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Steve Connors and Molly Bingham were in Iraq a few months after the fall of Baghdad interviewing a new subject for their film, Meeting Resistance. The man held a pink tissue box in his lap as they spoke. “About halfway through the interview, he opened the box and pulled out two grenades,” recalls Bingham, 39. “He said, ‘If this had gone wrong…I would have pulled the pin.’”
Fortunately, he never made good on his threat. The man with the tissue box ended up being one of the eight Iraqi insurgents Connors and Bingham, who live together in Cleveland Park, followed over 10 months, starting in August 2003. The pair, both veteran conflict photographers, began Meeting Resistance, their filmmaking debut, as an investigation into the motivation and the people behind what were initially small-scale attacks against American troops.
“We didn’t go in with the notion of ‘Let’s show what it is’; we approached it as ‘What the hell is it?’” says Bingham.
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As initial resistance devolved into full-blown insurgency, Bingham and Connors decided that the way the mainstream media and the Bush administration described the fighters was nothing like what the filmmakers encountered. “All of the language that’s been used to talk about them on the broadest scale implies that they aren’t part of everyday life, that they’re marginal, and, therefore, the society won’t miss them, or that it’s possible to isolate them and clean them up,” says Bingham. “That’s a very dangerous perception. In fact, this insurgency has very broad support amongst the population and is very integrated in the society.”
Asked how the pair persuaded the fighters to open up, Connors deadpans, “We tortured them.” In reality, the filmmakers relied on their experience in conflict zones and the endorsement of their Iraqi translator to persuade their subjects, who they found simply by hanging out in coffee shops in the neighborhood, to talk. Even so, Connors and Bingham say that their relationship with the fighters was always on edge. “Did they trust us? Trust is too strong a word. Every day we were reading the tea leaves,” says Bingham. “They were vulnerable because they had to believe that we weren’t intelligence cops, and we were vulnerable because they…knew where we lived, and they held us responsible for their safety.”
The film won the 2007 Golden Award at the Al Jazeera International Film Festival and has been selected by several film festivals. “We don’t think the film is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, because nothing ever is,” says Connors. “When we send our troops to war, it’s important to have a sense of why there’s an enemy over there, why our guys and girls are coming home in body bags, and we need to decide if it’s worth people dying for.”
Connor and Bingham avoided bodily harm, but they were eventually forced to leave Iraq when interviewing became too dangerous—for them and their subjects. “They didn’t even want to be seen with an American,” says Bingham, who adds that at least one of their subjects was ordered to stop speaking to them by a higher-up.
The pair didn’t escape entirely unscathed. Says Bingham, “The subhead for this film should have been ‘Nicotine and Caffeine Poisoning in Baghdad.’ We smoked so many cigarettes and drank so much coffee as we interviewed people, it’s unbelievable.”