No End in Sight (2007)
So far, some of the best documentaries about the war in Iraq — “Gunner Palace,” “The War Tapes” and “Iraq in
Fragments,” for example — have concentrated less on politics, policy or military strategy than on individual, in-the-moment experiences.
As if to balance a climate of argument thick with generalization and position-taking, these films push debate aside in order to bring home the sensory
details of daily life for American soldiers and Iraqi civilians.
“No End in Sight,” Charles Ferguson’s exacting, enraging new film, may signal a shift in emphasis, a move away from the immediacy of
cinéma vérité toward overt political argument and historical analysis. Not that these have been scarce over the past few years, as an ever- growing
shelf of books can testify. Among Mr. Ferguson’s interview subjects are the authors of some of those books — notably Nir Rosen (“In
the Belly of the Green Bird”), James Fallows (“Blind Into Baghdad”) and George Packer (“The Assassins’ Gate”)
— and his film in effect offers a summary of some of their conclusions.
Mr. Ferguson, a former Brookings Institution scholar with a doctorate in political science, presents familiar material with impressive concision and
impact, offering a clear, temperate and devastating account of high-level arrogance and incompetence.
If failure, as the saying goes, is an orphan, then “No End in Sight” can be thought of as a brief in a paternity suit, offering an
emphatic, well- supported answer to a question that has already begun to be mooted on television talk shows and in journals of opinion: Who lost Iraq?
On Mr. Ferguson’s short list are Donald Rumsfeld, **** Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz and L. Paul Bremer III. None of them agreed to be
interviewed for the film. Perhaps they will watch it.
The film’s title evokes the apparent interminability of this war more than four years after President Bush declared that “major combat
operations” were over, and it twice shows Mr. Rumsfeld telling journalists, “I don’t do quagmires.” But Mr. Ferguson’s
focus turns out to be fairly narrow. He does not dwell on the period between Sept. 11, 2001, and the beginning of the invasion that overthrew Saddam
Hussein, nor does he spend a lot of time chronicling the violence that has so far taken the lives of more than 3,000 American soldiers and marines and
tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of Iraqis. Instead, most of the movie deals with a period of a few months in the spring and summer of 2003, when
a series of decisions were made that did much to determine the terrible course of subsequent events.
It is important to note that Mr. Ferguson’s principal interlocutors were not, at the time, critics of the Bush administration’s policies
in Iraq but rather people who had, often at considerable professional cost and personal risk, committed themselves to fulfilling those policies. They
include Barbara Bodine, a diplomat with long experience in the Middle East; Paul Eaton, an Army major general; Seth Moulton, a lieutenant in the
Marine Corps; and Jay Garner, the retired lieutenant general who served as head of the Organization of Recovery and Humanitarian Assistance in
That agency, set up to rebuild and stabilize Iraq after the invasion, soon gave way to the Coalition Provisional Authority, directed by Mr. Bremer,
who took over in May 2003. Already, according to the eyewitnesses interviewed in “No End in Sight,” terrible mistakes had been made.
Looting and other early manifestations of disorder were more likely to be met with Rumsfeldian aphorisms — “Stuff happens”; freedom
is “untidy” — than with appropriate tactical responses. And then, once the provisional authority assumed control, orders came down
to purge the bureaucracy and the civil service of all members of the Baath Party and to dismantle the Iraqi military. As Mr. Eaton and Mr. Garner tell
it, the last policy was especially disastrous and was arrived at and carried out precipitously and without discussion.
They, Ms. Bodine, and others — including Richard L. Armitage and Lawrence Wilkerson of the State Department — describe from the inside
what has become, to the rest of us, a recognizable pattern. The knowledge and expertise of military, diplomatic and technical professionals was
overridden by the ideological certainty of political loyalists. Republican Party operatives, including recent college graduates with little or no
relevant experience, were put in charge of delicate and complicated administrative areas. Those who did not demonstrate lock-step fidelity to the
White House line were ignored or pushed aside.
It might be argued that since Mr. Bremer, Mr. Rumsfeld and Mr. Wolfowitz declined to appear in the film, Mr. Ferguson was able to present only one
side of the story. But the accumulated professional standing of the people he did interview, and their calm, detailed insistence on the facts, makes
such an objection implausible. So too does the corroboration of the journalists who watched the story unfold and, perhaps most of all, the sense that
anyone but the hardiest Bush loyalist will feel of having seen versions of this story before.
That feeling does not make “No End in Sight” dull or easy to watch. Quite the contrary. It’s a sober, revelatory and absolutely
Directed by Charles Ferguson; narrated by Campbell Scott; director of photography, Antonio Rossi; edited by Chad Beck and Cindy Lee; music by Peter
Nashel; produced by Mr. Ferguson, Jennie Amias and Jessie Vogelson; released by Magnolia Pictures. At Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, west of
Avenue of the Americas, South Village. Running time: 102 minutes.
Capturing the Friedmans (2002)
One of the most talked-about films of 2003, the Academy Award® nominee CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS landed on more than 150 top ten film critics'
lists last year and won a host of major awards, including the 2003 Sundance Grand Jury Prize.
With a predilection for hamming it up in front of home-movie cameras, the Friedmans were a seemingly normal middle-class family living in the affluent
New York suburb of Great Neck. One Thanksgiving, as the family gathers at home for a quiet holiday dinner, their front door explodes, splintered by a
police battering ram. Officers rush into the house, accusing Arnold Friedman and his youngest son Jesse of hundreds of shocking crimes.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS follows their story from the public's perspective and through unique home-movie footage of the family in crisis, shot inside
the Friedman house. Sullied by scandal, vilified by the media and haunted by damning secrets from the past, the family begins to disintegrate, raising
provocative questions about justice, family and, ultimately, truth.
The New Yorker called the film "a masterpiece" that "demonstrates the audacity, the evenhandedness, the sense of detail and structural power worthy
of such accomplished documentary filmmakers as Marcel Ophuls and Frederick Wiseman." The New York Times hailed the documentary as "one of the most
astonishing debut features ever," while Entertainment Weekly described it as an "extraordinary film...gripping, lacerating, moving and haunting.
CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS was directed by Andrew Jarecki; produced by Andrew Jarecki & Marc Smerling; edited by Richard Hankin; director of
photography, Adolfo Doring; music, Andrea Morricone; associate producer, Jennifer Rogen. For HBO: supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive
producer, Sheila Nevins.