Category Archives: Documentary

War is Sell (2004)

 “How and why might a culture take their conflict into an organized form?”

Napoleon once said, “Men will fight long and hard for a bit of coloured ribbon,” and considering he talked 1000s of men into an insane assault against Russia, well, we can only assume that Napoleon knew what he was talking about. The documentary film, War is Sell takes a look at how a war is ‘sold’ to the people who have to fight it. Obviously the politicians who come to the decision that war is the only solution to whatever foreign policy problem the country faces are not the ones who put their lives on the line, so the big question becomes, how do those at the top–those making the decisions–persuade the rest of us peons to go along with it?

war-is-sellWar is Sell is divided into three sections. The first section, Tricks of the Trade examines some tried-and-true methods behind whipping a country into a war frenzy, and this takes us to a discussion of propaganda. Propaganda is defined as “attempts to indoctrinate a mass audience” while it “strives to be invisible.” Interviews with several writers and media watchdogs are included, and the film examines propaganda techniques including: Demonizing the Enemy, 3rd Party Endorsement, Staying On the Message, Telling the Big Lie, Using Doublespeak, and Silencing the Opposition. The film uses a historical approach with archival footage to examine these tactics used through WWI up until the present mess in Iraq.

The film’s second section, Teaching Propaganda is the weakest. The filmmakers enter the classroom of high school teacher, Mary Skinner and record her lesson about propaganda and subsequent discussions with her students. While Skinner’s valiant efforts in the classroom are noted, this section of the film is uninteresting. Perhaps if one plans to teach a classroom of students the same sort of lesson, there’s some value here, but apart from that, this second section seems wildly out of place.

The film’s third section, however, was extremely interesting. This section, The Culture of War takes an anthropological approach to examine the phenomenon of violence. Professor Neil Whitehead from the University of Wisconsin presents a rational, thoughtful and intelligent overview of humans and their violent tendencies, and he notes that when it comes to war, there is a political gap between the “intentions of the leaders and the willingness of the followers” that has to be “filled with some sort of narrative.” The narrative, Whitehead argues, might include the “danger of resource loss” and/or the presentation of “aggressive action from another.” This narrative, Whitehead explains “need not be untrue.” Naturally, however, problems arise when national aggression towards another country is unjustified (based on, let’s say, wildly inflated intelligence information) or “presented as the only possible option.”

This final section (and strongest part of the film) includes: The Need for Propaganda, Bred for War, The Cannibal Within, The Terrorist Within (an examination of state terrorism and the Theory of the Intimacy of Violence.)

The 2-DVD disc set places the film on one disc, and the other disc is devoted to extras. Extras include: archival footage, WWI posters, short films: America Goes to War, Divide and Conquer, and Despotism, footage of the US presentation to the UN in 2003, miscellaneous Iraq War propaganda, deleted scenes, John Stauber: Embedded Reporters, Mary Carpenter: Trench Warfare, Robert Fisk: Descending into the Pit, Alexander Cockburn: Very Bad Liars, and Amy Goodman: The Silenced Majority. It’s somewhat uncanny to see propaganda materials from WWI and realise how strikingly similar these materials are to the stuff used to trumpet the Iraqi War. I suppose some things never change. For those interested in reading more about war propaganda, I recommend Mickey Z’s handy-dandy guide: Seven Deadly Spins.

Leave a comment

Filed under (Anti) War, Documentary, Political/social films

Anarchism in America (1983)

“I’m a man of peace, and that’s why I’m an anarchist.”

This DVD includes two documentaries–the title film, Anarchism in America and The Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists. In the first film, the filmmakers take the thesis that some aspects of the American temperament are compatible with aspects of anarchism. The filmmakers take to the road and interview various individuals with this thesis in mind. A variety of individuals–both anarchist and non-anarchist are interviewed–including a truck driver, and workers from a worker-owned sewing company. The decisions these individuals have made in their lives are examined in light of anarchist beliefs. The film also includes a segment featuring Ed Headman from the No More Nukes Programme in which he explains how the non-hierarchal aspects of the anarchists can also be found in No Nuke protests.

Additional segments from this 75-minute film include a brief clip of the Dead Kennedys in performance, followed by an interview with the band members. Archival footage of Emma Goldman is included, and the intensely practical Murray Bookchin also describes his movement towards anarchism following his disappointment with Communism.

The second film, The Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists is 55 minutes long, and it’s the stronger of the two films. The film examines the massive immigration to America in the late 1800s–a movement that brought with it a number of Jewish anarchists from Russia. They “replaced American culture with a counter culture” and established an “anarchist milieu.” These anarchist communities were devoted to fighting for better labour conditions in the sweatshop conditions prevalent in America at the time. The film also examines the Yiddish anarchist newspaper Freie Arbeiter Stimme–a newspaper that survived from 1890 until 1977. Many of those involved with the paper are interviewed, and with their words, they recreate the atmosphere of the times and the philosophical and ethical framework behind anarchism. In one particularly delightful scene, the caretaker of the Haymarket memorial remembers that during WWI, with anti-German feelings running high, the mayor of New York insisted on calling sauerkraut “liberty cabbage” (makes you think of those freedom fries….). The film also examines the strong antiwar sentiment amongst anarchists who are largely “pacifist by conviction…refusing to pick up arms”–and in particular describes the anti-conscription efforts of Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman who were ironically deported to Russia for their activism.

The interviewees describe a rich, vital, and well-organised anarchist society that included lectures, dances and the establishment of the Anarchist Red Cross–an organization devoted to aid for prisoners in Czarist Russia. Historian Paul Avrich appears to discuss the role of anarchists in the Labor movement in America–and various highlights in the movement are mentioned–including the Haymarket tragedy, the Ferrer Modern School, and the persecution of anarchists that resulted in the executions of Sacco and Vanzetti.

Of the two films, I preferred  The Free Voice of Labor: The Jewish Anarchists. Anarchism in America is a bit too shapeless for my tastes.  From directors Steven Fischler and Joel Sucher.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

Why We Fight (2005)

 “They want to spread democracy around the world on the point of our bayonets.”

Using footage from Eisenhower’s farewell speech to the nation, director Eugene Jarecki’s documentary film Why We Fight includes the departing president’s warning: “we have been compelled to create a permanent armament industry of vast proportions. We must not fail to comprehend its grave implications.” Eisenhower, according to interviews with family members, struggled with the growing Military-Industrial Complex, and as an old soldier, he was alarmed by its explosive expansion following WWII. The film examines the roles of all the players in the war food chain–from those who make the bombs, those who design the bombs, those who drop the bombs, those politicians who make the decisions to drop the bombs, and those contractors who profit so well from carnage. On the other side of the coin, the film also includes footage of the results of so-called “precision guided missiles” (and as it turns out, they can be wildly inaccurate), and this includes some fairly gruesome photos of the morgue in Baghdad.

why we fightOn another level, the film examines the background stories of two people touched in different ways by the war in Iraq. There’s a very sincere New Yorker, Wilton Setzer, a retired policeman who lost his son in 9/11. At first, he sought revenge for his son’s death, and like many Americans, he somehow connected the war in Iraq to the bombing of the Twin Towers. Setzer was flabbergasted when he heard Bush admit on television that there was “no connection” and his sense of clear outrage is shattering as he realizes that both his grief and patriotism have been exploited. Another thread follows the story of William Solomon, a young man who decides to enlist in the army following the death of his mother. One of the most interesting observations the film makes about enlisting is that “self-interest” is used to gain recruits, while paradoxically they are then expected to pay the ultimate “self-sacrifice.”

The most powerful statement the film makes, however, is the complete, startling emotional and moral disconnect of those involved with the war-machine of the Military-Industrial Complex. The film interviews humble assembly line bomb makers, and one woman who charmingly says she’s rather be “making toys” for Santa Claus, agrees she’d rather not think about the ultimate goal of the bombs she helps make. Similarly, pilots interviewed gently smile as they recall how proud they felt to be involved in the first air strike in the war on Iraq. Even a weapons designer–a woman forced to flee the debacle in Vietnam, is now ironically employed to design and create weapons that are crafted for maximum destruction. The film follows the war food chain through the huge corporations that benefit from war, the lobbyists, congress and the politicians who need to feed the voters at home with jobs from the Military-Industrial complex.

Undoubtedly, the film is so good because director Jarecki calls upon such a range of participants. Those interviewed include Richard Perle from the so-called New American Century Project, McCain, Gore Vidal, and various military advisors and historians. Lt. Gen Kwiatkowski who resigned from the Pentagon when she could not stomach the disinformation campaign that raged prior to the invasion of Iraq sums it up beautifully: “Why we fight? Because not enough people are standing up and saying I’m not doing this anymore.”

Leave a comment

Filed under (Anti) War, Documentary, Political/social films

Terrorstorm: A History of Government Sponsored Terrorism (2006)

“I think people should give up their liberty for freedom.”

In the documentary Terrorstorm: A History of Government Sponsored Terrorism filmmaker Alex Jones first presents an overview of government-sponsored terrorist events, and then posing the question “Was 9-11 an inside job?” Jones tackles the facts behind 9-11 and the 7-7-05 bombings in London.

Government “False Flag Operations” are, argues the film, “covert operations” conducted by “governments or corporations” that are by their nature “designed to appear” as though they were “carried out by others.” In other words, terror attacks are “staged” and then conveniently blamed on political enemies. Jones offers the viewer several well-known and not-so-well-known examples of False Flag Operations–the Reichstag fire, the Gleiwitz Incident, Operation Gladio, the Gulf of Tonkin Operation, and the sinking of the U.S.S Liberty. While the first two incidents were used as a pretext to war, Operation Gladio was an ongoing set of staged actions–terrorist events supposedly committed by Leftists–that created a Strategy of Tension within Italy. Information later revealed that the series of terrorist events in which innocent civilians were specifically targeted were staged by right wing elements of the government and the CIA.

From the overview of various False Flag Operations Jones leads to 9-11 and the London bombing of 7-7-05. In the London incident, Jones points out that drills were being conducted in London that day that pinpointed the same underground train stations as those ultimately attacked in the bombings. By an amazing coincidence, Norad was also conducting drills staging attacks on the day of the 9-11 attack. Jones argues that these drills were more than just coincidence, but were in fact designed to confuse and distract, and that “9-11 gave a pretext for a preconceived plan.”

Jones argues that the terrorist attacks of 9-11 and 7-7 are both False Flag Operations designed to strip citizens of their liberties while pursuing an imperialist global agenda. He boldly demonstrates the speed with which surveillance helicopters begin monitoring his activities when he takes a blow horn to Parliament (and this was, incidentally before the enactment of the recent Draconian laws that included forbidding any ‘free’ speech within the half-mile “Exclusion Zone” around parliament).

With Black Ops, double agents, recently declassified CIA documents, the murder of Brazilian Charles de Menzes, and Operation Northwoods, Terrorstorm includes an amazing amount of information–information that is deeply unsettling. The film points out that the leaked “White House Memo” shows that neither Bush nor Blair had much of a moral problem when it came to implementing a False Flag operation involving US planes painted in UN colours as the bait to lure Saddam into war. Jones also provides the background information on exactly why two SAS officers (dressed as arabs and carrying explosives) were arrested in September 2005 in Basra and thrown in an Iraqi jail. When the British army subsequently attacked the Iraqi police station to free their SAS men, it was obvious that there was a lot more to the story than we were being told. The film fills in the blanks with the details revealed in the British press, and it’s more than ugly.

Jones, who runs two websites, prisonplanet and infowars, is bold, unrelenting and fervent in his view that the so-called ‘War on Terror’ is just a way for governments–“our parasitic masters” to enact legislation that controls, manipulates and spies on people. The film includes interviews with former MI5 operatives, a former CIA analyst, Michael Meacher, physics professor Dr. Steven Jones, and Britain’s Brian Haw. It’s clear that Alex Jones is passionate about his subject, and the film’s narration echoes with chilling–and appropriate–quotes from Orwell’s 1984. If you enjoy this film, I highly recommend watching The Gleiwitz Incident.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

Passin’ It On: The Black Panthers Search For Justice (1993)

“An address from the political prisoners held captive in the dungeons of the United States.”

Richard Moore was found guilty and imprisoned for the machine gun shooting of two police officers in New York in 1971. Moore was already well known to the judicial system–born and raised in the Bronx ghetto, he served time in the 60s for felonious assault. While in prison in the 60s, he changed his name to Dhoruba Bin Wahad, and with a new sense of political awareness, he joined the Black Panther Party in 1968. This was a period of great social upheaval, and Moore–now Dhoruba and fresh out of jail–became involved in the Black Panthers and by extension–his own community.

Dhoruba recalls the American political institution’s response to the Black Panthers. According to Dhoruba, “everyone went bananas” and certainly V.P Spiro Agnew’s statement labeling the Black Panthers as a “completely irresponsible anarchistic group of criminals” leaves no doubt in one’s mind where the state stood. With the Black Panther “leadership targeted first”, and with Cointelpro on the case, soon a huge conspiracy charge–known as the Panther 21 case–was leveled against various leaders in the Black Panther Party. Dhoruba was one of the defendants. Dhoruba had just been acquitted from the conspiracy charge when two white policemen sitting in a car were machine-gunned–they survived. Dhoruba was convicted for the crime.

Was Dhoruba guilty of this crime–or was he guilty of being a Black Panther? While the documentary doesn’t exactly directly pose or solve the question of Dhoruba’s guilt, both sides of the argument have their say–there’s one juror who could not believe the lack of evidence, and former policemen who were happy with the conviction. Interviews with various Black Panther leaders point to the involvement of the shadowy, sinister Cointelpro–a government agency which was instituted to target dissidents and radicals. The film includes clips of Dhoruba speaking to crowds, and walking around his neighborhood while he discusses his memories and experiences. Other people involved in Dhorubas’s life are interviewed, and these interviews provide a sense of the social unrest, and the history of the Black Panther Party. The documentary Passin’ It On doesn’t delve deeply into Dhoruba’s case (I had many questions at the film’s conclusions), but it most certainly gives food for thought and raises many relevant questions about Cointelpro and the Black Panther Party. This film recently made it to DVD, and the DVD extras include a lot more information.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

Showdown in Seattle: Five Days that Shook the WTO

“There is only one thing the ruling interests have ever wanted, and that is everything.”

Showdown in Seattle: Five Days That Shook the WTO  tracks various aspects of the protests against the World Trade Organisation that occurred in Seattle in 1999.

Many people were only vaguely aware of mass protests against the WTO taking place in Seattle in 1999. To a signficant portion of the population, The World Trade Organisation sounds like a fairly benign thing, and the phrase “Free Trade” invokes–if anything–some pleasant images. But as part of the film explains, the WTO is a legislative body that can overrule governments at the local, federal, and state level. In effect, the WTO acts as an “international veto over the U.S. Constitution.” The WTO’s rules are written by corporations, to benefit corporations. The WTO uses child labour–amongst other things–and its policy is the exploitation of humans for profit.

The film is divided into five sections for a total running time of 137 minutes:
1) Seattle Prelude (25 mins)
2) People Unite, Police Riot (28 mins)
3) Occupied Seattle (28 mins)
4) Unwilling Captives (28 mins)
5) What Democracy looks like (28 mins)

Clips include interviews with various protestors, volunteers from the National Lawyers’ Guild, and union representatives speaking to the large crowds of protestors. Those protesting represent a wide spectrum of society–but they are united in their disgust of the WTO. Michael Parenti (father of Christian Parenti) makes some excellent points during his interview.

The most shocking section of the film is the footage depicting police actions against the protestors when tear gas and rubber bullets are unleashed. Many bystanders express their dismay and disbelief at the results, and while the violence does not escalate to the level suffered by protesting Russian citizens recently, the film’s images do rather rock to the foundations the notions of free speech. And as one observer observes, the tear gas and rubber bullets are ‘overkill.’ Those who imagined they were engaging in some form of “civil disobedience” and “non-violent direct action” which they thought would result in “mass arrest” instead found themselves the target of “chemical warfare.” This historically significant film provides invaluable on-site footage that is quite remarkable when one considers the stressed conditions.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Political/social films

The Last Zapatistas: Forgotten Heroes (2002)

“Let’s see if we can get back what was stolen from us.”

For the documentary, The Last Zapatistas, Forgotten Heroes director Francesco Taboada Tabone includes interviews with the remnants of General Zapata’s followers who fought in the revolution of 1910. This film was released in 2002, and many of those interviewed were born in the late nineteenth century. They tell their stories to the camera–how they fought for Zapata, and how he died. Many of the survivors were in their early teens when they joined Zapata, and they describe how the army conscripted young men, and exiled adult males, so to them joining Zapata’s army was the only viable choice.

One man remembers how the army used Yaqui Indians to fight in battles–giving each Indian a lump of sugar and a marijuana cigarette prior to being used as “cannon fodder.” Another recalls using homemade grenades packed with dynamite and pieces of metal inside large squash. Some of these old Zapatistas bring out their ancient weapons for the camera and recall the massacres conducted by the army–including one instance of seven young boys being hung from trees near a church. They discuss how the revolution failed to materialize, and that Zapata’s ideals–“Land, water, justice and law” are just as relevant today as they were almost a century ago. These old Zapatistas warn that Mexico’s current unrest and impending agrarian and ecological disasters could very well herald in another civil war. One has only to consider the recent events in Oaxaca and the death of Brad Wills to grasp a sense of this.

Bearing in mind the fact that the Mexican Revolution took place almost 100 years ago, the poverty of the old Zapatistas is startling. What does this mean when considering the 1910 revolution? And what does this mean about current conditions for Mexican peasants? The interviews are invaluable, but some background information could have bolstered the film with structure and context. In Spanish with subtitles.

Leave a comment

Filed under Documentary, Mexican, Political/social films