When people ask me why I made Shadow Company and what influenced the way in which I made it, I can't help but refer to a philosophy in my life that is a catalyst for both answers: "never stop learning."
I met "James" in Cambridge while he was studying Law and I was studying Chemistry. We lost track of one another until one day I got an email from him saying he'd decided to become a "mercenary". My immediate association with the term was what I imagine most of us might automatically envision -- Rambo-like men with knives between their teeth overthrowing foreign governments in remote island paradises.
As he kept writing me personal accounts of his life in Iraq, I was amazed how much more there was to the industry than I was hearing and seeing on the news. My initial investigation yielded that the existence of private soldiers, "modern day mercenaries" had a much longer history and a much wider application than I at first suspected.
In gathering information, I decided early on not to allow myself to be predisposed to seeing only the "bad" or only the "good." I acknowledged then as I still do at discussion panels and Q&A sessions after screenings, that the issue of whether or not the U.S should be in Iraq (and whether war, in general should be our way of resolving conflict in the modern world) is a separate one and I as a documentary film maker, must isolate one issue.
The documentary focuses on answering some simple questions about the world of Private Security Contractors -- who are these men - what do they do and why ?
We encourage to audience to ask the right questions rather than spoonfeeding them simplistic answers.
The film tells the story of a heretofore hidden industry -- an industry that forms a critical part of modern warfare. The rules of war have changed -- and although some aspects of privatization appear to be effective - there is a significant lack of accountability and transparency in this industry.
For example -- the US government doesn't even know exactly how many security contractors there are in Iraq -- not to mention what exactly they are all doing.
For our efforts to stay balanced, we were fortunate to win a number of awards and receive very good reviews and coverage in a number of high profile media outlets. Organizations as politically disparate as Amnesty International and Blackwater both praised the movie as being fair in its portrayal of a complex industry. Ironically our balanced viewpoint - the very same things that earned us praise also made the notion of marketing the film in a traditionally polarized market much more challenging for us.
On September 16th a tragic incident took place involving a State Department convoy in Iraq protected by Blackwater Security Contractors - which ultimately resulted in a number of Iraqi deaths.
While that incident is still under investigation -- Senator Byron Dorgan, chair of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee wasted no time in calling for a hearing to investigate accountability and transparency issues with Private Security Companies -- with a specific focus on Blackwater and its conduct in Iraq.
I was honored to be called to testify in front of this committee on September 21st. It is indicative of how little is known about this industry that the expert witnesses called by the committee were a documentarian, a journalist and the mother of a tragically killed contractor.
I was initially somewhat daunted by the prospect of speaking to a number of senators in front of a packed room full of press with 3 cameras on me at all times and a live broadcast on C-SPAN but once opening statements were delivered and the Q&A began I relaxed. It was a fascinating experience outlining what I learned in making my documentary to this country's policy makers and seeing that this sort of input really does make a difference in their understanding.
I knew when I started making Shadow Company that the subject of PMCs needed a thorough historical and international analysis -- I had no idea that 5 months after the first release date of my film, the need for people to learn about this subject would still be so prevalent.
The film continues to make waves -for those interested in finding out more about it -- there are numerous clips available at the official website -- www.shadowcompany.com
There have been detailed discussion at all levels about the withdrawal of troops from Iraq in the run-up to the next election. I wonder how many people consider that the gap created by withdrawing US soldiers might well be filled by a private army?