Meeting Resistance, a first film by veteran print journalist Steve Connors and photojournalist Molly Bingham, contains elements that would have made for great investigative reporting in 2004, but, as a whole, makes for a poor documentary now. When Connors and Bingham were reporting from Iraq in the immediate aftermath of the US-led invasion in April 2003, they discovered that Coalition forces were not being "greeted as liberators" by the Iraqi people as the Bush Administration had predicted in the buildup to war. On the contrary, armed resistance was increasingly challenging what was widely perceived by the Iraqi people to be an occupation of their country. Over the next ten months, Connors and Bingham interviewed numerous resistance fighters operating in the Al Adhamiya district of northern Baghdad. The audio and video recordings of those interviews supply the bulk of this narration-free 84-minute documentary.
The resistance fighters that Connors and Bingham interviewed were strikingly different from one another in political and tribal affiliation, religious devotion, education, military training, and guerrilla technique. The one thing they shared was the desire to force out the occupiers. These interviewees were nothing like the Baathist "dead-enders", criminals, and foreign religious fanatics, depicted by the Bush Administration, and reported widely in the mainstream American press. Connors and Bingham were seeing firsthand what the Bush Administration was only acknowledging in secret memoranda: the insurgency was largely home-grown, and was drawn from a broad base of the Iraqi population.
This statement by one of the interviewees is typical of the sentiment of all of them: "If someone comes and occupies another man's home and takes away his food, money and property, how could he not defend himself? A person who doesn't fight for himself or his country, shouldn't be called a human being."
Had Connors and Bingham gotten the story out early on, either as print journalism or as supplementary video interviews to the early documentary journalism coming out of Iraq in late 2003 and early 2004, this would have helped many westerners to understand much more quickly why resistance to the Coalition forces never subsided. Unfortunately, by the time Meeting Resistance was theatrically screened in the fall of 2007, some three and a half years after principal photography ended, the nature of the resistance struggle in Iraq was already well known by everybody that cared to know, and those that were still in the dark on this weren't going to be seeing Meeting Resistance in any case.
Meeting Resistance also suffers from being poorly constructed as a documentary feature. None of the interviewees in the resistance were willing to show their faces on camera. Images of the interviewees' hands, or of street life in Baghdad, or US soldiers become tiresome well before the documentary ends. Additionally, Connors and Bingham do not narrate their story, leaving it totally to the audience to make what it will of the interviewees' statements. In all, this lengthy and unstructured exposition merely reinforcing what is now common knowledge, coupled with a lack of arresting visuals makes for a poor feature.
Meeting Resistance was recorded on standard digital video. The full-frame image has slight digital compression problems including image shimmer and soft focus, but overall the image looks more than acceptable. The English subtitles, however, are forced, smaller than they should be, and appear to suffer from more digital distortion than the background image generally.
The interviews, all recorded in Arabic, generally sound clear, with no dropouts and minimal distortion. The score plays lively back and fro from the left and right front channels.
The extras consist of a Directors' commentary, Directors' statement and biographies, the theatrical trailer, and trailers for five other First Run Features DVD releases. The directors' commentary is worth hearing, despite lengthy pauses. Connors and Bingham discuss, in depth, the conditions during the making of the documentary, and, more cursorily, their impressions of the situation in Iraq since.
Contrary to the opinion of my esteemed colleague, Stuart Galbraith IV, expressed in his otherwise excellent review of Frederick Wiseman's 1968 documentary, High School, sometimes documentary material can go stale, at least when the material becomes common wisdom or irrelevant, without transcending into timeless celluloid art. The interviews with Iraqi resistance fighters that Connors and Bingham recorded in 2003 and 2004 could have been a powerful counterweight to the misinformation reported by most of the western press had it been released then. Unfortunately, four years on it's all old news.
These interviews could still be valuable segments in a more comprehensive documentary about the occupation, but as a standalone effort, the narration-free Meeting Resistance is too dated and structureless to be recommended to any but devoted connoisseurs of the Iraq War documentary sub-genre.