Bad Voodoo’s War @ The Frontline Club

Friday night I made my first visit(!) to the Frontline Club. I was going to watch a screening of a film called Bad Voodoo’s War directed by Deborah Scranton.
Deborah, who’d never met me before, very kindly agreed to put me on her guest list for the event. So I’ve got to say nice things about it, right? But with my interests declared, I did really like the film. Honestly.
Bad Voodoo’s War is the story of a platoon of US National Guard soldiers deployed to look after convoys going in and out of Iraq from Kuwait. And this is very much their story, because the soldiers in the film shot it all themselves using cameras that Deborah provided – a technique she described as ‘virtual embedding’ or ‘telling the story from the inside out’.
Yes, Deborah guided them using the wonders of modern communication technology but her aim was to let these soldiers inform her, and in turn the film’s audience, what it was like to be at war.
The result made for fascinating viewing and it was a good example of how you can make ‘pro-am journalism’ work. Deborah had picked a couple of great characters to focus the story around – Sfc. Toby Nunn and Spc. Jason Shaw. We followed them as they drove seemingly never-ending convoys through the dangerous highways of Iraq.
For me, the iconic image of the film was the view through the onboard camera of one of the vehicles during a night convoy.
All you could see was the green glow of the infrared illuminated truck in front of you – at one level a mind-numbingly boring view, but at another, an incredibly tense view because of the constant threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) on the road. As the soldiers strained their eyes and peered into the darkness wondering what was going to happen next, so too did the viewer.
The other thing that stood out for me was Toby Nunn expressing his frustration about the nature of the war. All he and his soldiers did was sit and wait to be attacked, hoping, praying, that they wouldn’t be caught in an IED attack.
Even on the occasion in the film when we see a Bad Voodoo Company convoy being attacked, Toby decides that going after the perpetrators would be counter-productive because he was almost certain they were corrupt elements of the Iraqi Police. This was a war that required restraint and psychological strength; to give into feelings of revenge was to lose part of the struggle.
This was the film’s first showing in the UK. I know Deborah was going to Exeter College, Oxford next, but not sure what her plans are beyond that to show the film in the UK. Maybe she’ll let me know… Doesn’t look like it will be airing on UK TV but you can watch it on the PBS website.
Q&As with BBC journalist Paul Wood
I know at least one person who has expressed an interest in what was said here. To be honest, I don’t think there was a great deal that came out of it.
I suppose the one thing interesting was that Jason Shaw’s and Toby Nunn’s participation in the film had consequences for their military careers but Deborah was reluctant to go into too much detail on this.
There was also some discussion about OPSEC (Deborah didn’t use footage of convoys going in and out of bases for example), embedding and also whether this sort of film could be used to tell the story of British troops. There seemed to be general agreement that it would be great if it was possible, but not much optimism that it would be.