Gunner Palace: "Some War Stories Will Never Make the Nightly News"
One Iraqi palace, complete with swimming pool, putting green and fishing pond. 400 American soldiers who call it home. One filmmaker who captures it all on tape. Gunner Palace is a gritty, realistic a...
One Iraqi palace, complete with swimming pool, putting green and fishing pond. 400 American soldiers who call it home. One filmmaker who captures it all on tape.
Gunner Palace is a gritty, realistic account of American soldiers stationed in a garishly opulent, half ruined palace, whose former tenant was none other than Uday Hussein, the tyrannical son of Saddam.
Filmmaker Michael Tucker did two one-month stints with the 2/3 Field Artillery Unit, the first in September 2003, four months after major combat operation in Iraq were officially declared over, and returned again in February 2004.
“In September 2003, I went back to Baghdad and found these soldiers living in this ornate palace, whereas other units were in dorms,” Tucker says. “[At that time] the truck bombs had started. Adhamiya was a volatile part of the city, with attacks happening every other day, or daily.”
The war in Iraq is clearly a contentious subject, and Tucker and his co-director and partner Petra Epperlein admit they could have pushed a lot of “emotional buttons” in their treatment of the material— but it felt like exploitation, they say— citing documentary master Albert Maysles’ theory that you have to truly like your subject for the film to matter.
It is clear that Tucker likes his (mostly young) subjects; he rooms with them, he rides in their Humvees day and night through the streets of Baghdad, he accompanies them on 3AM raids of suspects' houses. But he manages, throughout, to maintain a crucial sense of objectivity.
“If you’re going to make a documentary, you need to … impart a sense of what it was like, without a filter, or imposing a false narrative,” says Tucker.
“It’s not about illustrating our point of view; it’s about capturing what was there,” adds Epperlein.
What is captured here is the paradigm of the soldiers’ lives. On one hand are daily mortar attacks, and horribly tense moments investigating possible IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devises— a bomb that can look like anything— a plastic bag, random garbage on the street.)
On the other are events like ‘Gunnerpalooza,’ an (alcohol free) pool party, complete with freestyle hip hop battles by the more lyrically inclined soldiers, which forms the basis for the films’ excellent soundtrack.
“It’s a war zone, but after a while, it become normal,” says Tucker, succinctly summing up the strange, surreal world of Gunner Palace.
Winners of EIFF 2014’s short film awards and two of its documentary premieres have been nominated for 2015 BAFTAs.