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By Merle Bertrand | March 20, 2005

“Insurgency.” “Roadside bomb.” “Coalition patrols.” We read these terms and others like them every day in the newspapers; watch the reports every night on the evening news. Yet, there’s never really been any way to see what life has actually been like for the U.S. troops fighting the ongoing insurgency in Iraq, until now. “Occupation: Dreamland” takes the you-are-there journalism of CNN or Fox News one step further, as co-directors Garrett Scott and Ian Olds chronicle the daily trials and tribulations of a squad of soldiers in Falluja, Iraq.

Considered the heart of the Sunni-led insurgency in post-Saddam Iraq, Falluja appears here as a God-forsaken wasteland of ruined buildings, miserable, bitter residents, and dirty trash-strewn streets. There’s not so much color in Falluja as there are simply different shades of brown.

No such uniformity exists amongst the subjects of this captivating documentary, however, except for their impressive professionalism in the face of unrelenting chaos and hostility…and the universal desire to get the f**k out of this miserable hellhole alive and in one piece. Based in “Camp Dreamland,” the nickname they’ve given their headquarters on the edge of the ruined city, these soldiers’ politics run the gamut of the spectrum, as do their views on the reason for the war, its value to America, and its prospects for success. Yet, to a man, they risk their lives every day to do the job they’ve been sent to do.

“Operation: Dreamland” provides an intimate look at what that job entails. Scott and Olds have loosely organized their film around a series of neat-on-paper “Mission Objectives;” bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo for getting shot at in a variety of different ways in a variety of different places. We see the troops’ futile efforts at mending public relations and witness as they round up suspected insurgents and hunt for hidden weapons caches. We see the hostility and fear on the faces of the occupied Iraqis, and come under fire with the soldiers on numerous occasions.

Cynical and blunt, yet full of ironic and caustic humor, “Occupation: Dreamland” succeeds in putting human faces on both the soldiers that we read about so clinically in our papers, as well as, to a lesser extent, the Iraqis who, not surprisingly, come across as both victims and aggressors. (After all, as one soldier asks, how would you feel if troops from another country kicked down your door in the middle of the night and barged into your home?)

These eight young Americans from all different backgrounds all share an attitude of resigned professionalism. In this sense, then, the greatest accomplishment of “Occupation: Dreamland” is showing those of us on the home front that it really is possible, Republican howling to the contrary aside, to support our troops without supporting the war itself.

After all, that’s essentially what at least some of the soldiers in “Occupation: Dreamland” themselves do day after day after bloody day.

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