US director shoots for the truth about invasion

When the acclaimed US director Doug Liman embarked on a mission to shoot the action thriller Fair Game in Baghdad, he knew there was a chance someone could get hurt.

Doug Liman of the film Fair Game, speaks on a panel about the portrayal of Iraq in film.
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ABU DHABI // When the acclaimed US director Doug Liman embarked on a mission to shoot the action thriller Fair Game in Baghdad, he knew there was a chance someone could get hurt.

The volatile situation in the capital, however, did not deter him from reflecting on the big screen his belief that too many lies have been told about the 2003 US invasion in Iraq.

He shot the film on location in Baghdad surrounded by machinegun-toting bodyguards, the crew's every move carefully planned.

The movie, starring Sean Penn and Naomi Watts, explores Liman's own views about the war: that it was an outright fabrication of the truth by the US government.

The story follows an undercover CIA operative whose cover has been blown, and an investigation into the existence of weapons of mass destruction.

The move was funded by ImageNation, a division of Abu Dhabi Media Company, which also publishes The National.

"I don't know why we (US) went into Iraq," said Mr Liman, during a discussion at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival. "No one in the inner White House circle has come forward and told us why. What Bush told the American people was a lie."

Mr Liman, the talent behind blockbusters such as the Bourne trilogy and Mr & Mrs Smith, also believes filmmakers have the opportunity - and a responsibility - to focus on reopening investigations of the war.

"We did lots of research, but most of the information was classified. People in power have an enormous ability to misrepresent the facts and it has fallen on filmmakers to tell the truth," he said. "It would be a bonus if, as a result of this movie, investigations were studied again to send a clear historical message as to how we ended up in this war."

He said many journalists in the US are sitting on "explosive stories" and hopes to encourage them to redefine the term "investigative journalism".

"In America, war is old news. No one wants to report it in the newspapers any more. But it is real and happening. Filming in the real place meant something to me; it was risky and dangerous but it was an honest attempt to set the record straight."

Casting in Iraq was a challenge and, in the end, he cast the Egyptian actor Khaled Nabawy for one of the main roles.

"I was blown away by Khalid's audition," said Mr Liman. "I had no idea I was casting the Brad Pitt of the Middle East. You know, people were pushing Sean Penn out of the way just to get to him!"

On a more serious note, Mr Liman said meeting Iraqi filmmakers such as Oday Rasheed, the director of Qarantina, (the first commercial film to come out of Iraq since the early 1990s) while filming in Iraq was an incredible experience and hopes the legacy of Fair Game will be such that it will open the doors for other filmmakers.

Mr Rasheed has recently set up the Iraqi Independent Film Centre to create a new wave of filmmaking.

"This is an opportunity for Iraqi filmmakers to move away from the commercial clichés. We can be experimental," said Mr Rasheed.

Cinemas in the country are still in bad condition, but he hopes to release Qarantina - the story of a man battling with the aftermath of the war - in other cities, in addition to Baghdad.