The new Iraq war documentary No End In Sight is the debut of a fairly unconventional film maker, but it's as assured and fascinating a film as you could ask for from any veteran documentary film maker -- rigorously researched, carefully composed, subtly affecting. Charles Ferguson holds a PhD in political science from MIT; he later co-founded a technology company whose software, Front Page, led to the company being purchased by Microsoft in 1996.
Inspired by a lifelong love of film and a background in foreign policy, Ferguson began work on No End in Sight in mid-2005. Debuting at this year's Sundance film festival, No End in Sight earned rave reviews – and also had one of the festival's more fascinating panel discussions, as well. No End In Sight isn't a emotional screed against the war in Iraq; instead, it mixes the global sweep of a techno-thriller with the insight and methodical structure of a police procedural to ask a series of simple questions about the war in Iraq: What went wrong, and why? Combining footage from Iraq with frank interviews from political and military staff involved in the occupation of Iraq, No End in Sight opens this weekend in New York; Ferguson spoke with Cinematical in San Francisco.
Cinematical:Coming from a background in academia – you hold a PhD in political science – it's a pretty non-traditional jump to filmmaking. What happened? What was the inciting incident that made you say 'I want to make a film about (Iraq)?
Charles Ferguson: Well, I've been interested in film for a very long time; when I was a child, I used to cut classes to go to film festivals. And I've wanted to make films for a very long time, and that interest collided with, came together with, events in Iraq. In 2004 I had dinner with George Packer, who's an old friend of mine; he's a journalist at the New Yorker, who wrote one of the earliest and best books (The Assassin's Gate: America in Iraq) about the Iraq war and occupation. And in the course of that dinner in 2004, George made it extremely clear that what was going on in Iraq was much different, and much worse, than what was generally understood. A couple of books had already come out, and several more were being written, so it seemed as if there were going to be a number of good books about the war in Iraq and the occupation. But there weren't any films, which surprised me. And for better or worse, Americans don't read books very much; the total circulation of all the books about Iraq is perhaps a million. Films, if they're at all successful, reach millions of people and sometimes tens of millions of people, so I felt that it was an important thing to do.