YIDFF 2005 International Competition
In the Shadow of the Palms—Iraq
An Interview with Wayne Coles-Janess (Director)

Another Gaze at Iraq

Q: What was your original intention for making this film?

WCJ: I didn’t know what the shape of the film would be in the beginning, but the image of people in the Middle East that I and the majority of western people are exposed to in the media is that of “Jihad, Jihad, Jihad.” I feel there should be greater understanding between people, so it’s an obligation for me to actually go to these places to record their situations and help to bring them out to the rest of the world. I didn’t grow up in war or anything like that, but I have seen too much of the effects of war. That’s my motivation to help people understand other cultures or situations.

Q: How do you feel that your film is now showing at Yamagata in Japan, very far away from the Middle East and Iraq?

WCJ: I think it’s fantastic. It’s a great honor to be invited. In reality, there are different stages or different types of war. One is with a tank, or a helicopter, or a rifle. In the Iraq documentary it becomes clear that there’s also a media or information war that involves controlling people’s perceptions and understandings of cultures, situations, and circumstances. To have the film screening in Yamagata means that these cultures and concepts can be brought into another culture and distilled and disseminated out, so people can have a better understanding of the situation.

Q: What do you think about your role as not a journalist but a documentarist in Iraq?

WCJ: As I said, war has many forms. You need fuel for the tank, and you need the media to inform people and control people so they will go and fight. This is why the Americans, learning from the effect of media in Vietnam, embedded reporters so they could control what was seen and what information was conveyed to CNN or Fox or wherever. I see my role with documentary as not to report how many people died or whether a tank got blown up but to document the situation on the ground as more of a record of what’s happening.

I place great importance on actually making a document. That is of course subjective to varying degrees, but for me, if I’m doing a documentary, it should be pure. I could make Bougainville or Iraq more emotional, where I could guarantee more people would cry or be upset, but it would lessen the value of that programming because it becomes more like propaganda rather than a realization of the situation that I’m documenting.

My job is to interpret, or to be the translator of cultures or situations—Bougainville or Rainbow or Iraq. I’m a facilitator: I help to convey that cultural situation in a way that’s understandable to global audiences.

Q: What are the implications of the title In the Shadow of the Palms?

WCJ: The title has a number of different meanings. In the Middle East, the palm tree or the date palm is very important for life—for food, shelter, and materials. The events of people and their lives are overshadowed by politics and media. We only see shadows or echoes of reality; we don’t actually get to see the reality, generally. Also, now people are living in the shadow of war, and their lives are a shadow of their former lives.

(Compiled by Hashiura Taichi)

Interviewers: Hashiura Taichi, Okuyama Kanako / Interpreters: Sakamoto Ryoko, Hashiura Taichi
Photography: Kondo Yoko / Video: Oki Chieko / 2005-10-10