly pull at your heartstrings, viewers will leave both enthralled and empowered by the beauty and horror that is The Western Front.
– Megan Eileen McDonough
Images via The Western Front