‘Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories’ at Sweet Briar March 18, Filmmaker says he has solution to war in Iraq

| February 26, 2008

What would happen if an American adventure traveler — armed with little more than a movie camera, a press pass made at Kinko’s and a single name on a slip of paper — cashed in his air miles and flew to Iraq to the get the inside skinny on the war?

In 2003, Mike Shiley, an Oregonian who has lived and traveled extensively in the Middle East, answered that question.

“When the U.S. declared war on Iraq, I realized that I needed to make a film about a culture that I had come to know so well and try to bring some human reality to the issue,” he said.

‘Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories’ will be shown at Sweet Briar March 18.

The fruit of Shiley’s enlightening and often harrowing adventure is “Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories.” The 80-minute documentary will be screened at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 18 in Tyson Auditorium at Sweet Briar College. Admission is free.

The filmmaker also will be on hand to talk about the project.

Shiley spent two months in Iraq, a place he calls the “most dangerous country in the world,” taking a firsthand look at the Iraq war and talking with U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians.

“The U.S. soldiers are some of the best and brightest people in the world as well as some of the most ignorant and insensitive,” he said. “In general, I found them to be earnest and dedicated to their task.”

As for civilians, what Shiley found as he “wandered the streets, poked into gun markets, porn markets, mosques, mine fields, Christian churches and gas lines,” was “a population desperately waiting for the U.S. to rebuild and establish security, which, as we all know, has never happened.”

Mike Shiley

Along the way, in a turn of events he describes as “bizarre,” the filmmaker became a reporter for ABC News, the network printed on his fake press pass. His stories appeared on World News Tonight, Nightline and Good Morning America.

Shiley even manned a gun on a U.S. military tank, and was awarded a civilian combat medal for his efforts. “It’s a long story,” he said of his brief military career, adding that he would tell it the night of the screening.

When asked if he was scared or started to question his sanity, Shiley said, “I was moving so fast and such strange things were happening every day that I didn’t have time to understand how crazy the situation really was.

“I was terrified to be patrolling Iraqi villages at night in a tank and, well, I was pretty much terrified the whole time. No Westerner is ever safe in Iraq, day or night, so instead of being consumed by fear, I focused on the task of shooting this film. Looking back on it, yes, it’s totally crazy.”

Shiley came home with footage he hopes will “show all the things the nightly news misses or ignores” and “open people’s eyes about how our policies and wars affect others.”

Citing thousands of dead and millions of displaced, unemployed, hungry and thirsty Iraqi civilians, Shiley said, regardless of people’s political views, “It’s time to come together and find solutions.”

Tess Drahman, a Sweet Briar senior and film studies program assistant, heard Shiley speak in September at the National Association for Campus Activities convention in South Carolina.

She described his talk as “powerful” and added, “He’s neither liberal, nor conservative, and this is why I think [this event] would be great for such a diverse campus like Sweet Briar. He is not for or against anything but has insights very few people have.”

Although he would not go into details, Shiley said he will present his solution the evening of the screening.

Over the past five years, “Inside Iraq” has been shown nearly 500 times in 48 states and seven countries.

The Denver Post called it a “heartfelt documentary that shows so much more than we see on the nightly news.” Salt Lake City Weekly stated, “This is guerrilla filmmaking at its best …”

For more information on “Inside Iraq” and to watch the movie trailer, visit Shiley’s Web site.

For more information on the Sweet Briar showing, contact Eleanor Salotto, associate professor of English and film studies, at [email protected] or 381-6159.

— Suzanne Ramsey

Category: Government and International Affairs