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Sonia Nettnin Film Review: Fallujah 2004

Film Review: Fallujah 2004

By Sonia Nettnin

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“In Fallujah, an Iraqi man tells how he lost family members and friends to the U.S. occupation. Behind him are Iraqi men who live in Fallujah. (Photo courtesy of Director Toshikuni DOI)

The documentary “Fallujah 2004,” chronicles the death and destruction within Fallujah caused by U.S. Forces in April 2003 and April 2004.

Director Toshikuni DOI exposes the side of the U.S. war in Iraq that Americans do not see or hear in mainstream media. Through eyewitness accounts, DOI provides a media outlet for Iraqis to express what U.S. Forces did to them. Moreover, the film investigates how the violence spawned anger toward the U.S. occupation.

On April 28, 2003, a group of approximately 100 Iraqis in Fallujah demonstrated for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, who occupied a local school in Fallujah. The city - located 60 kilometers west of Baghdad - has 300,000 people who are mostly Sunni Arab.

U.S. Forces fired at the demonstrators with machine guns and killed 17 people. An eyewitness points to bullet holes on the walls of nearby buildings.

While a man balances on wooden crutches he shows what remains of his right leg. It was cut off at the knee because of a gunshot. When the shooting began, another man was shot in his house. His brother drove to the man’s house to rescue him. Upon arrival U.S. forces shot the man’s brother dead in the street. Then they shot his second brother, who suffers from severe injuries. When an ambulance arrived at the scene, U.S. Forces shot the vehicle also.

“We experienced a massacre by U.S. Forces,” one man said. “We hate them they just kill people and we can’t accept their ways.” As a result, eight more people died in the following days.

Regardless of U.S. media reports about Fallujah, DOI’s coverage of this tragic day was the root-cause of the violence in Fallujah. Throughout the year, people experienced basic utility shortages. For example, electricity runs a few hours a day. In a country where summer temperatures exceed 50 degrees Celsius, people sleep on rooftops. Even though the country’s predominant resource is crude oil, people wait in gas lines for hours - if they can afford it.

On March 31, 2004 Iraqis killed four American contractors.

One man described how people cut the burning American bodies with shovels. DOI uses footage and photos of their desecrated bodies.

For the next 25 days, Fallujah experienced intermittent attacks. U.S. Forces bombed the northwest of Fallujah, the Julan District the worst. Building rubble surrounds the top of a mosque like a stone mote. One man points to the rubble of what was his home. He lost his two daughters: Wafa, six years-old and Zahra, four years-old.

While he holds a photograph of his late children, the camera zooms in and reveals their faces.

“Those are my daughter’s dolls,” he says as he points to a blond-haired doll covered with soot - propped against the remnants of a wall.

He shows another photograph of his late wife, Enad, 25 years-old. The bomb that dropped on their house cut off her legs and pelted shrapnel into her head. Two days later, she died.

The man’s face quivers; he holds back tears and his hands shake.

In the Al-Askarey District, one woman, Sabiha, cries uncontrollably. Every time she looks at her lap she sees her late son, Rasul, eight years-old. During the siege the family tried to escape, but a U.S. sniper shot her son in the head with two bullets. It blew off his skull and he fell into his mother’s lap.

Her daughter suffered the same death in the car. Sabiha replays the day in her mind, indicative of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“I can just pray to Allah,” she says while she dabs her eyes with her wet handkerchief.

On April 6, 2004, the third day of the siege, another house in the Julan District had 31 family members. During the attack, relatives of the homeowner sought refuge in his house because he lived in a section away from the bombing. While women chatted and their children slept, a bomb dropped on the house. It killed 30 people.

“I was the only survivor,” one man said. “I lost my whole family.”

He points to a baby bottle covered with dirt. In the rubble is a woman’s scorched scalp with long, black hair.

The director captures victim’s testimonies with extraordinary detail. DOI interviewed a range of people and he gives them the space to share their views. The translation of testimonies from Arabic to English subtitles flows smoothly. The text translation of eyewitness accounts is clear and concise.

While Iraqis tell their life accounts the director uses street maps of Fallujah, to orient viewers geographically.

I recommend this documentary to people who want to know what happened in Fallujah and how the U.S. occupation of Iraq affects the country’s people.

The film is 55 minutes in length and free of media spin.


When I asked Director DOI why he decided to go to Fallujah and produce this documentary, he said:

“In April 2004, three Japanese persons were kidnapped in Iraq. All media in Japan reported this issue as top news every day just as this is only one news in Iraq. But at that time, the US forces were sieging and attacking Falluja. We got some information about the damages and victims from the attacks through foreign media like BBC or CNN. I was so shocked self-centered mind of Japanese media and people. They thought the lives of the Japanese were much more valuable than the lives of Iraqis and they just count "the death" of Iraqi people by numbers. It "dehumanizes" the people in Iraq. I wanted to show those deaths by names and as life-size issues and to tell audience that each persons who were killed had had hopes and dreams for their own lives, and families and friends who grieved for their deaths. I wanted to show the audience they were human beings who had feeling just as we were. It means to "humanize" the people who were killed unreasonably and counted just by numbers.

Second reason is to ask and show the audience what is "terrorism". US president Bush emphasizes “War against terrorism" and justifies the killing innocent people in Afghanistan and Iraq. So what we should call the killing that you watched in my documentary film. Isn’t it "terrorism"? My simple definition of "terrorism" is to kill or harm innocent common people for political purposes. So the incident in Falluja was not "terrorism"? That was “terrorism by the state". We should emphasize the "state terrorism” more. We should not call it "War " nor " War against terrorism".

That is my message and reason why I produced the documentary of Falluja.”


Sonia Nettnin is a freelance writer. Her articles and reviews demonstrate civic journalism, with a focus on international social, economic, humanitarian, gender, and political issues. Media coverage of conflicts from these perspectives develops awareness in public opinion.

Nettnin received her bachelor's degree in English literature and writing. She did master's work in journalism. Moreover, Nettnin approaches her writing from a working woman's perspective, since working began for her at an early age.

She is a poet, a violinist and she studied professional dance. As a writer, the arts are an integral part of her sensibility. Her work has been published in the Palestine Chronicle, Scoop Media and the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. She lives in Chicago.

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