for National Geographic News
In March 2004 filmmaker Deborah Scranton started receiving raw war footage via email.
Scranton was then just beginning work on a documentary in which her cameramen filmed half a world away from her New Hampshire studio.
Some of them had never used a video camera before, but all of them had been trained to shoot.
The cameramen were also actively deployed U.S. National Guard soldiers in Iraq with Charlie Company of the 172nd Infantry Regiment (Iraq profile, maps, music).
Scranton's finished film, The War Tapes, is the first commercially released movie filmed by soldiers. It is also the first war film to be directed from the other side of the planet via email and instant messenger (IM).
Winner of the Tribeca Film Festival's Best Documentary award, The War Tapes opens in New York on June 2 and is slated to open in select other U.S. cities through early July.
Steve James, director of the Academy Award-winning film Hoop Dreams, edited and co-produced the documentary with Academy Award-winning producer Robert May.
James stayed with Scranton at her New Hampshire farmhouse, and he recalls his colleague often being on email and IM.
"Whenever that IM ping on her computer went off, she would rush to the computer to see if it was one of [her cameramen]," he said.
The movie began with a flash of inspiration, Scranton says. The veteran journalist had been offered the chance in February 2004 to be an embedded reporter with the New Hampshire National Guard when they deployed to Iraq.
(Related news: "National Geographic TV Reporter Embedded in Iraq" .)
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