By Goodridge, Mike
The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Joel Soler didn't specifically mean for his excoriating documentary portrait of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, Uncle Saddam, to get its first U.S. TV screening this month (the film premieres November 26 on Cinemax). Nor did Cinemax's owner, Home Box Office, have any idea that the United States would be in such an explosive head-to-head conflict with Saddam when it programmed the film a year ago. "The timing bothers me," says Soler. "It feels like propaganda. As it happens, the film was made two years ago and has already traveled around film festivals and been released in theaters."
Not that Soler has any sympathy for Saddam or his regime. The French-born, openly gay filmmaker gained exclusive access to Saddam's entourage and archives while in Iraq, and the resulting portrait is of a man drunk on power and obsessed with his own legacy. If Saddam weren't so murderous, the film would be funny for its high-camp elements, such as the picture gallery of Saddam portraits or details of his plans to build an island in the shape of his own thumbprint. "He is like a Roman emperor, a diva," explains Soler, who gained such intimate access by pretending he was malting a movie on the U.N. embargo. "He's campy as well as evil. When he goes on a diet, everyone in the entourage has to go on the same diet. His palaces are like hotels in Las Vegas."
Soler's time in Iraq was fraught with danger. While he scored close contact with Saddam's interior designer and other members of the entourage, he was escorted everywhere he went by two government agents. When, after two months, Saddam's reps finally started to suspect Soler's intentions, they demanded that he take blood tests to see if he had any communicable diseases. "We had gone to a hospital, and they asked me to sit down when this nurse came at me with a needle," he recalls. …