Ones to watch

Vivian Cullen reviews the best progressive documentaries

The War on Democracy (John Pilger, 2007)

This is a hidden history not of the spread of democracy but rather of empire-building. It catalogues the conquest, direct and indirect results, bloodshed and colonisation of Latin America.

A lon-time campaigner against injustice and human rights abuse, John Pilger, states that “since 1945, the United States has attempted to overthrow 50 governments, many of them democracies. In the process, 30 countries have been attacked and bombed, causing the loss of countless lives”.

Governments which don’t bow down to the greatest power on earth pay a very high price, the murder and torture of thousands of men and women. The film charts the replacement of democratic governments with dictators, the rise of neo-fascist regimes, the influences of corporations, financial institutions and anti-democratic propaganda.

Pilger takes us on a journey to Gatemala, Chile under Pinochet, the “Contra” death squads in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, Cuba and Venezuela; all were subject to varying degrees of the tentacles of the US empire. At times the War on Democracy gets very ugly, considering en route we hear from former CIA agents and a former CIA chief, who try to justify their government’s behaviour in the name of “national security” and a super-paranoia of the spread of communism.

What is humbling is the number of victims in different countries, talking about their experiences of torture and brutality.

Although a lot of the US-backed ruling class have not gone away, change and hope is around, exemplified by an interview with the late Hugo Chavez (President of Venezuela from 1999 to 2013( signalling a new dawn for South America. Chavez quotes Victor Hugo: “The power of an idea whose time has come”. Pilger says “[This film] is about the struggle of people to free themselves from a modern form of slavery”. It is also a passionate and disturbing film which conveys the courage of people surviving where ideologies conclude. It is a dark ride.

The Take (Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein, 2004)

Argentina was “a rich country made poor” by Carlos Menem, President from 1989 to 1999, by his embracing of IMF policies. Downsizing and selling off public assets eventually led to economic meltdown and half of the country falling below the poverty line. As the IMF gave the country massive loans, Argentina dug an even bigger hole, which ended in the “largest sovereign debt default in history”, as the rich moved their money offshore, the government froze all bank accounts, leaving many people locked out of their life-savings. Millions came onto the streets as the system collapsed.

As Naomi Klein states: “There is only so much protesting can accomplish, at some point you have to talk about what you are fighting for”. So what are the alternatives? The answer; occupy, resist, produce. A new movement, a new economy emerged where hundreds of closed factories had no bosses and workers were running industries themselves. In many cases the state responded with violence, sometimes tear-gassing workers as attempts were made to serve eviction orders.

The film gives voice to ordinary workers as they struggle with dignity to provide for their families. The issues and concerns of their remarkable film are universal, the polarisation of society, the haves and the have-nots, unemployment, injustice, corruption, the triumph of the human spirit and an important health warning about globalisation.


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