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Big Sky Film Fest: Full Disclosure Moves War Films Forward

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Missoula, Montana -- After seven and nine years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan we now have several dozen films on these conflicts. The majority focus on the everyday lives of US troops, conveying an intimidate view of their combat environment, a comprehensive slice of life in the combat zone. And these films tend to avoid the politics of the war. It's the nitty-gritty on the ground while avoiding the morality of the wars.

Restrepo, which recently took the documentary honors at prestigious Sundance Film Festival, chronicles a US Army platoon in dangerous Korendal Valley in eastern Afghanistan. The doc also remains outside artillery range on morality.

Full Disclosure, which screened last night at the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival -- the 7th year for this increasingly prestigious docs-only festival -- likewise focuses closely on the lives of American combatants.

The director, Brian Palmer, embedded three times with US Marines in Iraq from 2004 to 2000. He shows Marines slogging through the mud, Marines barging into the houses of Iraqis, Marines in several fire fights, Marines ecstatic to return home, and Marines stoic when returning to Iraq.

This documentary, however, is not only about our troops in Iraq, but also about the filmmaker in Iraq. Brian Palmer places himself squarely in his film. As the Marine's war moves forward, his voice in the film grows stronger and stronger. Although different from other recent war films, the difference is not overpowering, not a radical departure in any way. The difference is rather subtle, the difference slowly unfolds.

At the heart of this film is this: the conflict of the Iraq War is also the filmmaker's conflict. One the one hand, Palmer is a close friend of the Marines. He clearly has a touch of a wannabe, and over time and trial he bonds with the Marines. He even visits some at their homes outside of Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. On the other hand, Palmer is an independent journalist. He is different from the younger Marines. And Palmer knows getting too close to the Marines can be costly for Palmer the investigative journalist.

The military embedding process narrows the distance between soldiers/Marines and journalists. The system is designed to have journalists identity with who they are covering, and write from their perspective. To write with the sensitivity and interests of our combatants foremost. For Palmer, this is the struggle. He is being pulled toward his Marines and is being pulled to maintain some distance from the Marines. There is never an easy solution to being pulled in both directions. Still, the product, Full Disclosure, is fair to the young Americans on the front line in Iraq and to the principles of fair journalism.

Palmer, however, and this is clear, does not support the Iraq War. Yet he does not wield a big moral stick. His antiwar mindset is mostly implied, discernible but not blatant. Still, it's there. There is a moral voice in this war zone, which I liked -- although some viewers may not.

Full Disclosure, then, moves onto ground that other war documentaries are mostly avoiding. Placing himself in the film, his voice persistent throughout the film, his uneasiness growing stronger, his beliefs seeping through, his opposition to this unpopular war there, the "I" is back in war.

Full Disclosure may be a push for American war films to move in a new direction -- insightful and fair to our fighting troops, while also revealing of the filmmaker. This is an interesting, fair film. See Full Disclosure.