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 films central character is an American female journalist (played by the very blond, very pretty Connie Nielsen) who becomes personally involved in the story shes covering– which causes her tremendous conflict and pain. Through her eyes, audiences gain insight, awareness about the human tragedies brought on by the war.
Id 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 I thought it was important to do so, not as an historical document, in as much as we think about films about Vietnam that were made years after the fact, says Haas.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.
Id read Wendy Stevensons 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. Wendys also a fiction writer– so, she was ideal to write the script.
MERIN: The Osama storys reflected in the script .
HAAS: Yes. That apparently happens frequently Iraqi families. And, based on Wendys observations, its 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 isnt being reported in the documentaries and news coming out of Iraq?
HAAS: I think people are dead to the news. And thats 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 theres 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 youre shedding light on in the film?
HAAS: Im reflecting what has been told to me. Im the vehicle, the films the medium. What were showing is that Iraqis are human, they have faces– theyre not statistics. And whatre the consequences of an occupation thats completely bungled. And, its a film about war profiteering– not just among the Americans, but the corrupt Iraqi mayor, whos probably the most corrupt character in the whole movie. Most American soldiers whore 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. Whered you shoot? Were you in danger?
HAAS: We shot in Morocco. It would be too dangerous to shoot in Iraq, youd be dead in half an hour. Wendy hasnt been there in several years. Shes writing a book about Iraq now, but its impossible for her to cover the story now. Her fiancé, whos a distinguished Iraqi war photographer– she based the character of Zaid (played by Mido Hamada) on him to some extent– whos widely recognized and used to go everywhere unarmed and unescorted, now cant go anywhere without armed body guards, and if he goes out in a Shia neighborhood hes with Shia bodyguards, or in a Sunni neighborhood, hes with Sunni bodyguards. And, even then, hes risking his life. So, we couldnt shoot there. Its a disaster. And I think the film, although its 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 its so complicated, why its so difficult, and why these things happen.
MERIN: To what extent is Wendys script autobiographical?
HAAS: Its based on her experiences. These were real people and real experiences, but of course its 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 its all about soldiers and always written by people who werent there. So this is a film that absolutely is about the Iraqis.