In March 2004, just as the insurgent movement strengthened, several members of one National Guard unit arrived in Iraq, with cameras. THE WAR TAPES is the result – a uniquely collaborative film from a team that includes Director Deborah Scranton, Producer Robert May (THE FOG OF WAR) and Producer/Editor Steve James (HOOP DREAMS).
Straight from the front lines in Iraq, THE WAR TAPES is the first war movie filmed by soldiers themselves. It is Operation Iraqi Freedom as filmed by Sergeant Steve Pink, Sergeant Zack Bazzi and Specialist Mike Moriarty and other soldiers.
Zack is a Lebanese-American university student who loves politics, traveling, and being a soldier. Steve is a carpenter with a sharp sense of humor and aspirations to write, which he does with insight and candor. Mike is a resolute patriot and father of two, who rejoined the army after 9/11. All of them leave women at home—a mother, a girlfriend, and a wife.
While they battled unconventional forces, they recorded events that conventional journalists have been unable to capture. They mounted tripods on gun turrets, inside dashboards and used POV mounts on their Kevlar helmets and vests. They filmed all of the footage in Iraq, which amounted to over 800 hours of tape.
Zack, Steve, and Mike’s unit, Charlie Company, 3rd of the 172nd Infantry (MOUNTAIN) Regiment, was based at LSA Anaconda in the deadly Sunni Triangle, under constant threat of ambush and deadly IED attacks. They traveled, as a unit, 1.4 million miles during their tour, and lived through over twelve hundred combat operations and two hundred and fifty direct enemy engagements. That’s almost one a day.
The soldiers were not picked by casting agents or movie producers. They selected themselves. One hundred and eighty soldiers in Charlie Company were given the opportunity. Ten chose to take it on, and ultimately 21 soldiers filmed for the project, volunteering to share their eyes with America, not knowing where this experiment would take them.
“There was something incredibly profound about the soldiers being the ones to press the record button in Iraq that allows us into their world in a never before seen way,” said director Deborah Scranton Producer Robert May adds, “These soldiers were doubly courageous—as soldiers at war, and as human beings willing to share that experience in an honest, powerful and personal way.”
The filmmaking team shot an additional 200 hours of tape documenting the unfolding lives of the soldiers’ families at home, both during deployment and after the soldiers returned home. The families and girlfriends and mothers had also signed on, ensuring that THE WAR TAPES—like any true story about war—is not just about life inside the war, but the life left at home, and the always difficult and sometimes beautiful way the relationships develop and change.
Finally, the prodigious task of distilling over 1,000 hours of tape into the finished 97-minute film took an entire year. “We had to figure out how to preserve the complexity and rawness of their experience in the course of telling their story—a story we truly believe has not been told before,” said producer and editor Steve James.
Although five soldiers filmed their entire year’s deployment with one-chip Sony miniDV video cameras, in the end, the film follows the lives of three. “We wanted to tell a compelling, cohesive story—to focus on just a few soldiers so that, most importantly, audiences will truly get to know the soldiers seen in the film,” said producer Robert May. “After watching this film, we want people who don’t know soldiers in their personal lives to feel as if they know Zack, Mike, and Steve. And to accomplish that, we all had to cut scenes and soldiers that we loved.”
In the end, THE WAR TAPES is a complex, heartbreaking, and completely unique opportunity for millions to witness first-person experiences of war—a modern-day Odyssey—and the experience of homecoming.