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Coming out of the Shadow: Vancouver filmmaker follows soldiers of fortune

Category: 300 News
Article Date: October 2, 2006 | Publication: The Vancouver Province (British Columbia) | Author: Stuart Derdeyn

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More than 20,000 private-military-company personnel draw a paycheque in Iraq right now. This is the largest employment of their services in modern war.

Shadow Company is an 86-minute introduction to their world.

James Ashcroft, 28, is one such soldier of fortune. Educated at Cambridge as a lawyer, he opted out of law to pursue his true calling: mercenary.

"I knew him in university and when he told me he was going to get a job guarding diamond mines in Nigeria, I thought he was joking," says Vancouver-based filmmaker Nick Bicanic. "He didn't go to Africa -- instead he went to Iraq.

"I made a movie about him."

Ashcroft proves a brilliant narrator to introduce viewers to the seedy underbelly of the modern PMC.

In a fast-paced, well-presented documentary, we jump off from his daily grind in Baghdad to interviews with people such as Alan Bell, the president of Globe Risk Holdings and a specialist on security matters, and former South African army vet and current security contractor Cobus Claassens.

"Usually, trying to access people in filmmaking, you have to get through 16 layers and hope to get a call back. With this idea, most people were willing and enthusiastic."

One reason for the director's success is probably Bicanic himself. The tall, fit Croatian was groomed for the officer's core in university and fast-tracked to a commission. He admits that this gave him a familiarity when interviewing subjects not seeking publicity.

"I assumed that waltzing in to talk to military guys unaccustomed to the camera wouldn't get the desired results, so I spent a lot of time with the subjects before doing any interviewing."

The easygoing banter almost lulls you into forgetting that the subject matter includes taking rebels out in Sierra Leone or how to bodyguard a client in Baghdad as opposed to Rome (hint: You can't use as as much firepower in Italy.) It is also likely to infuriate anyone who attends a screening expecting to see some kind of Fox News bludgeoning or Michael Moore-style spin on the topic.

"We were deliberately cautious maintaining balance. From the beginning, I didn't set out to say these guys are evil maniacs or that this is great and everyone should hire PMCs."

Avoiding the polarization typical of most documentaries covering such hot topics has provided the film exposure in surprising places. A Capitol Hill screening in front of a room full of Democrat and Republican senators proved extremely successful.

"They don't want opinion masquerading as facts with statistics to back it up. But it has proved harder to find a hook to market the film because all I'm saying is this world is a mess and here is another thing you should know."

That Shadow Company leaves you to make up your own mind about its subject matter means Bicanic has faith in viewers' intelligence. Wild idea, that.

Copyright 2006 The Vancouver Province, a division of CanWest MediaWorks Publication Inc.
All Rights Reserved


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