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Muckraker Takes on War Profiteering

23 Sep, 2006 By: Holly J. Wagner

Most filmmakers want to sell as many tickets to, and DVDs of, their films as they possibly can. Robert Greenwald and Brave New Films want as many people as possible to see Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers, whether or not they buy tickets or discs.

The director is encouraging people to hold screenings of the movie, as they did with Greenwald's 2005 film, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price.

“We made a decision at Brave New Films, which is to focus on social change,” Greenwald said. “That is what the films do. We are not focused on profit. We're very clear.”

Getting folks to watch important documentaries is often a word-of-mouth proposition.

“My whole life was in traditional distribution,” he said. “There is no way on the face of the earth that you will get people to spend $8, $9, $10 to see a documentary that they disagree with. However, if your in-law says after dinner, ‘Let's sit down and watch the film,' or your church has a screening, or your dorm — because of that peer-to-peer system, it allows you to reach an extraordinary number of people.”

In this latest film, Greenwald hopes to show viewers another side of the Iraq war: the great volume of work formerly under military control that has been farmed out to civilian contractors like DynaCorp and Blackwater.

“With a large corporation, what do they do? They make profits. They cut corners. That may require sending a mission out when it was not supposed to be sent out,” Greenwald said. The film opens with emotional accounts by family members of civilians killed in Iraq while working in military support roles.

“I made a decision on both the Wal-Mart movie and this to use real people telling personal stories,” Greenwald said. “I wanted to go personal, small and human because there was no way to grasp the enormity of the statistics.”

Greenwald argues that American contractors taking over military functions like translation, interrogation and even construction jobs is taking a higher toll than Americans understand.

“War profiteering is viewed as a white-collar, victimless crime,” he said. But contractors operating under no-bid, “cost-plus” contracts — deals that guarantee higher profits if the companies bill more — are tarnishing foreigners' views of the United States.

“Even if you are Mother Teresa, it invites temptation,” he said. “We are less safe because of this. Iraqis see hospitals that are not built and schools that can't be attended, they have water that is not safe.” And they blame Americans, he said, because American companies charged with building new facilities aren't doing a good job.

The military also has ceded other key functions to contractors. Speakers in the film ask why, when soldiers are punished for prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib, there are no consequences for the civilian interrogators who were encouraging behavior that shocked the country and the world.

The bonus materials include a list of Web sites for people who want to work for change and delve into activities on Capitol Hill that shift ever more work to contractors, seemingly with less oversight. The dollar amounts alone are staggering. But it's the personal accounts Greenwald relies upon for his call to action.

“I don't think anybody's mind was ever changed or anybody was moved to do anything by a statistic,” he said.

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