Shooting in the Dark: an analysis of Collateral Murder
Middle Eastern Cinemas ESSAY Mark 24apr2215 2014
Deadline: 25 April 2014
Student Number: 100032079 DEV
Word Count: 5190
05:30 There's one guy moving down there but he's uh, he's wounded.
05:40 One-Eight, we also have one individual, uh, appears to be wounded trying to
05:49 Roger, we're gonna move down there.
06:01 He's getting up.
06:02 Maybe he has a weapon down in his hand?
06:04 No, I haven't seen one yet.
06:07 I see you guys got that guy crawling right now on that curb.
06:08 Yeah, I got him. I put two rounds [30mm cannon shells] near him, and you guys
were shooting over there too, so uh we'll see.
06:14 Yeah, roger that.
06:33 Come on, buddy.
06:38 All you gotta do is pick up a weapon.
07:07 Yeah Bushmaster, we have a van that's approaching and picking up the bodies.
07:14 Where's that van at?
07:15 Right down there by the bodies.
07:16 Okay, yeah.
07:25 Let me engage.
07:28 Can I shoot?
07:31 Roger. Break. Uh Crazyhorse One-Eight request permission to uh engage.
07:36 Picking up the wounded?
07:38 Yeah, we're trying to get permission to engage.
07:41 Come on, let us shoot!
07:56 This is Bushmaster Seven, go ahead.
08:06 This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. This is Bushmaster Seven, roger. Engage.
08:12 One-Eight, engage.
08:13 Come on!
08:21 We're engaging.
08:26 Coming around. Clear.
08:27 Roger. Trying to uh...
08:35 I hear 'em co.. I lost 'em in the dust.
08:36 I got 'em.
08:41 I'm firing.
08:42 This is Bushmaster Forty got any BDA [Battle Damage Assessment] on that
08:47 This is ah Crazyhorse. Stand by.
08:50 I think the van's disabled.
10:11 Oh yeah, look at that. Right through the windshield!
10:14 Ha ha!
10:16 All right. There were uh approximately four to five individuals in that
truck, so I'm counting about twelve to fifteen.
10:56 I think we whacked [killed] 'em all.
10:58 That's right, good.
Radio communications between two US combat helicopters and their command center,
transcribed from the files recorded by the vehicles' on board systems on 12 July 2007,
Al-Amin al-Thaniyah, Baghdad, Iraq
On the 5th
of April 2010, at 10:44 EST the website Wikileaks released an edited video named Collateral
. The video shows the encounter of two combat helicopters and a group of men walking the
streets of a suburb of Baghdad on the night of the 12 July 2007, during the Insurgency phase of the Iraq
War. This audiovisual piece was composed of images and audio generated and recorded by equipment
on board of the two North American military helicopters and their command center. This imaging
equipment is part of the weapons system, designed to assist the crew to navigate at night or in difficult
weather conditions as well as to receive realtime information about the aircraft, acquire targets and
guide their weapons. The recording mechanism is in place for future reference; training and the
documenting of performance for military applications. Wikileaks obtained the digital files along with a
throve of other documents through former US Army Private Chelsea Manning2
, an Intelligence analyst
who copied them from the military intranet and shared them with the notorious whistle blower website
on what became the largest intelligence leak in history, involving the disclosure of some 260.000
classified US diplomatic cables3
The video was posted on the Wikileaks website, reaching over 14 million views. This unusual
documentary received world-wide attention and caused a large debate on the continuation of the Iraq
War, on rules of engagement and on human rights. Collateral Murder is a product that defies normative
film studies classifications: on one hand, it is definitely inserted in the context of Middle Eastern
cinemas – the scenes take place in the Iraqi capital, most of the people depicted on the images are Iraqis
and the larger context of the scenes is the Iraq War. In the context of transnational cinemas, the product
is also relevant: it contains scenes captured in a Middle Eastern country undergoing an international
conflict, the images and audio were recorded by Americans, the material was edited by an Australian-
Swedish-Icelandic crew working in Iceland and the release of the final film was executed
simultaneously on the internet via a secure server system that allowed it to be viewed in almost every
country in the world with internet access and protected it from being brought down.
This essay will delve deeper into the making of this unique video: In the first section it provides a
historical overview and sets the stage for the events represented by the piece, namely the second
American-led invasion of Iraq. After this, it presents an analysis of the sophisticated equipment
1 The film can be seen on the following link: http://www.collateralmurder.com/ - The organization also made available the
uncut file, as obtained from its primary source.
2 In 2007 Private Manning was called “Bradly”, Manning has since changed his gender to female and name to Chelsea.
unintentionally used to produce it, a factor that distinguishes this video from almost any documentary
ever made in the region, including detailed photographs of the systems involved and observations on
how they impact how the story is told. Finally, it takes a closer look at the piece in the context of
transnational cinemas, discussing whether this category is of real use for the scientific examination of
Iraq: 33 Die in Multiple Attacks4
New York Times, 21 April 2014
Suicide bombings and other attacks across Iraq killed at least 33 people and
wounded nearly 80 more on Monday, the police said. In Monday’s deadliest attack, a
suicide bomber drove his explosives-filled car into a police checkpoint in Suwayra,
about 25 miles south of Baghdad, killing 12 people and wounding 19. In Madaen,
about 14 miles southeast of Baghdad, a car bomber struck an army checkpoint,
killing five people. Twelve other people were wounded in that attack. In Mishahda,
20 miles north of Baghdad, an Iraqi soldier was killed and three were wounded when
a roadside bomb struck their patrol. And in the town of Latifiya, about 20 miles
south of Baghdad, gunmen killed one civilian and wounded two. On Monday evening,
three more bombs struck various parts of Baghdad, killing at least 14 people and
(Reported by The Associated Press)
It has been 11 years since the fall of the Arab Socialist Ba'ath Party in Iraq. That is equivalent to one
third of the time the party controlled the Republic of Iraq (1968-2003). Coalition forces have left the
country and two national elections have taken place, but as the gruesome news report above reminds
us, the country is nowhere near a state of order and rule of law. A closer look at this historical moment
reveals crucial components to the understanding of the viability, quality and impact of Collateral
After the events of the 9th
September 2001, the right wing of the American body politic orchestrated a
campaign to renew US influence in the Middle East. This initiative had its theoretical basis on the think
tank Project for the New American Century5
, a late 1990's Washington D.C. based organization that
5 The PNAC defines itself: “Established in the spring of 1997, the Project for the New American Century is a nonprofit, educational organization whose
goal is to promote American global leadership. The Project is an initiative of the New Citizenship Project. William Kristol is chairman of the Project,
promoted the idea of American exceptionalism and the necessity for the US to step up its presence in
the region as part of a global security policy. In early 2002 the George W. Bush administration started
to produce a series of reports of alleged evidence that the Iraqi regime was developing weapons of
mass destruction, both chemical, biological and nuclear. The administration used all the leverage it had
accumulated after the 9/11 attacks to spin this story across the globe and harness support for a full
fledged occupation of Iraq. Despite no United Nations Security Council agreement on an armed
intervention, the so called Coalition of the Willing (including the UK, Spain, Italy, Denmark and Japan)
dropped its first bombs in Baghdad on the evening of the 20th
This foreign military invasion caused the demise of Iraq's political regime. That is not to say that the
various internal political forces in the country prior to the invasion (and there were many), were
harmonious. The use of force is an essential part of any dictatorship, and Iraq's case was no different.
Saddam Hussein's regime is infamous for its ruthlessness, including forced mass displacements,
widespread torture and the use of chemical weapons against civilians6
. This extreme level of violence
highlights deep internal divisions within Iraq's social fabric and by the time Hussein's government
succumbed under the barrage of bombs and troops in 2003, the groups that had endured decades of
repression and political exclusion prepared to occupy the power vacuum that was bound to be created.
External agents also played a major role in this scenario by supporting these groups with intelligence
advice, material and logistical support. Internally, members of the Ba'athist ruling party braced for
retaliation from Shias and Kurds, the two major forces oppressed by the regime since its rise to power
decades earlier, in 1968. As if the situation was not volatile enough, the American administration in
Iraq issued two orders that were to prove catastrophic: the first removed the top three layers of officials
of all government ministries and the second disbanded the whole of the Iraqi armed forces, effectively
dissolving the country's administrative capacity and leaving well over half a million men in arms out of
and Robert Kagan, Devon Gaffney Cross, Bruce P. Jackson and John R. Bolton serve as directors. Gary Schmitt is
executive director of the Project (Donnely 2000, cover).
6 The Human Rights Watch report “Genocide in Iraq - The Anfal Campaign Against the Kurds” (1993) details the
systematic murder of at least 50,000 and possibly as many as 100,000 Kurds, including the operations led by Ali Hassan Al-
Majid, aka Chemical Ali which made extensive use of poisonous chemical agents against civilians, thus earning the general
his macabre nom de guerre.
7 CPA Order Number 1, 16 May 2003 and CPA Order Number 2, 23 May 2003 (Pfiffner 2010, 79-80).
The next chapter of the story is well known: Iraq fell into a profound sectarian dispute for power and
widespread violence took over the country. Despite democratic elections, the Sunni government of Nuri
Al Malik did not find the support necessary to stabilize the country. On the 10th
January 2007 the US
initiated a new phase in the already unpopular war: a surge of troops to be deployed as soon as
approved by congress. The extra 21.500 troops had the mission of overcoming the insurgency, a job
that later proved unaccomplishable. It is at the height of this period, a few months after the surge, in
July of 2007 that the events depicted in Collateral Murder take place.
A scene from Collateral Murder when Saleh Mutashar, the driver of the van, tries to help the wounded men that have been
shot at on the first attack by the two Apache helicopters.8
8 Available: http://warrenswil.com/2013/07/10/who-is-a-journalist/
The original video, also published online by Wikileaks, has 37 minutes and shows two separate events:
event #1 shows a group of men that appear to be armed, walking in a relaxed manner on an empty
street of the New Baghdad suburb of Al-Amin al-Thaniyah. The men happen to be in the route of a US
Army convoy that had been under intense fire earlier that day and is now moving through the area. The
two United States Army AH-64 Apache helicopters had been surveying the convoy's route to make sure
it could get through safely. Upon seeing the men, the helicopter crews contact their command center to
report the activity and the fact that these men are in the convoy's path. The crew seeks authorization to
attack the group and receive it via their radio link. The helicopters fire their 30mm canons at the men,
who fall to the ground. Seven men are killed, including two Reuters reporters, Saeed Chmagh (aged 40,
married and father of four children) and Namir Noor-Eldeen (aged 22). The pilots instruct the convoy
to approach the scene and clear the area, but after a few minutes, a nondescript van approaches the
scene. An unarmed man comes out to help some of the wounded. The helicopter crew reports the
activity and seeks authorization to fire at the van. Permission is granted once again, and the Apaches
fire at the vehicle, destroying it. Saleh Mutashar (43 years old) was the driver in the van and that
evening he was taking his two children Sajad and Doaha, age nine and six, to school. Mr Mutashar was
killed instantly. Sajad suffered a head wound and eye wounds from the shattered glass. Doaha suffered
a stomach wound. Both were taken to hospital by ground troops from the convoy that arrived at the
scene shortly after and survived their wounds. Two other men that tried to help the wounded were
The helicopters were far from the scene from the point of view of people on the ground. So far they
were probably unheard before firing. The precision of the attack given the distance and the stealth with
which it was carried out is directly related to the essential object that allowed for this video to be made:
an equipment known as the TADS – Target Acquisition and Designation System, mounted on the nose
of the helicopter, operated in combination with another system, integrated to the helmet of both pilot
and co-pilot, the PNVS – Pilot Night Vision System. The TADS/PNVS contains an infrared camera
slaved to the head movements of the person wearing the helmet, if that person looks down, the pod
housing the cameras at the nose of the helicopter moves exactly in that direction. At 120 degrees per
second, the relaying of this movement is imperceptible for the pilot, who once integrated to the system
can arguably be considered part of the camera.
The AH-64 Apache helicopter.9
This is no ordinary camera: The TADS/PNVS commands a variety of sensors for image rendering. It
has stabilized electro-optical sensors, a laser rangefinder and laser target designator. The TADS
assembly can rotate +/- 120 degrees in azimuth, +30/-60 degrees in elevation and can move
independently of the PNVS. This allows images from TADS to be projected onto the crew helmet-
mounted optical sights, overlaid upon their view of the cockpit and battle space10
. TADS contains a
thermal imaging camera and a monochrome daylight television camera (Lockheed Martin 2014,
Website). The helicopter itself can be considered part of the camera mechanism as well: the aircraft has
the ability to stand still on the air, hovering above ground or water and thus allowing for a stable shot
(that can be further stabilized by hydraulics and software operating in conjunction with the
TADS/PNVS). Evidently, movement of the aircraft is registered by the camera, and this produces
airborne images such as the ones the general public has grown accustomed with, i.e. overview shots of
cities, fly by and fly through in canyons and other landscapes that add to the dramatic effect of a scene,
serve as an effective ellipse for a change of scenes or simply adds information to a sequence by
The figure bellow illustrates the wide angle of movement the system is capable of11
This diagram illustrates the various applications the TADS/PNVS has on the battlefield:12
11 Available: http://www.voodoo-world.cz/ah64/ihadss.html
12 Available: http://www.voodoo-world.cz/ah64/ihadss.html
A closer look at the AH-64 Apache helicopter – the TADS/PNSV is the large equipment with three glass surfaces on
the foreground of the picture13
The TADS/PNVS combination provides a very different image if compared to traditional helicopter
shots, or even from the most recent image generating drones: on the later, the camera is operated via a
joystick and monitors inside the aircraft. On the former, the camera is an extension of the pilot and co-
pilot. This apparently subtle difference is in fact enormous: this system was not designed to produce
images for story telling, but rather to enable the crew to better operate in a battle field or in difficult
weather conditions. This is effectively a heightening of human perception through the use of
sophisticated (and fabulously expensive14
) technology. The fact that images are recorded by the
onboard computer is secondary to the crew at the moment they are flying. The images serve the
ephemeral purpose of rendering moment after moment the visual world more comprehensible. In fact,
it allows them to see in the dark, through rain, through fog, through dust and sand and know in real
time their distance to the ground, to specific targets and positions as well as their speed and the state of
a variety of systems on board. It was through this extended reality mechanism that Collateral Murder
was shot, and not through a conventional TV or film camera. Furthermore, the footage and radio
recordings were simply part of protocol – they were never meant to be a story.
Apache crew wearing the helmets equipped with the controls for the TADS/PNVS15
14 The AH-64 Apache Helicopter has an approximate cost of 20 million US Dollars, depending on the optionals assembled
with it such as weapons, adaptations for weather, camouflage, radar and so on (Eveker 2007, 5).
15 Available: http://www.arcforums.com/forums/air/index.php?showtopic=182329
A filmmaker points the camera at a subject (or determines that it be pointed by someone else) to record
an image that ideally will convey a certain meaning to an audience. In the case of live broadcast, this
image may not be recorded, but the fundamental idea of deliberately trying to convey meaning through
images is essentially unchanged. In the case of a documentary, the filmmaker might not be aware of
what will take place in front of the camera, considering he or she is recording developing events,
however the idea of capturing images that portray that reality is also present, it is just a less controllable
situation. What all this cases have in common is the intent to tell a story – Collateral Murder does not
share this premise and it is all the more interesting because of that fact.
On this video the spectator has the rare opportunity to witness first hand the closest a recording could
get to what it was to be in that cockpit that evening. If the image tilts right, that means the pilot tilted
his head to the right. If it turns 90 degrees to the left, that means the pilot turned his head around to that
side to observe something that caught his attention, was reported on the radio or triggered an alert by
the instruments. To understand this visceral connection between the images and the person directing
their capture in this particular video, one needs to have a basic understanding of the systems used to
produce the scenes and this knowledge is essential to a critical analysis of the video. Furthermore, this
knowledge allows for a reflection on cinema, with implications to the concept of transnational
filmmaking, as well as profound philosophical consideration in regards to human perception and will to
action mediated and extended by technology.
In a culture where people all over the world have grown accustomed to this mediation through video-
games and the like, the scenes from Collateral Murder play out very much like a flight simulator and
cause no awe to the uninformed, casual spectator. Coming across it unintentionally, not knowing those
people being shot at with super sonic 30mm rounds designed to pierce military armored vehicles have
actually been killed, they might even relate to the elation expressed by the pilots when they are cleared
to engage as well as with their laughter and chuckling when they realize they have hit their targets,
especially in the case of the van and on the second sequence, in the case of the building. It is not the
purpose of this essay to investigate the moral implications of the actions depicted on this documentary,
however, a few observations may be made about the behavior of the crews in the Apache helicopters,
especially in light of the discussion of this mediated reality.
Above, a photograph16
of the Apache's cockpit. Bellow, Saleh Mutashar's van the following day17
16 Available: http://www.dutchdefencepress.com/?p=10651
17 Available: http://www.collateralmurder.com/en/resources.html
Conventional reality recorded and transmitted via images, whether these were generated by pigments
from plants, roots and fruits, minerals or metals and later, by ingenious chemical combinations and
digital processing have always shared the common element of being depictions of something that was
no more. Fragments of things that were never to be repeated. Essentially, in relation to time, they
represented the past. It was only recently that technology enabled images to portray live events, things
happening anywhere on the planet and even outside it, as in the case of cameras mounted on spacecraft
and robotic probes. However, people's reactions to images seem to have remained distanced, as if the
screens where those images are displayed somehow shielded them from reality. The fact that these
images are now ubiquitous may have eroded their intrinsic value and created a rift difficult to bridge.
The philosophers of the Frankfurt school may have been the first to sound the alarm to this shift in
perception and the system that thrived on it:
There is nothing left for the consumer to classify. Producers have done it for him. Art for
the masses has destroyed the dream but still conforms to the tenets of that dreaming
idealism which critical idealism balked at. Everything derives from consciousness: for
Malebranche and Berkeley, from the consciousness of God; in mass art, from the
consciousness of the production team. Not only are the hit songs, stars, and soap operas
cyclically recurrent and rigidly invariable types, but the specific content of the
entertainment itself is derived from them and only appears to change. The details are
interchangeable (Adorno & Horkheimer 1972, 3).
What is curious is that immersed in this understanding, it is easier to grasp how these young men were
capable of laughter and exhilaration in the hideous situation such as the deadly shooting of over a
dozen people, including school age children – for them, this is no longer reality, it is part of their
imagination of reality, their own construction of it, through a machine that communicates in a not all
that different way from the video-games they played at home or with friends, living other imaginary
adventures produced by microprocessors and cathodic ray tubes. This speculation, even if sustainable
by the thinnest shred of truth, still does not absolve these men from their cruel actions. This, as the film
title makes abundantly clear, is murder. Whether executed with bare hands, a bow and arrow or a 7 ton
airborne military helicopter, they are the exactly same action. If these soldiers were not trained to
appreciate the dire consequences their decisions may have, it is a failure of the system that produced
them in the first place. A failure or perhaps a success, if observed from the point of view of military
strategists that did not intend for these images to ever see the light of day – after all, not a single
biological agent, chemical or nuclear weapon, or even the materials to produce them were ever found in
Iraq in over 8 years of war and the decision to invade the country has been attributed to strategic
reasons rather than the heroic claims of ridding the world of a dangerous dictator18
. In light of this
evidence, it is fitting that the edited version of the video is preceded by the George Orwell's
predicament on politics and the media:
Political Language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,
and to give the appearance of solidity to pure wind.
From the point of view of transnational cinemas, there is no question this video fits the term.
Considering Higbee and Lim's definition of both transnational cinema and the study of it, most aspects
of the making and dissemination of Collateral Murder match the description:
(…) while border-crossing is the raison d’etre of both transnational cinema and its
studies, borders continue to be heavily policed and entry often comes with a price
tag which can sometimes be waived if in possession of the right papers. If
transnational subjects can be grouped into ‘those who “circulate capital” and those
“whom capital circulates”’ (Zizek, cited in Ezra and Rowden 2006b: 8), transnational
cinematic fow is also, ‘contrary to the metaphor the word invokes’, not ‘a
spontaneous force of nature, but shaped and produced by various social, economic
and cultural forces’ (Berry and Pang 2008: 6), (All cited in Higbee & Lim 2010, 17).
The video was recorded in the Middle East by an American crew (even though they were not aware
they were participating in a filmmaking process), involving that crew and their headquarters as
characters in the video as well as Iraqi nationals that were the victims of the attacks. The footage was
transmitted via optical discs first and subsequently through the internet to a server in an unknown
18 With respect to nuclear and chemical weapons, the extent of the threat was largely knowable at the time. Although there was good reason to believe
that Iraq maintained an interest in restarting a nuclear program, there was no evidence that it had actually done so. Iraq’s nuclear program had been
dismantled by inspectors after the 1991 war, and these facilities—unlike chemical or biological ones—tend to be large, expensive, dependent on
extensive imports, and very difficult to hide “in plain sight” under the cover of commercial (that is, dual-use) facilities. The Bureau of Intelligence and
Research of the Department of State concluded in its dissent to the October NIE that the evidence was “inadequate to support . . . a judgment” that the
nuclear program had been restarted. Regarding how close Iraq might be to having a nuclear weapon, INR noted that it was impossible to “project a
timeline for the completion of activities it does not now see happening” (Cirincione et al 2004, 47).
location, and forwarded to Wikileaks temporary headquarters in Iceland where it was edited by an
Australian computer programmer, a Swedish and an Icelandic journalist. After edited, it was posted on
an international website and reposted innumerous times by people all around the globe. Funds to run
this process came from 1.The US Army (unknowingly) 2.Former Private Chelsea Manning (American)
3.Wikileaks donors (global). The international media took on the role of publicizing it, free of charge to
the producers, for it was part of a huge scoop and attracted audiences all over the world, thus
completing a cycle common to films considered as part of transnational cinema – films that cannot be
limited to a specific culture, country or national identity.
This term has been useful to distinguish between national cinemas and cinemas produced by exiled
populations, diasporas and the like as well as by international efforts. However, some authors have
started to criticize the umbrella term of transnational cinemas and point to its imprecise nature and the
little benefits it brings to critical film studies. It is not the occasion here to enter this discussion, but it is
relevant to mention its key aspects for they are directly connected with the peculiar circumstances that
allowed for the creation of Collateral Murder. Deborah Shaw summarizes the argument by calling on
Hjort's explanation of these conceptual limitations, as well as by presenting a comprehensive list of
elements that may help dismember the term of transnational cinemas and contribute to a more
comprehensive methodological approach to products that would otherwise be grouped together. In her
words: Hjort also identifies a problem with the use of the term 'transnational' in that it 'does little to
advance our thinking about important issues if it can mean anything and everything that the occasion
would appear to demand. Her solution is to produce a detailed typology that links the concept of
transnationalism to different models of cinematic production, each motivated by specific concerns and
designed to achieve particular effects (Hjort cited in Shaw 2013, 51). I take a similar approach in an
attempt to distinguish between industrial practices, working practices, aesthetics, themes and
approaches, audience reception, ethical questions, and critical reception (Shaw 2013, 51). Shaw goes
on to describe 15 groupings to help in this categorization, they are:
– Transnational modes of production, Distribution and exibition
– Transnational modes of narration
– Cinema of globalization
– Films with multiple locations
– Exilic and diasporic filmmaking
– Film and cultural exchange
– Transnational influences
– Transnational critical approaches
– Transnational viewing practices
– Transregional/transcommunity films
– Transnational stars
– Transnational directors
– The ethics of transnationalism
– Transnational collaborative networks
– National films
Shaw, Mette Hjort, Dudly Andrew, Stephanie Dennison, Song Hwee Lim and many other film study
scholars have started to seriously question the classic concept and move towards a more comprehensive
frameworks such as the one proposed by Shaw above. In a way, Collateral Murder is an Exilic and
diasporic film, its main producer, Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks is in exile, living inside the
Ecuadorian embassy in London under the threat of being arrested and deported if he exits the building
onto UK territory. It is also definitely a case of a Film and cultural exchange, as it incorporates
elements of American, Iraqi and European culture, as well as the international flare of the notorious
hacker-turned-activist. That is has Transnational influences, is beyond questioning as well as the fact
that it has enjoyed an international audience. It is also true that it is a Transregional/transcommunity
film, for it is well understood in Iraq as well as in the US, and in fact, anywhere in the world. One may
argue it contains no film stars, but in fact it does: Wikileaks founder became an international celebrity
after the largest leaks in history, including reports on main TV channels, front pages on the worlds'
largest newspapers, magazines and websites as well as a Hollywood feature film about him and
countless documentaries. Finally, the film can be considered the product of the efforts of a
Transnational collaborative network, for that is the nature of Wikileaks, thus coming to the end of
Shaw's list and a little closer to a more detailed description of the conceptual change in regards to the
term 'transnational cinema'.
This has been an attempt to analyze this video by looking at what I considered its three most important
components: 1.The mandatory historical overview that sets the stage for the events depicted on the
video, without which it would be impossible to know who were the main 'characters' and why were
they interacting in the way they did. 2.The analysis of the technological systems used to produce it, a
factor that sets this video apart from conventional filmmaking, as well as observations on how they
impact how the story is told. This is followed by considerations about the use of this technology and its
implications to our understanding of conceptual reality. And finally 3.A closer look at the piece in the
context of transnational cinemas, discussing whether this category is still useful for the scientific
examination of motion pictures by briefly presenting a recent framework that takes the concept a step
further, into a more detailed and nuanced sphere of analysis that may be of greater use to film studies.
The unfortunate scenes depicted by Collateral Murder are only a fragment of a long lasting, devastating
war that has all but immobilized Iraq. Over a decade after the the start of the so called Iraq War and a
full three years since foreign troops left the country, violence and instability still plague the site of one
the world's most ancient cultures. In a way, the film may serve as a warning of what is possible when
reality is mediated by technology without careful considerations of the consequences it may have. It
may be useful to military experts that had the chance to witness the sheer power of the images they
produce once they are released in the format of a story. To historians, it is a piece of a complex puzzle
that is still being assembled and a document about it. To film students, it is a peculiar object, almost
requiring a category of its own and ripe with subjects for analysis. Sadly, to the families of the people
that perished that evening on the sidewalks, pavements and inside an unfinished building in a suburb of
Baghdad this is not an object of study or curiosity at all, but rather the very last images of their lives.
These are truly all that is left of their final moments breathing and walking, talking to each other with a
tranquility that is almost eerie given what is about to happen, as the watchful electronic eyes of the
pilots focus on the site and the authorization to engage is transmitted.
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>> Cover Photograph: still frame of Collateral Murder showing a wounded Saeed Chmagh attempting to take cover.