Tribeca Film Festival 2012: 'The List'

Even as the moral and humanitarian case seems obvious, The List includes a scenes from Congressional hearings that indicate how apparently easily this case is forgotten.

The List

Director: Beth Murphy
Cast: Kirk Johnson, Yaghdan, Ibrahim, Anna, Christopher Nugent, Marcia Maack
Rated: NR
Studio: Principle Pictures
Year: 2011
US date: 2012-04-28 (Tribeca Film Festival)
My grandmother believed that the best form of education was travel.

-- Kirk Johnson

"There is the impression in the United States that Iraq had some problems in 2005 and 2006, but then we sent more troops, we sent Petraeus, and we won the war and we solved all of the problems. And so now there's no more violence and the Iraqis who worked for us are in peace and they can just go home." As Kirk Johnson looks out on a Baghdad hotel room full of Iraqis "who worked for us," they look defeated and hopeful, sometimes both at once. Their lives are at risk precisely because they worked for the Americans. And they've been waiting for months -- sometimes years -- to leave Iraq. When Johnson asks about recent threats, they tell him: one man's wife was kidnapped, another's son was kidnapped, a woman was beaten and knifed and her son was killed. Another young man's father was murdered.

There's no shortage of such stories in The List, Beth Murphy's poignant documentary about Johnson's efforts -- along with lawyer Chris Nugent -- to help Iraqi allies leave Iraq. Screening at the Tribeca Film Festival, the film underlines the crises now faced by thousands with a focus on a few, Yaghdan, Ibrahim, and Anna, as well as the strategic use of Johnson's own story. A good-looking kid from West Chicago, Illinois, he appears in childhood photos here traveling around the world with his family, experiences that inspired him to start learning Arabic when he was just 14. His parents smile as they remember his reaction to 9/11: "You see why I've been learning Arabic?"

Johnson's commitment to continuing, mutual education is at the heart of List Project. A former USAID worker who landed in Fallujah in 2005, shortly after four US security guards were killed, he saw that distrust and disappointment were shaping Iraqi perceptions of the US. When he learned that some of his Iraqi coworkers were deemed traitors because they worked with the US, and further, that the US was not protecting them, Johnson took up the cause on his own.

The film uses Johnson -- and a sometimes overstated musical score -- to make the case that the US should honor its moral obligations and not leave vulnerable allies behind. And yes, this recalls Hugh Van Es' indelible image of the 1975 fall of Saigon, even as it reminds you that this bit of chaos was meant to save Americans in Vietnam, while thousands of Vietnamese allies were not included in any plans for evacuation.

Even as the humanitarian case seems obvious, the movie includes scenes from Congressional hearings that reveal how apparently easily this case is forgotten. In 2005, an outraged Gary Ackerman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, chastises then-Assistant Secretary of State Ellen Sauerbrey for her display of seeming ignorance (if not outright lying) and then again, in 2008, Ackerman takes on the State Department's James Foley (who claims the office is still trying to count up the numbers of Iraqi employees at issue). This clip ends with the astounding assertion by Dana Rohrabacher that "The last thing we want to do is have people who are friendly to democracy and friendly to stable government and prosperity, and educated people from Iraq, moving here in large numbers at a time when they're needed to build a new thriving Iraq, not subsidizing their exit from that country."

Rohrabacher's awkward phrasing notwithstanding, he exposes here the misunderstandings (not to say cruel calculations) confronting Johnson's organization. Sometimes, as the film shows, such misunderstandings lead to misdirected energies, as when Johnson walks you through a website for "No Buddy Left Behind," a program to rescue dogs from Iraq. The stories are heartfelt (one soldier hopes to bring back a dog so it might join him in "enjoying everything there is to enjoy about America") and the hugs and tears are surely genuine. Dogs, even when quarantined in other countries before making their way to the US, are waiting only 60 days or so to be processed. "Maybe the Iraqis just need to grow fur," Johnson says.

The costs of abandoning the moral charge are multiple. Apart from the injuries done to Iraqis, the US suffers as well: as Johnson puts it in "We Can't Abandon the Iraqis Who Aided the US," "Who will step forward to help us in future conflicts if we turn our backs on those serving us now?" Ibrahim offers another, historical angle on this concern when he testifies at a 2009 Congressional hearing chaired by Alcee L. Hastings. Ibrahim, who has made it to the US with help from the List Project and now works for the Project, reminds House members of their mission: "They deserve to have their voices heard," Ibrahim says of his colleagues still in Iraq. "Their efforts to help America should be appreciated. Please do something to preserve the values that America represents."

The List makes clear how the US has been shamefully remiss in representing such values during this ongoing crisis, whether out of fear, design or what one military representative calls "shocking" incompetence. But it also shows how individuals who come together as a group can do right, even remarkable things. If the film helps to make the List Project more visible, if it pushes Congress and especially the president to act, it's making its own contribution to the effort.


So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.