You don’t want to miss this event! THE LIST will screen at the Bronx Documentary Center THIS Saturday, April 6th, at 7:30PM – but what’s really special about this showing is the Q&A that follows. Kirk W. Johnson, the main subject of the film, will join Saad Saaed, an Iraqi who formerly worked for the U.S. government, and George Packer (New Yorker) for a lively discussion about the film and the current plight of U.S. affiliated Iraqis. Advance tickets on sale now!
We should say: It’s about time! But we want to say: Thank you. Thank you to the 19 U.S. Representatives–Democrats and Republicans—who have sent a letter to the President with this message: Extend the Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) legislation! The SIV legislation is critical to fulfilling America’s moral obligation to the Iraqis who supported our military and government during the war. These Iraqis – considered U.S. allies by us, are considered traitors in Iraq. They are in danger, and without Congressional action the SIV Program designed to help them will expire. Here’s the background: In 2008 the National Defense Authorization Act approved up to 5,000 special visas annually for five years for Iraqi and Afghan nationals. In 5 years, only 22% of the available Iraqi SIVs have been used. It’s even less for Afghans: 12% issued. In our documentary THE LIST and our NYT Op-Doc, we highlight the failure of… LEARN MORE
Kirk Johnson’s new book, “To Be a Friend Is Fatal: A Story from the Aftermath of America at War,” tells the story of The List Project and the Iraqis who stepped forward to help the United States. The book is being published by Scriber and will hit bookshelves in July 2013
With the release of NYT Op-Doc FORGOTTEN IN IRAQ — based on our feature film THE LIST — director Beth Murphy writes a director’s statement of her personal experience and questions President Obama’s role in this issue.
“Beth Murphy depicts courage and compassion in her new film, THE LIST,” says Women’s Adventure Magazine in its latest issue. Read Article
Anna Khanakah and her family (featured in THE LIST) are celebrating their second anniversary of resettling in America. In our Q&A with her this week, Anna has a lot to say about the journey from Iraq, her new life, and her experience filming the documentary. [Background: After working in high profile jobs for the U.S. Army at State Department for 7 years inside Iraq, Anna knew Islamic militants were aware of her work and considered her a traitor against her country. Fearing for her life, she applied for resettlement in the United States. She was denied. Two years passed before she was resettled in California – near her two sisters who had been evacuated from Iraq in the mid-90s because of their own affiliation with America.] Did you have any concerns when taking part in filming “The List”? Anna: There was more than a concern. It is difficult for a… LEARN MORE
On Sunday July 29, THE LIST will be screening in the hometown of director, Beth Murphy, at the Woods Hole Film Festival. We asked her a few questions on the dawn of her return home for the screening, about the upcoming festival and what comes next. Where does the Woods Hole Film Festival stand in terms of some of the other festivals you’ve been to? My favorite festivals are ones that have great market potential, the opportunity to connect in a meaningful way with audiences, and the chance for a fantastic filmmaker experience. What really is home is the Woods Hole Film Festival, a gem of a festival, and one that really cares about independent filmmakers. One way they do that is through an exciting new initiative with the online international news site GlobalPost. This collaboration supports documentary works-in-progress, and THE LIST was the first film selected for this initiative…. LEARN MORE
Recently, we sat down with our Director of Photography & Senior Editor, Kevin Belli to pick his brain on how he got his start at Principle Pictures and all that he wishes to accomplish. What inspired you to get involved in documentary filmmaking? Seeing documentary films for the first time, films like Don’t Look Back and Crumb and Gimme Shelter, made me view documentaries as an actual art form. Not only did the films really inspire me, but I realized it was the avenue to see more of the world and be able to film real stories, and that was a lot more appealing to me than creating something fictional or from a script. The truth is stranger than fiction, right? How did you begin to work with Principle Pictures? Ten years ago when I was working as a news editor, Beth was looking for an assistant editor. When the… LEARN MORE
After seeing THE LIST’s World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this weekend, Variety’s Ronnie Scheib made our day by filing this review: The Lord High Executioner in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Mikado” gloats about his “little list” of future victims, but Kirk Johnson totes around a bigger one in “The List” — several huge binders’ worth. On it are names, credentials, commendations and profiles of Iraqis whose faithful service on behalf of various U.S. forces and agencies have exposed them and their families to terrorist reprisals. Though the pic traces Oskar Schindler-esque heroic actions by a lone American in a fight for justice, its effectiveness stems equally from the autonomy it grants its Iraqi protagonists. Strong docu should hit theaters prior to smallscreen play. While opposed in principle to the invasion of Iraq, Johnson felt his extensive knowledge of Islamic culture and fluency in Arabic compelled him to join the… LEARN MORE
Associate Producer Nathan Tisdale reflects on the importance of female directors. I was glad to see Melissa Silverstein’s article on IndieWire pick out the films directed by women at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. Reading her recent posts about the stagnant growth of female directors in film, I am proud to see Beth Murphy and her fellow female directors featured. These women bring a unique voice to documentary and narrative filmmaking. Melissa identified a solution to reverse the trend of underdog women directors – start talking about them and championing their films! Tribeca will be a good place to start.
With THE LIST heading to the Tribeca Film Festival for its World Premiere, I want to thank my incredible team for everything that went into making this film over the past 4.5 years. We faced many challenges, and now I want you to enjoy all the rewards of your hard work. There have been great contributions made by so many: DP/Editor Kevin Belli, Executive Producers Charles Sennott and Nick Quested, Producer Sean Flynn, Composer John Califra, Graphic Artist Peggy Foley, Story Consultant Nina Gilden-Seavey, Associate Producers Beth Balaban, Alyssa Gantz and Nathan Tisdale, and dozens of talented photogs, production assistants and interns. I also want to thank Kirk Johnson and all the Iraqis on his list who shared their often harrowing–but always inspiring–stories with us.
We’re proud to announce that we’ve received a grant from The Fledgling Fund for educational outreach with THE LIST! The Fledgling Fund gives support to media projects that help to change the lives of at-risk and marginalized groups and communities. Out of 326 letters of inquiry that Fledgling received, THE LIST was one of only 22 grantees selected. This funding will be used to create a core standards-based curriculum and study guide with Columbia University Teachers College, and to build our partnership with veterans who are overcoming issues of PTSD. Thank you Fledgling for your continued and unwavering support! And congratulations to all the other grant awardee – it’s an honor to be in your company.
We’ve just returned from our trip to the Czech Republic, where we recorded the orchestrated tracks of our original score for THE LIST in a studio just outside Prague. As Kevin and I walked in we were stunned when we heard John’s compositions played by live musicians for the first time. It’s unbelievable to me that we had forty members of the Czech Philharmonic recording tracks for our film. It’s something we’ve never experienced before and I don’t know how we lived without it. Our composer, John Califra, has really inspired us through the score he’s composed. It’s unified the vision that Kevin and I have had for this project since the beginning. John said it best, “This is about Kirk and what he’s done as an American being [in Iraq]… He represents an ideal of what [America] pretends to be but isn’t.” John’s vision for this score has always… LEARN MORE
Thanks to our anticipated trip to Prague to record THE LIST film score with members of the Czech Philharmonic, I am re-reading the masterful “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.” In this passage about “characters” I’m reminded of how we as documentary filmmakers make decisions about those we feature in our films: “…characters are not born like people, of woman; they are born of a situation, a sentence, a metaphor containing in a nutshell a basic human possibility that the author thinks no one else has discovered or said something essential about… The characters… are my own unrealized possibilities… an investigation of human life in the trap the world has become.”
Kevin Belli is Principle Pictures’ Senior Editor and Director of PhotographyA whole day of editing, that’s how a typical day at Principle Pictures looks like for me, these last few months. I come in and review what I’ve done the day before. I try to macromanage myself and set daily goals. You can get really overwhelmed when you think about an hour long film for example. Every scene is like its own little film and it has to make sense in the context of the bigger story.The most important thing for the rough cut is establishing structure. Beth Murphy (Director) and I will sit down and work out the film’s structure. The order information is presented, the order of the scenes, how the information is shared, how much information is being revealed… all of that establishes the pacing of the film. I like to think creatively about how to tell… LEARN MORE
When Kevin and I return from Iraq, we’re coming back to our new office in Boston. Plymouth has been our home since I founded the company in my basement over 10 years ago. There’s a lot of pride, countless memories, and a ton of tapes packed up in that U-Haul that’s making its way up I-93 North today! So thankful to everyone who made it happen — Sean, Alyssa, Beth (Balaban), Kate, Danny, Jim (Sean’s Dad), Alyssa’s Dad, Andrew, and Dennis!! You all completely and totally rock!
Next to me on the couch is a plastic bag filled with samoon, the eye-shaped Iraqi bread that Umm Muhammad brings every morning—warm and soft. Now it is hardened from sitting in the hot sun all day. There’s a baseball bat resting nearby—put there by Carmen, a foreign correspondent and our housemate, who uses it to smack the flat bread over the front yard wall. On the other side, it lands with a soft thud, momentarily enveloped in a burst of dust. Even though Jadriya is the most exclusive area of Baghdad—it’s where President Jalal Talabani lives—the streets are dirt and littered with trash. And the electricity is out, again. From my seat on the living room couch that’s been moved outside, I can’t see the children playing on the street beyond the wall, but I can hear them—their shouts muffled by the constant hum of generators. “Generator city,” our… LEARN MORE
Every day people tell us to be careful. That’s because every day the bombs going off across the country make it into the news. Many of them are in Baghdad. Most of them are car bombs. Just today 27 people were killed. Officials have known for a very, very long time that stopping car bombs is a top priority. That’s why they invested in expensive bomb detectors, and outfitted every checkpoint with them. When I say expensive, I mean more-than-the-price-of-your-car-expensive. They’re between $20,000 and $60,000 a pop. And when I say every checkpoint, I mean the roadblocks that are set up about every ten feet or so. Seriously, it’s hard to go more than a minute without encountering a checkpoint. That means every car driving through the city has dozens of opportunities to be sniffed out for TNT and other explosives that will turn the vehicle into a deadly inferno…. LEARN MORE
These stories I’ve been sharing — and will continue to share — from the road often have very little to do with the actual subject matter of the documentary we’re filming. That’s intentional. I don’t want to give the whole story away, and I’m contractually obligated not to! Filming here has all the highs and lows I enjoy about the roller coaster filmmaking business itself. The common wisdom among journalists is to come in wanting 100%, expect 75%, and settle for 50%. Good thing I came in wanting 200%, so now I only have to settle for 100%. We’re filming every day, and so is a local crew we’ve hired. They are incredibly hardworking and talented, and the cameraman’s back story is fantastic. Remember when the guy hucked a couple shoes at President Bush when he visited Baghdad at the end of 2008? Yasser, our local cameraman, is the guy… LEARN MORE
The desert knows me well, the night and the mounted men.The battle and the sword, the paper and the pen. – Abul Tayyeb al-Mutanabi Ever hear a new sound — one you’ve never heard before but you know you’ll never forget? It happened to me once in Etretat, thanks to the shingle beach. The new sound then? Water crushing the small stones. And it happened to me again today, thanks to a coffee vendor who turned his two porcelain coffee cups into castanets while walking up and down Mutanabi Street. Central Baghdad’s Mutanabi Book Market — it’s named after a classical Arab poet, so it’s not surprising that this is considered the intellectual capitol of the city. Scholars, students, soldiers and shopkeepers come to buy and sell magazines, maps, magnifying glasses, prayer beads, video games, stuffed animals, and–of course–books. There aren’t too many women around, but men are hanging out… LEARN MORE
Good thing Kevin brought all those anti-inflammatories… Not a good day for our driver, either. This happened on the streets of Sulaymaniyah, Kurdistan (in northern Iraq) just before he was pulled over by the cops for an illegal turn. We’re heading back to Baghdad first thing in the morning where, ironically, it may feel a bit safer.
The trip to the military’s media social should have taken about 5 minutes. But since the bus transporting us (17 international journalists) couldn’t fit through Slayer Tunnel, we enjoyed the 45-minute scenic tour through Baghdad’s Victory Base Camp… past the True Value Hardware store, Paris Boutique and bowling alley… alongside the never-ending rows of concrete T-walls… and, finally, a right onto Vigilant Road toward the opulent Al Faw Palace and “the juicer” (see picture below – don’t you wish you had a massive orange?). As I met and mingled with our military’s impressive key leaders and senior staff on a beautiful deck overlooking Saddam’s “Water Palace,” a band (whose sole purpose is to increase morale around the country) played hits from the Eagles and Pink Floyd, and some guys hit golf balls into the lake. Our conversations were interrupted by this request: please bow your heads, the chaplain will now… LEARN MORE
Before leaving for Iraq, I was thinking that it’d be great to implant a GPS tracking device… in my arm or leg, behind my ear. Anything external can be taken from you, and there are certain areas that mandate alerting others about your whereabouts. Video Above: Martin Chulov from the Guardian alerted London about our travels into Abu Ghraib.
We headed west out of Baghdad today – toward Anbar Province, birthplace of the Sons of Iraq movement. Also known as the Awakening Council or Sahwa, the Sons of Iraq are Sunni Arabs who once took up arms against the United States, but then joined forces with us to fight Al Qaeda. Iraqi officials refused to let us into the area without a military escort. “If you go in there alone, you won’t make it out alive,” the Baghdad Commander told our translator on the phone this morning. (Picture Above: Kevin gets into an Iraqi Army humvee) Here’s what we knew going in: A man and his two sons were shot to death at their home in al-Zaidan village, a farming area of Abu Ghraib. This is still like Iraq’s Wild West. Suspicions were that the killers got the wrong guy… that they really wanted the dead man’s brother who… LEARN MORE