Thursday, 5 January 2012

We Are Many: Will We Be On The Same Page?

Milan Kundera’s memorable phrase, “the struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting”, will find ample resonance in the documentary, ‘We are Many’ , that BBC journalist Amir Amirani is producing and directing on the 15 February 2003 global anti-war demonstrations in which millions participated but were then ignored by their leaders, principally the Bush-Blair-Aznar clique, which invaded and destroyed Iraq on a monstrous lie.

The event needs remembering for at least three reasons: it set the pattern for rolling wars in this century; it was the first truly global day of demonstration in which tens of millions participated in every continent and the participants asked nothing for themselves. It was a moral outrage against war mongering that had hijacked the cherished words, liberty, democracy and peace. Due for release on the tenth anniversary of the marches, the documentary will unfold “the drama of many millions of everyday people fighting to stop a war, set against a small number of people working to start one”. It will chronicle an “untold chapter in the history of people power… which reveals the potential power of ordinary people as well as the dark underbelly of the war machine”. Amirani lets it be known that the “story of the greatest mass mobilization in history is also a devastating critique of the state of democracy today”.

This is as good a start as any. Amirani works for the BBC but his employers would not fund him, which is why he has had to look for other sources and contributions from the people. BBC’s mistake is perhaps the least worst thing to happen since it will allow the story to be told without its restrictive framework. More than that, the BBC was stingy at best in giving airtime to the voices against the war and, once it started, enthusiastically embedded itself with the invading armies.

Amirani’s BBC experience will contribute to the making of a fine documentary. Yet that is also a legitimate source of concern. Will his narrative be able to look beyond the London-New York mental axis? How many of the talking heads will be from say Spain, Italy or Germany? Will they be central or the story or tokens? Will we see such inconvenient figures like George Galloway and John Pilger in the documentary? If, as Amirani says, he intends to look at reports and commissions on the war, will he also look at the media, his own included, which prepared the ground for the war? Curiously, Antarctica is mentioned as a shooting location but not Baghdad, which too had a large anti-war demonstration, no doubt aided by the Saddam government, and which has had to live with the consequences.

Clearly, funds are a problem and will dictate many of the choices but hopefully Amirani’s enterprise will be able to factor these in.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Impunity: Colombia's Elusive Justice

Colombia has long been at war with itself. It has a stinking human rights record but no more than a whiff of it reaches European and U.S. shores. It also has the biggest mass graves in Latin America, and recent ones among them. It has the world’s oldest guerrilla army, the FARC, which controls vast swathes of territory even after it has been severely weakened. It has many more paramilitary groups linked to the narcotics trade, some of whom staged a charade of a demobilisation a couple of years ago. The country’s institutions have long-held links with the drug cartels.

But it is strategically placed next to Brazil, Venezuela, Panama and Ecuador. Its ruling classes are the USA’s most enthusiastic lickspittles. The International Criminal Court is not at its proactive best when dealing with Colombia. All this allows many paramilitary bosses to escape justice. The recent documentary, Impunity, examines precisely this. The documentary-makers, Hollman Morris and Juan Jose lLozano ask: “Where are the decision makers in this war? Where did the orders come from? What purpose were they serving? What does it have to say, multinationals such as Chiquita Brands... military, businessmen, politicians and drug traffickers of this wonderful country?”

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Micro Debt: Small Loans, Big Problems

Muhammad Yunus, “banker to the poor”, Nobel Prize winner and head of Grameen Bank who popularised micro-credit worldwide, has been sacked from his post by the government of Bangladesh. Yunus and the bank will take the case to court and his friends, a powerful group including a former World Bank president and a former Irish president, have come out in his defence.

This was triggered by Micro Debt, a documentary by the award-winning Danish filmmaker Tom Heinemann first aired on Norwegian television in November 2010. Heinemann looks at the dark side of the micro-credit industry in Bangladesh, India and Mexico. He found that far from liberating the poor, these small loans trapped them even more in poverty and made them vulnerable to harassment from loan collectors and their peers.

The documentary raised the issue of “questionable” loan transfers by Yunus, something he, his bank and the Norwegians deny. The film is more than about one man being pulled down from the pedestal: Heinemann questions whether micro loans are fit for purpose as the “poor always have to pay”.

If you find this shocking, have a look at Renzo Martens' documentary, Enjoy Poverty, which he filmed over a period of two years in Congo.

Tom Heinemann's page

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Toxic Tears: Documentary on Farmers' Suicides

There is a silent epidemic of farmer suicides in India, a figure that reaches hundreds of thousands. Researchers reveal that it is something like a farmer taking his life every 30 minutes for more than a decade. There have been other documentaries made on the subject earlier and a Hindi film, Peepli Live, on this topic fared well at the box office.

The Times of India had this to report about a 24-minute documentary by a Dutch researcher on this issue:
It is a juxtaposition of contraries that has now become ironic. Even though Punjab government has found a negligible number of farmers who merit Rs 200,000 compensation, given to those who are driven to suicide because of debt, a Dutch researcher has been overwhelmed by the tragedy which has almost become an every house tale in the villages.

Tom Deiters, who had come to India six years ago to carry out research on farmer suicides in a cluster of Punjab villages as an academic exercise, was
moved by the destruction that the pesticides were wreaking that he decided to stay-on for a longer time.

His documentary, Toxic Tears, profiles the men and women in Punjab's villages who have lost their sons to the faulty farming practices. An old woman, her face heavily creased with age, in Chottian village, broke down as she narrated how her eldest son had drunk the very pesticide, which had trapped him in a debt, to end his life four years ago.

A year later, her younger son, unable to tolerate a failed crop and more debt, followed suit. Tom, whose thesis was for doing Masters in International Relations, a part of political science, at the University of Amsterdam in Holland, is now using the Punjab model, to highlight how globalisation is far removed from reality. "The evils of so called "green revolution" are so stark in Punjab," said Deiters.

"I want to use Punjab's example to show how the policy makers are not connected to the reality. This is important because other states in India want to follow Punjab's footsteps," he said. Frustrated by the pattern of the vicious trap that he had seen replicated across the villages, Toxic Tears, highlights how some, especially commission agents, are trying to deny farmers' suicides. "Farmers are borrowing money at outrageous rates from agents, many of whom double up as agents of pesticides and fertilizers. There is a strong bias at work,” said Dieters, who is now more focused on solutions.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Presumed Guilty: A Look At Mexican 'Justice'

 Antonio Zuñiga 

In Presumed Guilty, Geoffery Smith and Roberto Hernandes selected 90 minutes from about 350 hours of filming of the case of Antonio Zuñiga who was accused of murder. Picked up from the streets on December 12, 2005, the 26-year-old was framed for murder. In prison, he contacted Layda Negrete and Hernandez, two young lawyers, to defend him.

Unusually, the two lawyers who had made another short film called the Tunnel which secured the release of their client, took the camera as a key witness throughout two years of appeal and finally managed to overturn Zuñiga’s conviction, laying bare what they call the complex and byzantine world of Mexico’s judicial system. The film also records how Zuñiga changed from being just another prisoner to a protagonist of his moral transformation.The victim's family are unhappy with the documentary, saying their side of the story has not been told.

The film is being screened in 120 theatres in Mexico. In Mexico, the presumption is of guilt and the prisons are crammed with people who have very little hope of making it out. Hernandez and Negrete did the filming while Smith structured the documentary.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Geert Wilders: Europe's Most Dangerous Man?

Showing on BBC 2  February 14th, 7:00pm

A profile of controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders. The man with the shock of platinum blond hair is known for virulent anti-Islamic views which led to his being denied entry into Britain until he successfully appealed against the ban. The film follows him on the campaign trail during the 2010 Dutch general election. The leader of the Party for Freedom, now on the brink of real power in the Netherlands, Wilders is the first politician to stand trial on charges of inciting hatred because of his pronouncements on Islam and his call for a ban on the Qur'an. With anti-Islamic and anti-immigration parties on the rise in Europe, what makes him the poster boy of the far right? Members of the international anti-Islamic network who support him are also interviewed about their leader in this documentary by Bafta-winning film-makers Mags Gavan and Joost van der Valk.