What initially appears to be a story of warm-hearted Western do-gooder-ism, quickly evolves into a complex, subtly-layered story in Nina Davenport's latest film, Operation Filmmaker, playing Thursday, July 31st at SPACE. At first glance the film seems fairly one-dimensional and too simple and neatly packaged a story: Western actor (Liev Schrieber), sees struggling film student (Muthana Mohmed) in post-invasion Iraq reality TV spot, sweeps in and recruits him to intern on his latest film (Everything Is Illuminated). Hires documentary filmmaker (Davenport) to document said good deed. The End.
But looking closer, Operation Filmmaker, is a much more complex story about how idealized intentions are easily derailed when the situation is not as pat as it seems. When you start peeling the onion of Operation Filmmaker, good intentions quickly devolve into ham-fisted blunders and the situation emerges into what situations of this nature often are . . . not easily-repaired issues of black and white but something in that more complex grey zone.
Muthana is indeed charming, frank and the casualty of an unjust war. He's also conniving, manipulative and an opportunist. As viewers, do we still maintain the ability to process a protagonist that is flawed and caught between a rock and a hard place? (There's a bad, double-decker pun there you'll get when you see the film).
In many ways, for Davenport, it's a documentary filmmaker's nightmare. What do you do when your subject turns on you and withholds his story, the plot of your film, hostage for money? You can imagine traumatized phone calls to mentors for advice on what to do. Somewhere along the way though, the payoff of Operation Filmmaker for Davenport comes in this layered tale, ripe for discussion and interpretation.
Hear a review on NPR's Fresh Air here.
Operation Filmmaker trailer: