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Perhaps my favorite doc this year is Garrett Scott and Ian Olds’ Occupation Dreamland, which opened this weekend at the Cinema Village in New York along with screens in Portland, Boson, D.C., and Berkeley. It’s an essential piece of filmmaking for anyone wanting to learn more about the war in Iraq and its aftermath. Scott, who was one of our “25 New Faces” back in 2002, and Olds previously collaborated on Scott’s incredible short doc Cul de Sac. That earlier film used the story of one man’s mental breakdown (the tale of a San Diego man who stole a tank and went on a destructive joyride before being shot and killed by police) to etch a portrait of a dislocated post-war middle class. This film looks at a contemporary younger generation and the clash between their own dreams of the future and our current administration’s vision of a reordered and democratized Middle East.

Scott, Olds and Rumur Releasing are distributing the film grass-roots style, opening it up slowly in theaters around the country. They premiered in Fayetteville, North Carolina with free screenings for military families, a strategy which speaks to the film’s respect for its subjects. In fact, the film’s complexity and its respect for its subjects, the soldiers Scott and Olds were embedded with, give it an appeal across the political spectrum. (I watched it with a pro-war friend who was equally knocked out by the movie.) At the same time, its capturing of the eerie melancholy of military occupation, a life rhythm far removed from the MTV-warfare of other Iraq docs, make Occupation: Dreamland a film that’s too subtle for many of the conventional doc outlets.

Filmmaker and writer Peter Hall was one of several people whose emails advocating the film landed in my inbox this week. Here’s what he had to say:

“I am writing because I really believe in OPERATION DREAMLAND, which opens tonight at Cinema Village on 12th Street in New York. In July I broke my wrist in three places while bicycling to a screening for it, and the titanium plates I wear will forever remind me of the eagerness with which I headed downtown that night. I saw the movie a month later in considerable pain and found it both compelling and relaxed. OP DREAMLAND is an extremely honest movie, an exploration of a group of marines in Fallujah before the US blew the city up. It is NOT rhetorical, but it confronts the issues that concern most of us. I once had a close friend who was an apolitical party animal and whose ex-Marine dad shamed him into volunteering for one of our wars; I wish the people who made this movie had been around to listen to Frank before he died, capture his soul the way they have captured these young pro- and anti-warriors in the dust of Iraq. The distributors are no less excellent than the movie–Michael Galinsky and Sukie Hawley never lie in the movies they make and they deserve our support. Attending this movie on this, the opening weekend in NYC, will make a huge difference in how the rest of the country perceives it. Attending this movie will also affect you.”

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