Filmmaking | Interviews

Meet the Soldiers

1 Dec , 2006  

Written by Erin Trahan | Posted by:

Sergeant Zack Bazzi's The War Tapes shows a side of Iraq you haven’t seen before.  Short-listed for an Academy Award nomination, the documentary screens this month in NH.

Sergeant Zack Bazzi is not an average civilian, and not an average soldier, either. He recorded 50 videotapes while serving in a combat unit in Iraq in 2004. His footage and his point of view, along with that of several fellow soldiers, feature prominently in a first-of-its-kind documentary, The War Tapes, which won Best Documentary at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, Best International Documentary at BritDoc, and is currently short-listed for an Academy Award nomination.

The War Tapes follows the preparation, deployment and homecoming of Bazzi, Sergeant Stephen Pink, and Specialist Michael Moriarty, all from the New Hampshire National Guard. These soldiers with cameras participated at will, recording what they wanted when they wanted — often while serving on the frontlines. They taped everything from sewage trucks emptying in the desert to soldiers’ horror after their Humvee accidentally struck and killed an Iraqi woman crossing the highway.

The War Tapes screens at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, NH on Thursday and Friday, Dec. 7 and 8. Bazzi will be present on Friday to answer questions after the film. Director Deborah Scranton, also from New Hampshire, will be present on Thursday.

Participants sent their tapes through an internal chain of command and kept up with Scranton via email and instant messaging for their 11-month deployment. The daunting editing process took more than a year. Scranton teamed up with Steve James (Stevie and Hoop Dreams) who sifted through about 1,000 hours of footage with a band of additional collaborators.

Bazzi, 27, was born in Lebanon to Shiite Muslim parents. They moved to the United States to escape civil war when he was 10 years old. His parents divorced within months of arrival, and he was raised by his mom in Watertown, Mass. Like many first generation Americans, he straddles two cultures. He speaks Arabic and in the film he often translates between fellow soldiers and Iraqi people.

Before Iraq he served in Bosnia then Kosovo. He volunteered for another overseas deployment with the N.H. National Guard and leaves for Afghanistan early next year.

When he realized that the film was becoming "a big deal" last spring, he typed up talking points to better handle the press. But eight months and dozens of screenings later, Bazzi leaves the notes at home.

Erin Trahan: There has been so much press coverage. How has it been acting as one of the film’s spokespersons?

Zack Bazzi: I don’t think about it that much. At Tribeca, a young lady was chaperoning me and said, ‘This must be the best thing, ever.’ I politely said, yeah, it’s cool, but I guess she missed the point. She wanted me to be all happy. But it’s just a ride. You get on, you get off. What’s important is being a good student, my military service, and the people I’ve met along the way.

ET: What prompted you to write ‘I am a soldier NOT a filmmaker’ on the website for The War Tapes"

Bazzi: A lot of people who do interviews, their knowledge of the military is zero. They think they have an idea of what it is from seeing Platoon or Hamburger Hill.  But sometimes they over dramatize or fill in the blanks from stuff they’ve read. A lot of times it’s just not that dramatic. Being a soldier is first and foremost for me. My complete and utter focus was the day-to-day mission.

ET: Did anyone ask you to comment on certain things like Halliburton, which is largely criticized in the film?

Bazzi: No. The title ‘director’ produces certain notions but we weren’t directed in the way one would think. [Deborah Scranton] was 4,000 miles away in a New Hampshire farmhouse! We were soldiers in a combat zone and the only direction you take is from your chain of command. We filmed whatever we wanted to film.

ET: But even still, you weren’t in the editing room, deciding which parts of your story would and would not be told. Did you feel like your story was true?

Bazzi: It reflected my politics accurately; it reflected my dedication to the job and my love for it. And to be perfectly frank, the last scene, the awkwardness with my mother was true. I think they did a fair and honest job.

ET: What’s your reaction to the soldier who said in the film, "Today we kill Bazzi and everyone that looks like Bazzi?"

Bazzi: Oh, he was kidding. I’ve never taken offense. Look, you’ve either got to grow a thick skin and take it or you’re going to go insane. If you have a big nose, goofy ears, you’re bald, any noticeable deformity and you are up a creek without a paddle. At the end of the day, if you’re willing to take a bullet for your country you better be able to take a joke. To be fair, I’ve said much worse. It’s part of the lifestyle to pick on each other and banter. I think it makes the unit more cohesive.

ET: So one of my favorite parts of the film is when you start talking about the importance recycling and how driving SUVs to feel safe is part of the problem. What did you drive here?

Bazzi: Oh, you had to ask! I drove a Corolla. I’d like a hybrid but they are pretty expensive. I’d like to see the government start to subsidize them.

ET: Is there anything this film teaches us about this war that nothing else has?

Bazzi: I think it reinforces the point that soldiers reflect on their mission. Some may have personal or political doubts but professionally speaking, everyone does what they do to the highest standards. People think we’re this monolithic bunch, that we are all walking in lock step. But that’s in a way an insult. We reflect America. Soldiers are liberal, conservative, atheist, environmentalist… you name it, we’re there.

Visit the extensive archives of postings from director Deborah Scranton, Bazzi and fellow soldiers with cameras, and the film’s collaborators, reviewers, and audiences at www.thewartapes.com.


Visit the extensive archives of postings from director Deborah Scranton, Bazzi and fellow soldiers with cameras, and the film’s collaborators, reviewers, and audiences at www.thewartapes.com.