By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Sep 09, 2005 at 5:01 AM

{image1} Eight young American soldiers are stationed at "Camp Dreamland," the ironically-named Army headquarters on the outskirts of Fallujah, Iraq.

If you asked them why they are there, most of them would tell you that they've got an important job to do. If you then asked them what that job is, or even further, what it is accomplishing, their answers might be less than comforting.

Perhaps one of the disturbing revelations of Garrett Scott and Ian Olds' wartime documentary, "Occupation: Dreamland," is the open befuddlement among the majority of the troops as to what, exactly, they are trying to accomplish in Fallujah.

A common response among the men remains, " Sure, we want answers and clarification of our mission, but the bottom line is that we're here to follow orders." And scarier yet, "I guess somebody smarter than me knows what we're supposed to be doing here."

The film follows the day-to-day activities of members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division on patrol in the "city of mosques" in December 2004, just before the city exploded into violence and was essentially destroyed.

In the wake of its "final days," Fallujah appears as a catastrophically unstable and dangerous shell of a city where anti-Americanism runs rampant. As filmmakers, Scott and Olds were given access to all Army operations, including living with them and joining them in their mostly ineffective, yet highly dangerous, "mission objectives," which loosely translate to the troops as, "wander about, look for weapons, and try not to get shot."

What resulted is an intimate, if chilling, look into the life these soldiers have come to accept as their own. They discuss their fears, which extended beyond, "Am I going to die here?" to "Am I going to die here doing something useless and incomprehensible?" They also critically examine their intimidating presence on Iraqi civilians. "I don't blame them for hating us. I would be terrified if an Iraqi soldier kicked down my door in the middle of the night," one soldier admits.

But just as one man starts to feel the twinge of guilt, another steps in to qualify the chaos, "That's the ugly side that on one likes to hear about. Everyone wants their steak, but they don't want to know how the cow gets butchered."

Through their very honest and very candid conversations, you see the vast spectrum of attitudes and values that exist even among the small group of eight soldiers. From the division of political affiliation, to the amount of trust they hold in their leaders, to the ability to maintain belief in their own motives while occupying the city, they give a multi-opinionated voice to the war that is often silenced in the media.

One of the greatest accomplishments of this documentary is its ability to capture the horror and hopelessness of the situation without the blood and gore of Hollywood reenactments. We see through the eyes of the men living it, the pain, the anger and the anguish of war in the 21st century. It enables viewers of all political leanings to feel compassion for the soldiers' sacrifice as human beings without pledging allegiance to the war itself.

"Occupation Dreamland" premieres in Milwaukee on Friday, Sept. 9 at 7 and 9 p.m. at UWM's Union Theatre. It is playing with "Hearts and Minds" as part of a three-day program called "Histories of Violence: Vietnam and Iraq," which also shows Saturday at 5 and 9:30 p.m., and Sunday at 7 p.m. Filmmaker and UWM alumnus Garrett Scott will be in attendance.

Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”