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Pablo Alvarez Murillo

A substantial number of documentary films emerged shortly after the 2003 invasion of Iraq in response to
the clinical and spectacular Eurocentric media discourse shaped by a political and military Western elite.
Some of these documentaries engaged with a form of counter-discourse that privileged the knowledge
derived from the testimonies and daily lives and struggles of first-hand witnesses of the conflict, either US
soldiers or Iraqi civilians. This thesis examines the counter-hegemonic and radical potentiality (as well as
limitations) of these documentary counter-discourses producing knowledge “from below” according to the
various perspectives that construct them. To carry out this task, I propose a dialectical discourse analysis
grounded in transnational and intersectional feminist practices and methods that looks at the complexities
and “scattered hegemonies” (Grewal and Kaplan) inscribed in both the epistemic contributions of these
documentaries and the power relations that shapes them.

Part one of this thesis outlines the epistemological difficulties that Western perspectives encounter in
constructions of documentary discourses from below. Thus chapter one tackles American documentary films
about the daily lives of on-duty low-rank US soldiers in Iraq, to argue that their discourses are shaped by
Eurocentric, masculinist and imperialist epistemologies that accommodate the imperialist political agenda of
a military and political US elite. Chapter two engages critically with Western documentaries depicting
ordinary Iraqis living under occupation. In particular, this chapter provides a close reading of Iraq in
Fragments and My Country, My Country, in order to demonstrate how these films propose stereotypical and
reductionist, or homogeneous representations of daily life in Iraq and of Iraqi subjectivities. In addition, it
criticises the filmmakers’ use of an observational mode in which local Iraqis produce knowledge “from
below” only in a passive and indirect way.
The two chapters in part two consider a number of mostly overlooked documentary films and videos
directed or co-directed by professional, amateur and student Iraqi filmmakers, in order to situate the
complexities, potentiality as well as ambiguities of their work. Chapter three deals with four counterhegemonic
discourses from below framed by professional Iraqis returning from exile. This chapter shows
how the Iraqi filmmakers’ specific positionalities contribute to the configuration of an intersectional and
counter-hegemonic model of the occupation and an engagement with ethical film practices of collaboration
and self-reflexivity. Chapter four analyses the consequences of empowering locally-based Iraqi perspectives
with the total or partial control over the means of film production. Challenging essentialist claims of
authenticity or views of the local as inherently “better” than globally produced discourses from below
(either Western or Iraqi interstitial perspectives), the first section of this chapter shows how local Iraqi
perspectives can reproduce hegemonic, binary frameworks, even if these are aimed to articulate antiimperialist
and oppositional rhetorical projects, The second section, on the contrary, demonstrate the radical
potentiality of local Iraqi perspectives by examining a socially transformative pedagogic mode of production
that disrupts internal hegemonic hierarchies by supporting a new generation of young Iraqi filmmakers in
the construction of their own discourses from below.

Thesis title:

Discourses from Below:
The Politics of Positionality in Documentary Counter-discourses about the post-invasion period in Iraq

Still from About Baghdad (2004)