Jennifer Merin interviews “The Situation” director, Philip Haas

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Philip Haas commissioned journalist Wendell Stevenson to develop and write the script for “The Situation” based on firsthand observations while she was reporting on the Iraqi situation both before and during American occupation.

The film’s central character is an American female journalist (played by the very blond, very pretty Connie Nielsen) who becomes personally involved in the story she’s covering– which causes her tremendous conflict and pain. Through her eyes, audiences gain insight, awareness about the human tragedies brought on by the war.

I’d never before made a film with an original script, nor one with an overt political point of view, and I was interested in changing gears, and, as a citizen, wanted to make a film about Iraq. I thought it was important to do so, not as an historical document, in as much as we think about films about Vietnam that were made years after the fact,” says Haas.

“I thought it was important to do it now, in the middle of the conflagration.”

“I’d read Wendy Stevenson’s reporting from Iraq and found it to be very accurate and humanistic– especially a piece she wrote called “Osama,” in which she followed a young jihadi as he went around trying to blow things us, while his brother was actually working for the Americans. I found it compelling. Wendy’s also a fiction writer– so, she was ideal to write the script.”

MERIN: The “Osama” story’s reflected in the script….

HAAS: Yes. That apparently happens frequently Iraqi families. And, based on Wendy’s observations, it’s common wisdom among Iraqis and American soldiers in country, the current conditions are thought by Iraqis to be worse than they were under Sadaam.

MERIN: Do you think that impression isn’t being reported in the documentaries and news coming out of Iraq?

HAAS: I think people are dead to the news. And that’s why I wanted to make a fiction feature film. I wanted to do something that would get under peoples’ skin and give a human face to this Iraqi and American tragedy. I mean, I think there’s wonderful reporting going on, but I think people have become anesthetized to the statistics of how many people are being killed and maimed. One of the purposes of making this film was to try and illuminate something of great darkness.

MERIN: Exactly what do you think you’re shedding light on in the film?

HAAS: I’m reflecting what has been told to me. I’m the vehicle, the film’s the medium. What we’re showing is that Iraqis are human, they have faces– they’re not statistics. And what’re the consequences of an occupation that’s completely bungled. And, it’s a film about war profiteering– not just among the Americans, but the corrupt Iraqi mayor, who’s probably the most corrupt character in the whole movie. Most American soldiers who’re there are probably more well-meaning than corrupt, but there are incidents of corruption, abuse of power, like when the soldiers throw the young Iraqis off the bridge.

MERIN: The footage of ambushes and battles is very news-like in style, very convincing. Where’d you shoot? Were you in danger?

HAAS: We shot in Morocco. It would be too dangerous to shoot in Iraq, you‘d be dead in half an hour. Wendy hasn’t been there in several years. She’s writing a book about Iraq now, but it’s impossible for her to cover the story now. Her fiancé, who’s a distinguished Iraqi war photographer– she based the character of Zaid (played by Mido Hamada) on him to some extent– who’s widely recognized and used to go everywhere unarmed and unescorted, now can’t go anywhere without armed body guards, and if he goes out in a Shia neighborhood he’s with Shia bodyguards, or in a Sunni neighborhood, he’s with Sunni bodyguards. And, even then, he’s risking his life. So, we couldn’t shoot there. It’s a disaster. And I think the film, although it’s been in the works since a couple of years ago, is more relevant now than ever because it takes the microcosm of life in Iraq and shows you why it’s so complicated, why it’s so difficult, and why these things happen.

MERIN: To what extent is Wendy’s script autobiographical?

HAAS: It’s based on her experiences. These were real people and real experiences, but of course it’s fictionalized and changed– the same way that in literary novels, Graham Greene goes to Vietnam and writes a book like “The Quiet American.“ Or goes to Havana and write “Our Man in Havana.“ Because if you look at what happens with most American films, they mostly want to reflect the American point of view, so it’s all about soldiers and always written by people who weren’t there. So this is a film that absolutely is about the Iraqis.

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Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin

Jennifer Merin is the Film Critic for Womens eNews and contributes the CINEMA CITIZEN blog for and is managing editor for Women on Film, the online magazine of the Alliance of Women Film Journalists, of which she is President. She has served as a regular critic and film-related interviewer for The New York Press and About.com. She has written about entertainment for USA Today, The L.A. Times, US Magazine, Ms. Magazine, Endless Vacation Magazine, Daily News, New York Post, SoHo News and other publications. After receiving her MFA from Tisch School of the Arts (Grad Acting), Jennifer performed at the O'Neill Theater Center's Playwrights Conference, Long Wharf Theater, American Place Theatre and LaMamma, where she worked with renown Japanese director, Shuji Terayama. She subsequently joined Terayama's theater company in Tokyo, where she also acted in films. Her journalism career began when she was asked to write about Terayama for The Drama Review. She became a regular contributor to the Christian Science Monitor after writing an article about Marketta Kimbrell's Theater For The Forgotten, with which she was performing at the time. She was an O'Neill Theater Center National Critics' Institute Fellow, and then became the institute's Coordinator. While teaching at the Universities of Wisconsin and Rhode Island, she wrote "A Directory of Festivals of Theater, Dance and Folklore Around the World," published by the International Theater Institute. Denmark's Odin Teatret's director, Eugenio Barba, wrote his manifesto in the form of a letter to "Dear Jennifer Merin," which has been published around the world, in languages as diverse as Farsi and Romanian. Jennifer's culturally-oriented travel column began in the LA Times in 1984, then moved to The Associated Press, LA Times Syndicate, Tribune Media, Creators Syndicate and (currently) Arcamax Publishing. She's been news writer/editor for ABC Radio Networks, on-air reporter for NBC, CBS Radio and, currently, for Westwood One's America In the Morning. She is also a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. For her AWFJ archive, type "Jennifer Merin" in the Search Box (upper right corner of screen).