[amc] Army Concerned About HBO War Film

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 May 14, 2006

Army Concerned About HBO War Film

By EDWARD WYATT

Senior Army officials have scaled back their planned participation in an
advance screening of a documentary about an Army Combat Support Hospital in
Baghdad out of concern that its grim medical scenes could demoralize
soldiers and their families and negatively affect public opinion about the
war, Army officials said Friday.

Two senior Army officers, who were granted anonymity to publicly discuss
the private deliberations of Army leaders, said the secretary of the Army,
Francis J. Harvey, had declined to attend the screening by HBO, scheduled
for Monday night at the National Museum of American History in Washington.

High-ranking military officers, including Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker, who is
the Army chief of staff, and Lt. Gen. Kevin C. Kiley, the surgeon general
of the Army, had been expected to attend the screening but now will
not, people involved in preparations for the event said.

The documentary, titled "Baghdad ER," chronicles two months at the 86th
Combat Support Hospital, where filmmakers were given broad access to follow
doctors, nurses, medics and others as they treated soldiers wounded by
roadside bombs and in combat. As one nurse, Specialist Saidet Lanier, says
in the film: "This is hard-core, raw, uncut trauma. Day after day, every
day."
The Army officials said that concerns about the documentary - which
includes footage of an amputation and of wounded soldiers undergoing
surgery and, in some cases, dying - were also raised by the wives of top
Army officers who had seen the film.
"Given the subject matter, it's not something you're going to cheer at the
end," said one senior Army official.V
Richard L. Plepler, an executive vice president at HBO, said the screening
would take place as planned on Monday, but he said he expected far fewer
people to attend than the 300 or so that Army officials told him to expect
after an initial screening at the Pentagon.
"We had discussed a larger degree of participation from senior members of
the Army when we first visited the Pentagon in March," Mr. Plepler said.
"One retired general who was there told us the film 'captured the soul of
the United States Army.' Therefore, we're a little surprised by the change
in plans."
Paul Boyce, a public affairs specialist at the Pentagon, said the screening
on Monday was planned as a tribute to the medical personnel featured in the
film and did not require the participation of senior Army officials.
Several doctors featured in the film are planning to attenVd the
screening, Mr. Boyce said.
A screening has also been scheduled at Fort Campbell, Ky., where the 86th
Combat Support Hospital is based, and the documentary has been sent to
medical teams at about 20 other bases for screenings.
The film, directed by Jon Alpert and Matthew O'Neill, will be shown May 21
on HBO.
HBO has been promoting the documentary as a tribute to the heroism of the
soldiers and medical personnel who are shown working under severe stress.
But the producers acknowledge that its harrowing scenes could be
interpreted differently.
"Anything showing the grim realities of war is, in a sense, antiwar," said
Sheila Nevins, president of HBO's documentary and family unit. "In that
way, the film is a sort of Rorschach test. You see in it what you bring to
it."

David S. Cloud and Eric Schmitt contributed reporting for this article.


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