Longley: There isn't much, no. There are Andy Berends's films, and there's My Country, My Country by Laura Poitras, who was embedded part of the time, but most of the time not. I think it may have been possible to work the way that I worked in that first period after the war, but now it really is impossible. You can still do it in northern Iraq, maybe, but not in Baghdad, there's no way. Not even an Iraqi journalist would be able to do that now.
CP:Has it been possible for you to stay in touch with the people you filmed?
Longley: I'm still in touch with some of the translators. One translator I worked with has been seeing the family I filmed, the one with the brick farm, and he says they're all the same, doing well. But Shiek Aws al Kafaji, the Shiite cleric from the film, is apparently in prison; he was arrested by the Americans. I don't know exactly why; I'd love to find out more about that, but it's kind of tricky. He was arrested and tortured under Saddam, so it's kind of ironic now that he would be arrested by the Americans. I imagine him taking a very ironic, darkly humorous perspective on that. I hope he makes it through.
CP:I wrote from Sundance last year that your film is without precedent in the entire history of documentary. Would any of your influences encourage you to disagree?
Longley: I have a lot of heroes in documentary filmmaking. I'm not rebelling against everything I've ever seen in a documentary before. But my style probably comes more from the fiction films that I've seen and liked in my life. I'm working within the documentary form, but most of the people who have really pushed the aesthetics of film have worked in fiction. I don't see the two forms as being mutually exclusive.
CP:Certainly fiction hasn't failed to incorporate elements of documentary.
Longley: And vice versa. The documentaries I like most are quite old: Berlin, Symphony of a City or Man with a Movie Camera. Those films are from before the age of television, before documentary was corrupted by talking heads, before this marriage of newsprint and radio media with the moving picture. Documentary became this very particular kind of informational vessel. But if you look at any of the early documentary films, like Joris Ivens's Rain, for example, you see that they're telling stories without facts or figures or pundits. Watching Berlin, you get a better sense of prewar Berlin than you would get from any history book. And that's an inspiration to me. You're taking the audience and saying, Experience this thing—this multidimensional, extremely complicated, million-legged beast—through the medium of cinema, which is being pushed as far as it can go.