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Cinematic: Cells of Terror

Errol Morris takes an in-depth look at the impact of the Abu Ghraib photos in his most recent documentary.

By Maya Parmer

Published Apr 1, 2009 9:01 AM

"Is it possible for a photograph to change the world?"


Filmmaker Errol Morris stands in the infamous Abu Ghraib prison.

Academy Award-winning filmmaker Errol Morris' 2008 documentary Standard Operating Procedure examines the photos taken by soldiers in Abu Ghraib prison that transformed America's image of itself. Two years of investigating, a million and a half words of transcribed interviews, thousands of pages of reports and hundreds of photographs all culminate in this terrifying documentary, screening on May 20 at the James Bridges Theater as part of the UCLA International Institute's International Human Rights Film Series.

The military term "standard operating procedure" describes the protocol to be followed in performing a given operation or reacting to a given event. Morris' film delves into the reasons behind the practices for suspected terrorists at Abu Ghraib. Despite the emphasis on "standard," these procedures were rarely set and regulated by the military and instead were left to the discretion of individual prisons and their authorities.

Awarded the Jury Grand Prize at the Berlin Film Festival last year, Standard Operating Procedure is linked to a book written by Philip Gourevitch and Morris.

Morris' groundbreaking documentary career took off in 1978 with Gates of Heaven and in 1988, he released his controversial film about police, The Thin Blue Line, dubbed the "first movie mystery ever to solve a mystery." In 2003, Morris added an Academy Award for best documentary feature for his epic examination of Robert McNamara in The Fog of War. Roger Ebert raves, "After 20 years of reviewing films, I haven't found another filmmaker who intrigues me more ... Errol Morris is like a magician, and as great a filmmaker as Hitchcock or Fellini."

Errol Morris' Documentary Standard Operating Procedure. Wednesday, May 20, 7 p.m., James Bridges Theater, Melnitz Hall. Free. For more information, call (310) 825-1455 or visit