Reprinted from a Panasonic press release
SECAUCUS, NJ (February 7, 2006) Documentary filmmaker James Longley picked up a trifecta of honors at the
2006 Sundance Film Festival for his feature documentary, Iraq in Fragments, including the Excellence in Cinematography Award, the Documentary Directing Award, and the Excellence in Documentary Film Editing.
To capture the award-winning documentary, Longley spent more than two years on-location shooting 300+ hours of footage with Panasonic AG-DVX100 series mini-DV 3-CCD 24p camcorders.
Iraq in Fragments is an electric collage of hypnotic sights, evocative sounds, and arresting voices emanating from three Iraqi enclaves. In old Baghdad, buildings burn, U.S. tanks patrol, and an 11-year-old mechanic scurries amid the rubble to please his intimidating boss. Then, guided by a young leader in Moqtada Sadr’s Shiite revolutionary movement, the action moves south, where political arguments ricochet across cafs and meeting halls, and young Shiite men hit the streets to enforce religious laws and stage an anti-U.S. uprising. In the northern Kurdish countryside, a farmer, grateful to America for eradicating Saddam, ruminates on the future of his family and people. Meanwhile, his teenage son tirelessly tends sheep, intent on fulfilling his dream of becoming a doctor.
The documentary has been widely praised in the national media, Newsweek citing "its beautifully shot, almost poetic images (that) take us inside this fractured country, letting us feel what its like from the inside, the New York Times saying its "one of the best in the crowded field of documentaries from the Iraq war, " and the Village Voice lauding "Longleys astonishing feat of poetic agitationframing fact as if it were fiction, digitally flaring colors in defiance of vrit and every preconception of a ravaged country, shocking us first with the beauty of Iraq and then with the recognition of why we’re never allowed to see it that way."
Regarding his choice of DVX100 series cameras, Longley, Iraq in Fragments director, cinematographer, editor (along with Billy McMillin and Fiona Otway) and executive producer, said, "Using the DVX100, I felt very uninhibited in the way I was shooting. I did things with the camera that I never would have tried with a more costly instrument. I put the camera inside the openings of brick ovens, ran full-speed with the camera down Baghdad alleys, shot during dust storms at 110 degrees. At one point the camera got so hot during the filming of a brick factory in northern Iraq that the Rycote wind cover on my microphone caught on fire. But the camera never stopped recording."
When Longley arrived in Iraq in February 2003, just before the war began, he was traveling with two DVX100s (one of which he subsequently gave away to an Iraqi translator). Midway through the shoot, a filmmaker friend brought him the DVX100A, the upgrade to the DVX100. "Having redundancy on a multi-year shoot like post-war Iraq was totally crucial, and using the DVX cameras made it possible. The small expense of these cameras lets you buy several and spread the wealth, and if you have a breakdown in the field you just pull out a back-up camera and continue shooting. All this gives you the sense of using the camera as a filming tool that you can push to the limit to get your shots, instead of a super-expensive gizmo that youre afraid to get dirty. In Iraq, I used my cameras like crash-test dummies, and to their credit they held up fine for hundreds of hours of recording over two years in some of the most difficult conditions I can imagine."
On location in a war zone, the filmmaker also had to deal with weather extremes. "The two most difficult elements in Iraq for shooting are dust and heat," Longley recounted. "When I was shooting out in the sun in southern Iraq the camera would literally become too hot to touch on the outside. Meanwhile, it was all closed up with gaffer tape to keep the dust out, and this made it even hotter. I was sure this treatment was eventually going to kill the camera, but it just kept going.
"No matter how much gaffer tape you use, dust in Iraq has a way of getting into everything anyway, so the fact that the DVX100 cameras have self-cleaning heads turned out to be a life-saver. I didnt lose any important material to dropouts in Iraq, which was surprising considering the conditions, and I never had any need to service the camera heads during the two years of filming."
Commenting on the native capabilities of the DVX100 series, Longley (who "grew up on film shunning video") said, "The fact that the Panasonic cameras can record at true 24p with Advanced pulldown makes them superior to interlaced video cameras that cost many times more. I think people dont really appreciate what progressive scan actually means until they see it on the screen. Shooting progressive gives such a warm, fluid look to material. Being able to shoot at actual cinema speed again makes me love video in a way that I never thought I would be able to. For documentaries its perfect, like having a miniature 16mm sync-sound camera that never runs out of film, where you can have instant visual feedback of what youre shooting. I could never have made Iraq in Fragments without these cameras theres no other way to affordably and practically shoot 300 hours of material so far from home, without a crew, and still achieve a beautiful, cinematic look."