Plenty of documentary filmmakers have captured the follies of the Iraq war. But none have had quite the same background and access as Charles Ferguson. An MIT-trained political scientist, Brookings Institution senior fellow and successful software entrepreneur, Ferguson offers up something rarer than common dissent. His recently released and well-reviewed documentary chronicles the Bush Administration’s policy decisions following the fall of Baghdad in 2003.
Bucking current conventional wisdom that considers the occupation doomed to fail from the get-go, No End in Sight contends that with better planning, the whole fiasco might have gone smoothly. Was a sectarian civil war truly inevitable? According to the film’s bemused collection of talking heads–including Assassins’ Gate author George Packer, Ambassador Barbara Bodine and former Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage–the “post-war” reconstruction of Iraq was bungled every step of the way by an arrogant, shortsighted network of professional incompetents. From the film’s perspective, were it not for initially insufficient troop levels, unchecked looting in Baghdad, de-Ba’athification and the disbanding of the Iraqi military, we theoretically could have seen a stable Iraq in 2007.
Ferguson will let others debate whether or not the invasion was morally justified–this film’s subject is institutional mismanagement, plain and simple. Though it eschews the partisan passion of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, No End In Sight dissects the lies and blunders of Donald Rumsfeld and L. Paul Bremer, among others, with a systematic precision that proves amply damning. Chalk it up to Ferguson’s policy-wonk pedigree. He certainly looks more like an accountant than an auteur, and he subjects the architects of this disaster to a well-warranted audit. On the eve of his film’s July 27 release in New York City–preceding a national rollout by Magnolia Pictures–Ferguson sat down with Akiva Gottlieb to discuss his crucial investigation of an unnecessary catastrophe.
How does an information technology expert become a filmmaker?
With some difficulty…But I’ve been obsessed with film since I was a kid. For a long time I’ve been going to film festivals and got to know a number of people in the film world, and have been interested in making films for a long time. So when I decided to do this, I basically started calling up all my friends, and they gave me a lot of guidance and connected me with a lot of people. It turned out to be a very doable thing.
But No End In Sightwas the idea that actually made you get out there and make it happen. Was there some kind of spark that made you feel: This particular film needs to be made, and I’m the person to do it?
Well, the fact that it wasn’t being made. I started looking at the situation in Iraq in, well, just a normal, interested citizen kind of way–I had been interested in it for a long time–but in early 2004 I started getting more seriously interested. Sometime in the first half in 2004, I had dinner with George Packer, who’s an old friend of mine, and George had just come back from his second or third trip to Iraq, and he made it extremely clear that the situation there was dramatically different and dramatically worse than was being generally portrayed…certainly by the Administration and most of the media. And he was just starting to write his book.