Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

"Human Terrain" Reaches New Audiences

March 13, 2012

Human Terrain, a documentary film from the Institute's Global Media Project, was screened this month at the United States Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, and the Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University. The film examines the controversy over a US military strategy to use "culturally aware" soldiers and embedded social scientists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since its release in 2009, Human Terrain has been screened in New York, Paris, Brussels, Berlin and Copenhagen, among other cities. The film won the Audience Award at the November 2009 Festival dei Popoli in Florence, and has been an official selection at several leading film festivals.

The film focuses on the US military's controversial Human Terrain Systems program, adopted in 2006 to make cultural awareness a key element of counterinsurgency strategy. The military has described the Human Terrain System as an effort to "improve the military's ability to understand the highly complex local socio-cultural environment in the areas where they are deployed."

But the program has been criticized by many academics, who say it represents a misguided and unethical effort to gather intelligence and to target potential enemies, as well as a challenge to the independence of social science scholarship.

Human Terrain is the most-recent film from Institute Professor James Der Derian and filmmakers David Udris '90 and Michael Udris '91. Der Derian, a research professor at the Watson Institute who focuses on global security and media studies, previously collaborated with the Udris brothers on the films Virtual Y2K and After 9/11. Last semester, he was a Bosch Public Policy Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin, where he worked on a companion book to Human Terrain.

The film was produced by Udris Films and the Watson Institute's Global Media Project, which analyzes the role of media in international affairs and produces media about pressing global issues. The project is funded in part by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

By Watson Student Rapporteur Lauren Fedor '12