Dirty wars: the world is a battlefield, a new film by the Nation‘s brilliant investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill and directed by Rick Rowley (of Big Noise Films) has won this year’s Sundance Film Festival Prize for best cinematography in a US documentary. The film, which goes on release later this year, focuses on the CIA’s Special Activities Division, Joint Special Operations Command and other covert forces in waging undeclared wars around the globe. More information and updates here. Here’s the ‘long synopsis’:
Dirty Wars follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater, into the heart of America’s covert wars, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia and beyond. With a strong cinematic style, the film unfolds through Scahill’s investigation and personal journey as he chases down the most important human rights story of our time.
Along the way we meet two parallel casts of characters. The CIA agents, shooters, military generals, and Special Forces operators who populate the dark side of American wars go on camera and on the record—many for the first time. The human victims of this unaccountable violence are also heard. Seeing and hearing directly from survivors of night raids and drone strikes and victims of torture in “black” detention sites shows the human lives caught in these wars.
Tracing the rise of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the most secret and elite fighting force in U.S. history, Dirty Wars reveals covert operations unknown to the public and carried out across the globe by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. In military jargon, JSOC teams “find, fix, and finish” their targets: anyone, without due process. No target is off limits for the “kill list,” including U.S. citizens.
Dirty Wars takes viewers to remote corners of the globe to see first-hand wars fought in their name and offers a behind-the-scenes look at a high-stakes investigation. We are left with questions about freedom and war, justice and democracy.
In an early review for Variety, Rob Nelson praises the film’s power and politics:
Filed from the frontlines of the war on terror, documentarian Richard Rowley’s astonishingly hard-hitting “Dirty Wars” renders the investigative work of journalist Jeremy Scahill in the form of a ’70s-style conspiracy thriller. A reporter for the Nation, Scahill follows a blood-strewn trail from a remote corner of Afghanistan, where covert night raids have claimed the lives of innocents, to the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), a shadowy outfit empowered by the current White House to assassinate those on an ever-expanding “kill list,” including at least one American. This jaw-dropping, persuasively researched pic has the power to pry open government lockboxes.
Doggedly questioning the logic and morality of waging a war with no accountability and no end in sight, Rowley and Scahill are shrewd enough to recognize that one of the strongest weapons in their own arsenal is entertainment. This isn’t to say that “Dirty Wars” is fun by any stretch, but that it takes pains to make the political personal, forging the viewer’s identification with Scahill by making persistent use of his voiceover narration and keeping him oncamera throughout. Scahill is no Redford or Hoffman, but one follows his train of thought and ultimately fears for his safety.
There’s also an excellent interview (including some riveting, spine-chilling detail) with Amy Goodman, together with some clips from the film, at Democracy Now:
If you’re in a hurry, the transcript is here. As Amy notes in the Guardian (and as the interview confirms), the film is a much-needed antidote to Zero Dark Thirty, and speaks directly to what I’ve called ‘the everywhere war’:
’Sadly it proves the theater of war is everywhere, or, as its subtitle puts it: “The World is a Battlefield.” As Scahill told me: ”You’re going to see a very different reality, and you’re going to see the hellscape that has been built by a decade of covert war.”