Filmmaker Mike Shiley presented his award winning documentary Inside Iraq: The Untold Stories at Temple’s Ambler campus on Tuesday to a handful of students and Temple faculty, followed by an open Q&A session.
Shiley is not a journalist. In fact, he had no experience in the field prior to the film, aside from being an avid traveler and having the desire to become a war reporter.
“All of the reporting that was going on in the media was very similar,” Shiley says in the film. “It was all about the war, and killing, and press conferences, and car bombs, but it never really told me anything about the people in Iraq-what was going on behind the scenes,” Shiley said.
Armed only with a digital camcorder and a fabricated ABC press pass, Shiley quit his job at Nextel after the invasion of Iraq began in 2003 and infiltrated the country to document the consequences of war.
The film displayed the plight of the Iraqi people as they attempt to live their lives in the midst of a gruesome conflict as well as the trials and tribulations of the American personnel, portraying them at times as barbaric invaders and other times as compassionate saviors.
“I just decided to try to be that one voice in the entire conflict that shows people an unfiltered look at what I found to be happening over there, regardless of if what I found was liberal, conservative, or neutral,” said Shiley. “Even though, looking back on it, I would never do it again.”
Shiley’s documentary has gone on to receive more than five awards, including becoming the 2004 Activist Film Festival and Ashland International Film Festival official selections.
While in Iraq, he was awarded two civilian combat medals after he completed a 90-minute crash course on operating an M1-Abrams tank gun just so he could get a clearer camera angle of the action.
“I’m not sure if I’m proud of that or not, but I’m proud that I was able to make this film and get those shots.”
While less than two-dozen people attended they event, several audience members spoke up after the film. Most of the questions were not about the production of the film or Shiley himself. Instead, the dialogue focused on political discourse.
One group in particular criticized Shiley’s work to such an extent that he became noticeably incensed.
After a line of critical questioning mostly focusing on an allegedly unfair portrayal of American soldiers, Shiley abruptly cut one of the students off, saying, “Just get right to the point. I’ll hear you out, just get to the question.”
Those students, which included a marine, were not available for comment after an early departure from the event.
Still, the vast majority of those who attended viewed the film in a more than favorable light.
“I thought it was truthful,” said Jason Price, a criminal justice major and soldier in the Army, who was serving in Iraq during Shiley’s filming. “There are good and bad sides to the war, and I think he showed both of them.”
“I thought that it presented a rather balanced view of Iraq,” said Jim Duffy, Public Relations and Web Site Coordinator for the Ambler Campus. “He put himself in personal risk to present a ground level view and I don’t think that a lot of people have seen what goes on at that level.”
Shiley followed “Inside Iraq” with “Dark Water Rising” in 2006, which is about animal rescue in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and has just released his newest film, “Solving Immigration” this year.
Sam Benesby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org