U.S. Marines filling their cigarettes with Afghan hash or smoking marijuana while on guard duty. Profound language and unprofessional behavior. Extreme violence. “Combat Obscura” is certainly not your average recruiting film. And that’s the reason why the United States Marine Corps (USMC) doesn’t want you to watch it.
This war documentary was filmed and directed by Lance Cpl. Jacob Miles Lagoze, a former combat videographer and current film student of Columbia University School of the Arts. Lagoze and his fellow combat cameramen were attached to the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines and followed their infantry brethren during an arduous 2011 deployment in Helmand Province. Helmand, situated in southern Afghanistan, is considered one of the toughest places in country because it’s the spiritual home of the Taliban movement. It also contains vast poppy fields used to produce drugs, which complicates the situation on the ground and makes it that much harder for coalition troops to operate. Two huge bases were constructed in Helmand: the U.K.’s Camp Shorabak (formerly Bastion); and the U.S.’s Camp Leatherneck.
“Combat Obscura” triggered an angry response from the USMC. For months, it tried to block the film’s release, citing that it utilizes unauthorized U.S. Department of Defense footage. “The actions depicted in the film of these few betrayed the trust and safety of their fellow Marines; they selfishly put their own self-interests over their unit, and by doing so put their entire team at risk,” said Major Brian Block, a USMC spokesperson, as interviewed by Task & Purpose.
“While we contend that at least some of the content of the film — produced with Marine Corps equipment, during a Marine Corps deployment, and not cleared for public release by any official release authority — is rightly the property of the U.S. Government, we do not plan to pursue any legal action against Mr. Lagoze at this time,” added Major Block, implying to the potential public-relations backlash that would stem from such an action.
Usually, combat cameramen are attached to units and follow them on operations, filming as they go. Thereafter, they interview some of the troops and piece together footage from the operations to produce the videos that you can watch online. But there are restrictions to what they can shoot or show. For instance, Lance Corporal Lagoze was ordered not to shoot while Marines were swearing or smoking, or if they weren’t wearing their full combat loadout. Interestingly, he was also instructed to not capture footage of casualties. But “Combat Obscura” defies these restrictions in an attempt to show what war in Afghanistan is actually like for the majority of troops.
On March 15th, “Combat Obscura” released in select theaters and premiered online.