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Q&A: Kimberly Peirce,
Director of Stop-Loss

An online exclusive

Kimberly Peirce in New York, March 2008 / Photograph by WARREN DARIUS AFTAHI

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Monday, March 31, 2008

By Annie Nocenti



Stop-Loss is not a war film. Nor is it an anti-war film. Stop-Loss is an engrossing, patriotic story told from the point of view of returning Iraq veterans. It is a truthful, resonant tale, as it has been mined from the wealth of soldier-generated material: The ubiquity of digital cameras and the Internet has allowed soldiers to speak directly about life in world of sand, flies, boredom and shellfire. Stop-Loss is in some ways a mash-note to the history of classic war films. It opens with the chaos of Three Kings and Apocalypse Now, shifts to the kind of down-and-dirty battles found in Full Metal Jacket and Platoon, then heads stateside to takes on touches of The Best Years of Our Lives and The Deer Hunter, only to hit the road in a way reminiscent of The Last Detail. All those references aside, Stop-Loss is a new kind of “war” film.

Released at a time when the box-office has not supported films about the Iraq War, Kimberly Peirce’s Stop-Loss chose to emphasis a dramatic, youthful narrative. From the Gulf War, and now even more so from the Iraq War, came a flood of raw, eclectic home videos shot by soldiers — creative mash-ups, docs, rap, poetry, music — and Peirce has used this prima materia to create the very texture of her film.

Stop-Loss is Peirce’s first film since the riveting, Academy Award-winning Boys Don’t Cry, which, like Stop-Loss, was based in extensive research and true stories. The military policy of “Stop-Loss,” more commonly known as the “back door draft,” is hidden bit of fine print in a soldiers’ contract that forces recruits to go back for extra tours, rather than allowing them to retire. With recruitment at an all-time low, this policy has had a devastating effect on the shrinking pool of available soldiers. Stop-Loss has a website “Sound Off,” where soldiers post their own movies, and links to a “create-your-own” trailer on Facebook.

Stop Smiling: Can you talk about the site where you can make your own Stop-Loss trailer?

Kimberly Peirce: That’s called a mash-up, on Facebook. And with Sound Off, we give cameras to soldiers and their families, they film and we cut it together. They get online and interact with people, with other soldiers. I’ve got military wives coming on and they’re like, “Honey, this is how you deal with him being gone.”

SS: Vietnam was the last televised war, and then for the Gulf War there was a near blackout.

KP: It was blackout, but it was on cable. I was just at CNN headquarters in Atlanta getting interviewed. It’s interesting. They track their history based on [the Gulf War] because that was when their big boom was, in 1991.

SS: Now soldiers put their cameras on their Humvees?

KP: I’ve seen them put the camera just facing the window, so that when a bullet hits, the thing shatters. I have other [videos] where they tie [the camera] on the inside, under the gun turret, and as they’re speeding forward, you’re seeing it. On the ground, I’ve seen the camera on sandbags, on the gun turret.

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