Apparently good deeds don’t go unpunished. Actor/director Liev Schrieber thought he was giving an Iraqi film student a great opportunity by bringing him onset of his film Everything is Illuminated in the Czech Republic. Instead, the film student turned out to be more of a problem than expected.
Filmmaker Nina Davenport is brought on board to capture Muthana Mohmed’s experiences on set. She quickly becomes part of the film when she begins to intervene in Mohmed’s manipulations of Schrieber and others in the film community (including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on set of Doom) for an extended visa and money. The movie quickly turns into a power struggle between filmmaker and subject.
There’s also a desire to mirror the “freeing” of Mohmed with the fleeting George W. Bush imposed freedom of Iraqis. Sometimes Mohmed is acutely aware of what Davenport is doing. After she asks him about the war, Mohmed replies “We are spoiling a beautiful trip in Prague by speaking about the war,” and also shoots back, “You just want an interesting story, that’s it.”
Other times, he is blissfully oblivious to Davenport’s intentions. While Mohmed is asking his landlord to translate a text message from his girlfriend, Davenport pans to the news of Abu Ghraib on the landlord’s television. Mohmed is clearly more interested in the text message.
Davenport even sends cameras to Mohmed’s friends back in Baghdad to film their experiences. Their messages urge him to stay in the Czech Republic and not to come back. Their fun joking messages quickly change over the course of the U.S. invasion. Suddenly Mohmed’s friends are no longer filming outside near the rubble of their film school. It’s no longer safe to go outside.
The film that Davenport was originally called in to capture, the nice deeds of some Hollywood types, becomes much more interesting and uncomfortable when it turns into a struggle between the filmmaker and subject.
A cameraman who had backed off the project earlier on tells Davenport that their jobs entail creating “a semi-fictitious story about other people. In this case, the other person is a desperate Iraqi who will really do anything, and we have to stop blaming him for that.”