NORFOLK-Amid the continuing reflection on President George W. Bush's legacy and President Barack Obama's commitment of more troops in Afghanistan and Pakistan, our nation's foreign policy remains a central concern.
A new documentary film, "In the Name of Democracy: America and Lt. Ehren Watada," made by two familiar voices in the Berkshires and the Northwest Corner, director Nina Rosenblum and writer Dennis Watlington, and narrated by stage, TV and film actor Eli Wallach, investigates the story of Lt. Watada and employs his anti-war stance to examine the Iraq War, the Bush administration's actions and the way many Americans have come to feel about the war.
The Norfolk Library will screen the film on April 6 at 7 p.m., with both the writer and director on hand to introduce their work.
"It's really like a look at a huge mosaic," Ms. Rosenblum said.
Lt. Watada became the first officer in the U.S. Army to refuse deployment to Iraq in June 2006, choosing to face court martial and a prison sentence instead of leading soldiers into harm's way as part of a conflict he deemed illegal and instigated for the wrong reasons.
After 9/11, he left a finance career to enlist, believing President Bush's affirmation of the existence of weapons of mass destruction and the dangers posed to Americans. As he analyzed the facts, preparing for what he would tell the men under his command, Lt. Watada experienced a shift in perspective and came to see the Iraq War as being based on a lie. As a result, he attributed his subsequent actions to his duty to the Constitution, something that he said superseded answering to an administration issuing illegitimate orders.
"It wasn't like he bought the line from anyone," said Ms. Rosenblum said. "It's really amazing-the power of education."
Lt. Watada went through two court martial procedures, the first of which ended in a forced mistrial and the second found in his favor on five counts when the argument of improper double jeopardy was accepted. He could now receive two years in jail for conduct unbecoming an officer. He currently serves the military at a desk job in Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Wash., waiting for the Army's next action.
The filmmakers are not new to the war, or rather its impetus. One of the 10 projects the two have completed together, "Code Yellow: Hospital at Ground Zero," followed the New York Downtown Hospital from the days after 9/11 to 15 months later when the final survivor was discharged.
Mr. Watlington, an Emmy-winning writer and contributor to publications such as The New York Times and Vanity Fair, attended The Hotchkiss School in Salisbury, and Ms. Rosenblum, an Oscar-nominee, has summered in Norfolk since childhood, when her father, photographer Walter Rosenblum, taught at the Yale Summer School of Art and Music.
While at a conference at Yale University, Ms. Rosenblum met Cornwall resident and author Jeremy Brecher. It was his book, "In the Name of Democracy: American War Crimes in Iraq and Beyond," and his initial knowledge of Lt. Watada's case that gave rise to the film, which, while based on the book, departs from political associations and aims to tell a balanced story.
"Our objective is to take a documentary and make a movie out of it without sacrificing any of the integrity of its content," Mr. Watlington explained.
The film, which both writer and director describe as an extremely difficult two-year process, splices material from four days spent with Lt. Watada in Washington with footage from other documentaries, CNN and other media outlets of members of the Bush administration, senators, anti-war demonstrations and reactions to Lt. Watada's case.
A news junkie, Ms. Rosenblum shot many of the clips off her television. The film features a peace vigil in Salisbury, a Hartford press conference involving religious leaders against torture and the cartoons of, and an interview with, Cornwall illustrator Marc Simont. Snippets from the speeches of American icons, such as President Dwight Eisenhower and Martin Luther King, lend an eerie sense of early warnings on the dangers of the military-industrial complex and the parallels between the Vietnam War and the Iraq War.
"My participation has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with American courage," Mr. Watlington said.
"In the Name of Democracy" reflects the desire to shed a liberal or conservative agenda, as well as the easy road of branding members of the previous administration as liars and criminals. Instead, the film pits their fear mongering against examples of their ineptitude, such as President Bush's middle finger gesture at a press conference and Karl Roves' rap performance at the 2007 Radio and Television Correspondents Association Dinner, and further contrasts those images against the well spoken, calm and unwaveringly principled arguments of Lt. Watada.
"As opposed to combating the people, you take their weapons away from them," said Mr. Watlington.
The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival and is showing at various venues in New York City. Ms. Rosenblum and Mr. Watlington are currently in talks with Tenth Street Entertainment to play a Papa Roach song, "Enough," over the end credits and cut a trailer with the music of the band Drowning Pool, in the hopes of drawing younger audiences. The filmmakers have been pleasantly surprised by the film's relevance, always a tricky element of documentaries, and are hopeful about its impact.
"At the end of it, I want boomers age mothers to not want their sons to go through [what Lt. Watada went through] and admire his courage," Mr. Watlington said.