Real estate broker Brad Maaske thought someone should tell the story of the Iraqi people and the horrors they suffered while under Saddam Hussein’s rule. He never imagined he’d be the one to make a film about it.
Maaske’s documentary, “WMD: The Murderous Reign of Saddam Hussein,” opened last week in select theaters around the country, and he is currently working to distribute it to as many theaters as possible.
“It was a calling for me to do this one time,” said Maaske, broker/owner of Realty World Investors Realty in Visalia, Calif. “It’s been the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
With no plans to make another movie, Maaske is promoting the 96-minute film until at least 25 million people have seen it.
The film includes footage shot by Iraqi television stations and Iraqi soldiers during Saddam’s rule. It pieces together news footage from the 9/11 attacks in New York City, along with exclusive interviews with Iraqis and an interview with Michael Moore, whose movie “Fahrenheit 9/11” was the impetus behind Maaske’s documentary.
Maaske’s movie-making stirrings first began in June when he spoke with some local Iraqis who had lived under Saddam. They told him Americans had no idea what it was like, and that sentiment stayed with him as Moore’s film opened. “Fahrenheit 9/11” was instantly popular with some, but Maaske saw it as an un-American film and “political discourse that ignores the plight of the humans involved.”
He thought a movie should be made to show the sufferings of the Iraqi people. He asked friend Earl Grizzell if anyone planned to make such a movie, but Grizzell – who has Hollywood connections – couldn’t find anyone.
Maaske then heard about a film about Saddam by Jano Rosebiani, a Kurdish-American filmmaker. The movie was slated to open in New York just five days after his wedding, but Maaske postponed his honeymoon and flew to New York to see it.
The movie was good, but “just didn’t tell the story I wanted to tell.” Undaunted, Maaske decided to make the movie himself. He knew nothing about the movie industry or the process of making a documentary, but figured he could learn along the way with Grizzell’s help and connections. He aimed to release the film by the end of September, which didn’t leave him much time.
With Grizzell’s help, Maaske enlisted Rosebiani to bring back raw footage from Iraq. By Aug. 16, Maaske headed to the edit bay at a Burbank studio where he spent the following six weeks working 20 hours a day, catching a few hours of sleep on the studio’s couch. He spent only three nights at home during that time.
Maaske didn’t perform the actual editing, but watched the footage frame by frame.
“I had a clear vision of what I wanted,” Maaske said.
Part of that vision included releasing the movie before the November presidential election because of the extra publicity it would receive. It debuted in early October at the Liberty Film Festival – billed as Hollywood’s first conservative film festival – and received a standing ovation, Maaske said.
Still, Maaske maintains that the film is not political, but calls it “pro-American.” He said he purposely took out any political references or comments and instead focused on the human suffering. He also removed some of the more violent footage so younger viewers could watch.
“I went back and said, ‘What would I let my 10-year-old see?'” Maaske said. “And I want 10-year-olds to see it. I want the whole world to see it.”
Maaske has already spent half a million dollars on the project, which includes production and showings at 20 theaters. He wants another 400 theaters to show it, which will cost an additional $800,000.
He’s already borrowed against his house and sold every rental he owned to come up with the cash. Maaske is now trying to raise money to help pay for the remaining theater costs. He hopes the movie will return a profit, but he doesn’t expect to grow rich.
In the end, Maaske said, what matters most is getting people to see the film.
“I don’t make movies for a living,” Maaske said. “I can’t tell a good film from a bad film, and the American public will decide if this is a good movie.”
Maaske knew nothing about the movie production process when he set out to make the documentary, and he didn’t find his real estate brokerage experience to be of much help.
“The only thing I could relate to real estate is dealing with people,” Maaske said. “Taking all the talents and personalities and getting them to do the very best they could.”
A real estate broker since 1976, Maaske said he’s eager to leave the world of film production behind.
“I can’t wait to get back to what I’m very knowledgeable about,” Maaske said.
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