In The Mouth of Madness

Outspoken journalist, Michael Ware, shakes the foundations with his documentary, ‘Only The Dead’.

“You’re watching one man’s descent into dark madness, but that would be the most wafer-thin reading of the film.”

Australian journalist and Time correspondent Michael Ware addressed a large crowd at the Melbourne International Film Festival following the fest’s first screening of his war documentary Only The Dead, comprised of his personal video archive accumulated over seven years of reporting in Iraq, footage that was never intended to be seen.

“I never set out to make a movie, and very quickly as a writer I saw the value of the camera; I could remember the events that were blurred in our mind… the camera retained it for me,” explained Ware, who hadn’t published the footage before, describing the war as “the last pre-social media conflict.”

“If I knew I was going to make a documentary I would have filmed a whole lot more,” said Ware. “The process almost killed us but it also made it literate in a weird kind of way.”

Accurately described by Ware as “confronting content,” Only The Dead features frequent and graphic real-life footage of armed conflict, injured combatants, wanted militants and the fall-out from suicide attacks, including an account of the conflict’s first suicide bombing at the Jordanian Embassy in Baghdad.

Stationed in Iraq from the war’s beginning, Ware followed the troops into Fallujah, was kidnapped, personally witnessed numerous deaths and had direct contact with both Coalition and enemy combatants including followers of the infamous militant al-Zarqawi.

“It was a very, very fine line, you’re dancing with the devil at all times,” commented Ware.

One key sequence and perhaps the most frightening in the film involves Ware being taken to an undisclosed location where the night-vision on his camera catches a long line of silent, masked militants staring back at him.

Frequently challenging and occasionally questioning the role of the “war correspondent,” Only The Dead is a highly visceral and mesmerising account of modern warfare and the role of journalists in armed conflict.

“Unfortunately there’s not one single character whose arc we could follow around from the beginning to end,” said Ware. “There was no one around long enough… there were so many vignettes… but what was the thing that united them?… And I realised it was the camera, the point of view of the camera.”

Describing his repeated viewing of the documentary as akin to “going home,” Ware explained to the crowd that he was “still feeling the war.”

“For many soldiers, as with me, the homecoming was worse than the war…. It came to a point where I realised that this was the way it always had been and always would be in one way or another.”

“As far as I see it there’s no good or evil, there’s only what we do unto others… I’ll never see the world the same again, but I feel privileged by it.”

Only The Dead is currently screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival.

On FilmInk