In 2004, American actor Liev Schreiber saw an MTV segment on Iraqi film student Muthana Mohmed, whose dreams of becoming a filmmaker had been thwarted by the bombing of his university during "Operation Iraqi Freedom." Schreiber, then preparing to film his directorial debut, Everything is Illuminated, in Prague, invited Muthana to work as a production assistant on the film.
Nina Davenport was hired to document Muthana's experience as an intern on the Hollywood movie. But Schreiber's well-intentioned gesture doesn't result in the inspiring story everyone had hoped for, as differing expectations and agendas clash. In particular, Muthana begrudgingly performs or shirks responsibility for the tasks assigned to him, repeatedly squandering a golden opportunity.
For OPERATION FILMMAKER, Davenport chronicled Muthana's story over a two-year period, from his work in Prague as a P.A. on Schreiber's Holocaust drama and later on Doom, a sci-fi film starring "The Rock," to a stint at a London film school, periodically contrasting his experiences abroad with scenes of Muthana's family and friends in wartorn Baghdad.
While documenting Muthana's relationships with the producers, crews and stars of both films-characterized by a psychologically fascinating stew of good intentions, bad faith, liberal guilt, and opportunism. Davenport herself eventually becomes embroiled in the young man's perennial financial difficulties and visa problems. In its continuing but futile search for a "happy ending," OPERATION FILMMAKER exposes the often mutually manipulative relationships between filmmakers and their subjects.
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“Amazing... OPERATION FILMMAKER, with its cliff-hanger ending, is an astute look at the unacknowledged wounds of colonialism that so pervade every aspect of our involvement in the Middle East.” —David Lamble, Bay Area Reporter
2009 Nominee, Notable Videos for Adults, American Library Association
Grand Jury Award for Best Documentary Feature, 2008 Florida Film Festival
Special Jury Prize, 2007 Chicago International Film Festival
Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary, 2007 AFI Fest
KNF Dutch Film Critics Award, 2007 Rotterdam International Film Festival
2007 Toronto International Film Festival
“This extraordinary film about human nature is both a fine example of and challenge to the documentary genre. Highly recommended for all libraries...” —Lawrence R. Maxted, Library Journal
“Fascinating.” —Cyril Pearl, Video Business
“Raises a host of fascinating (and troubling) questions... the story Davenport chronicles proves addictive, particularly for film buffs that are addicted to these kinds of in-depth peeks at what happens on a film set when the cameras aren’t rolling.” —Ethan Alter, Giant Magazine
★★★ “A ruefully hilarious documentary... Recommended.” —E. Hulse, Video Librarian
"Not since Luis Buńuel have we had such a wonderful joke on do-gooder liberalism." —Gerald Peary, The Boston Phoenix
"Fascinatingly complicated... striking and complex... Davenport sharpens the film's focus from social-political farce to the kind of incriminating self-portrait that transcends pure guilty liberal narcissism and encapsulates the entire situation between American and Iraq." —Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
"Meaty issues of media responsibility and individual self-determination, coupled with inside-baseball aspects of set politics and immigration policies, elevate this unintentional analogy on U.S. involvement in Iraq to a hot-button level... raises pithy questions sure to provoke animated discussion pro and con." —Eddie Cockrell, Variety
"Deftly portraying a range of issues that the war has created for Americans and Iraqis, Operation Filmmaker is also a fascinating examination of the fraught dynamic that can develop when a documentarian and his or her subject have clashing agendas." —Jason Anderson Eye Weekly
"An essential study in intercultural communication and the ways that it can go so very wrong... Davenport's direction is intricate and her editing is sublime." —Eric Kohn, indieWIRE
"Those interested in moviemaking and politics shouldn't miss OPERATION FILMMAKER." —Lou Harry's A&E
"Invaluable as a tool for other documentary filmmakers, and fantastically engaging to viewers more used to seeing a story founded on facts which would ordinarily result in some sort of a success." —Elliot V. Kotek, Moving Pictures