Humanitarian Relief and War Journalism is focus of ‘Ceasefire’, Premiered in Montréal
[Montréal, Québec, Canada 19°C] I just stepped out of historic Cinema Impérial for Montréal World Film Festval‘s world premiere screening of Lancelot von Naso’s first feature film, Waffenstillstand (Ceasefire).
The setting for the 104-minute film is Iraq in 2004, months after George W. Bush declared from beneath the “Mission Accomplished” banner aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln that “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.” We all know now, with continued fighting in Iraq more than five years later that the war was nowhere near completion.
The film is a mostly a road trip between Bagdad and Fallujah during a brief ceasefire between US troops and Iraqi rebels during the infamous Battle of Fallujah. A Dutch aid worker and a French doctor colleague organize the expedition to deliver urgently-needed medical supplies to a hospital desperately trying to cope with the city’s civilian casualties. Without permits and within the urgency of the 24-hour ceasefire, they hire a van and head along unfamiliar back roads to the besieged city. To help their fate, the aid worker contacts a German TV journalist to accompany them. Motivated by the opportunity to get a scoop that no other journalist has so far managed to do, the young journalist convinces his cameraman to join them along this deadly trip. They succeed in delivering the goods and returning to Bagdad but not without serious consequences. Should they have stayed with the other journalists in the comfort of their hotel and continue to dispatch official war rhetoric?
The pace along journey is well executed with editing that keeps the audience, like the van’s passengers, on the edge of their seat. One scene from the inside of the van as it drives past yelling children who run alongside is as it passes their village is memorable and provides an indication of the escalating danger ahead. The journalists wave at the children as one might expect but they are then assaulted by a heavy banging from an unknown source, which turns out to be other kids throwing large stones at the van as it speeds away. I jumped from my seat in unison with the van’s passengers.
Although the film was shot in Morocco, the scenery during the drive and the war-devastated urban landscape that is supposed to be Fallujah is convincingly realistic of the setting. So are the characters, particularly the diametrically opposed sentiment between the Western I’m-going-to-save-the-world-from-itself approach of aid workers and their realization that their presence may actually jeopardize the safety of others and themselves. And in the film, it actually does as some characters use others to get what they want: medical supplies delivered or an original scoop.
The film’s Facebook page writes, “Crossing a harsh landscape devastated by war, the threat of attack ever present, caught between their different ideals, these very different people have to work together to have a chance of succeeding.” They actually never really work together, rather choosing to do their own thing while together often clashing and endangering themselves and each other. The description continues with, “Set against a backdrop of real events, Ceasefire is a film about people going to their limits to help others under the most extreme circumstances.” It is actually about people going to their limits under the most extreme circumstances to satisfy their own objectives, often at the expense of others.
For aspiring war correspondents, this is a must see. It reminds the journalist that others are willing to lie and use them for their own needs and that naïve journalists willing to do anything for a story, may suffer consequences from their bravado. An interesting article, Fallujah never leaves my mind by Al Jazeera cameraman, Laith Mushtaq is worth a read.