A blunt, bitterly ironic snapshot of cultural misinterpretation and personal hubris, Nina Davenport’s Operation Filmmaker slyly plumbs the motivations of indie Hollywood do-goodism for uncomfortable parallels to blinkered neocon nation-building. The doc follows Muthana Mohmed, a film student from Baghdad whose appearance on MTV leads Liev Schreiber and producer Peter Saraf to bring the young Iraqi to Prague as an intern on their 2005 adaptation of Everything Is Illuminated.
All starts well, but soon the absurd peccadilloes of big-time moviemaking (and moviemakers) and Mohmed’s petulant resentment of his menial chores crash head-on. The experience ends with Mohmed stranded and cadging money from various reluctant benefactors—Davenport and her producers among them—before landing a job on the video-game flick Doom. That movie’s star, Dwayne Johnson, showily sets Mohmed up at a London film school, but the lad never quite lives up to his promise.
Mohmed’s manipulative lethargy and apparent sociopathy hardly help, but his stubborn refusal to fit the mold of grateful refugee is also weirdly admirable, and Davenport never lets us lose sight of its probable traumatic roots. She may whack us over the head with his story’s wider implications, but recent history makes it impossible to ignore that supposedly good intentions can mask monstrously selfish ulterior motives.