Take One Action! Film Festival
Anybody who has a poster of Theo Angelopolous’s The Weeping Meadow up on his wall is unlikely to ignore the aesthetics of film. But Take One Action organiser Simon Bateson also wants “to get bums off seats as well”. He wants the viewer watching various political and activist oriented films not only to contemplate the work, but to do something about the issues raised in the movies. All the screenings are accompanied by discussions as Bateson talks of seeing cinema “as a space for active citizenship.”
Any festival incorporating Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times within social activist cinema suggests a healthy breadth of perspective, and a sense of humour. Chaplin’s leftish leanings led to a smear campaign suggesting he belonged to the Communist Party, and Modern Times remains an astute critique of Taylorism in the work place, and surely the funniest.
Very much worth catching is Reporter, with director Daniel Metzgar following the New York Times’ veteran journalist Nicholas Kristof into the Congo as the film explores the nature of a profession under threat from the internet, while at the same time musing over the ethical codes of the profession. What is especially interesting is that this is played out against very real and immediate threats. When Kristof and a couple of others go off and interview the dangerous yet impressive General Nkunda, there is palpable suspense within the frame.
The Hunger Season is less impressive, or maybe perhaps just more determined to push its point, and one with a very clear sense of urgency. When we have 19 million people a year dying from malnutrition; and many in the West spending more money on a cappuccino than an African earns in several days, then an indignant tone is almost inevitable. As the film travels to Swaziland and looks at the malnourished and the HIV positive, so it also enquires into those with charitable spending power in the US – the international charity organizations that must decide who amongst the world’s poor are the most worthy of aid. The Hunger Season also asks whether aid is as important as helping the people to help themselves. As one former agricultural minister proposes, it is the difference between giving someone a fish and giving them the skills to make the net so they can catch the fish themselves.
Joe Berlinger’s engagement in Crude started when he went to Ecuador and saw people in the Amazon unable to eat the fish from their own rivers due to oil pollution, and witnessed them eating tinned Tuna from a huge can. He follows American lawyer Steve Donziger and the Ecuadorian attorney Pablo Fajardo as they take on multi-national company Chevron over oil spillages years before when going under the name Texaco. The film becomes as serpentine as it is activist. Offering numerous points of view without losing sight of the very real tragedy, in one scene we see a room full of papers, all devoted to this one case. Berlinger reckons it might be another ten years before it is resolved.
Other films in the festival include the semi-doc The Age of Stupid and the Malawi documentary I Am Because We Are, narrated and produced by Madonna. There is also Born into Brothels, about prostitution and the possibilities of creative emancipation in Calcutta, and the new Yes Men film, The Yes Men Fix the World practising a sort of a hoax utopianism. Here they set up a series of hoaxes including an announcement that all the Bhopal victims will be compensated by the company that have bought Union Carbide, and produce fake New York Times six months into the future full of stories
Bateson reckons the films explore “the outrageous, hilarious and occasionally (but not always) complex roots of global and political injustice.” A number of the films here capture that sense of complexity, without at all indicating that such convolutions need incapacitate us. In Crude we may not know for sure exactly who should be held culpable for the crude oil polluting the Amazon, but we do know it needs to be stopped, and people held responsible. As someone in the film so aptly points out, “the Amazon is the lungs of the world”. By the same reckoning film can be the voice of protest: Take One Action shows that when you want to send a message you needn’t do so, contrary to the old Hollywood adage, only through Western Union. Can’t films carry messages too?