Documentaries speak truth to power

Toronto Film Festival 2003 – part 3

As mentioned in my last column, the 2003 Toronto International Film Festival provided a wealth of excellent documentaries for progressive film enthusiasts.

While this reviewer was unable to see all the films of significance, and intentionally avoided some of those that will be shown in local theaters, the following highlights offer an amazing visual feast and mind-altering experience.

“The Corporation” (Canada) – Subtitled “The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power,” this 165-minute probing Canadian examination of the development of corporations is so well done it could have continued for two hours longer. Loaded with facts seldom known about the rise of this popular institution into the most powerful force in the world economy, the film covers every aspect of its growth. Since laws interpret a corporation as “an individual,” this film analyses the patient and discovers that it has every characteristic of a psychopath. Extremely well edited and engrossing, this film won a runners-up People’s Award at the festival. Carefully documenting the 150-year history of the institution, with intriguing interviews and visual support, the film is a “must see” for all serious advocates of social change.

“The Fog of War” (USA) – The enigmatic intellectual presence of former Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara questioning the morality of his political decisions is a rare sight. It takes a director like Errol Morris (“Brief History of Time,” “Thin Blue Line,” “Mr. Death”) to capture the contradictions and ambiguity of people’s actions. This is history told by a politician who was deeply involved in major events. Intelligent, insightful and philosophical, this movie grabs the viewer from the beginning and only lets you go after you’ve believed several times that there couldn’t be any more coming from one person. All of Morris’s films are available on video, and watch for this on cable television soon.

“The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” (Ireland) – Quite possibly the most amazing true-life events ever captured on film. An Irish film team was in Venezuela to make a documentary about the charismatic President Hugo Chavez. Much to everyone’s surprise, while the cameras were rolling, a military coup took place. The president was removed from office and an interim government was installed immediately. But that’s not the end of the story. Chavez’s supporters take to the street to demand their leader’s return. Well, you know what happens next, and it’s all on film! The shady dealings with U.S. intelligence, interviews from both sides, disruption of the economy, oil production for ransom – all are covered by this film, which eventually captures the power of the people like it must have been during “Ten Days That Shook the World.” Except this only took two days. Exceptional film coverage, nail-biting excitement and history like you’ve never seen it!

“Game Over: Kasparov and the Machine” (Canada) – We all remember the Soviet domination of chess as a sport. Garry Kasparov, considered by many to be the greatest exponent in chess history, decided to take on the challenge from IBM’s notorious computer, Deep Blue. Eventually beaten by Deep Blue, Kasparov loses his chance of a rematch and becomes one of the most sullen losers in chess history. This film examines his uncanny intelligence and the political climate throughout his life in the former Soviet Union. Fascinating and compelling, the film is structured as a chess game itself, and the viewer never knows what will happen next.

“Yes Men” (USA) – How can two guys take on one of the most powerful groups in the world, the World Trade Organization? How about creating a website in the likeness of the real WTO website and putting out press releases announcing the disbandment of the organization? By fooling a lot of people, the Yes Men actually get invited to speak at conferences as representatives of the WTO. By carefully avoiding libelous actions, they carry on in a manner that exposes the organization for its insensitive and cruel policies. This document of some of their public appearances is downright hilarious, while being politically astute. Nothing wrong with trying to have a little fun while changing the world.

The author can be reached at bmeyer@macgroup.org.