John Pilger - Documentaries That Changed the World (4 stars)

John Pilger - Documentaries That Changed the World

(E) 650mins (Network DVD retail)


It’s hard not to feel ambivalence towards anyone who insists on partisanship. John Pilger is a case in point. A genuinely crusading print and TV journalist, Pilger has been fighting for the rights of the poor, the put-upon and the ordinary man for over 40 years. This monumental work brings together a dozen films, carefully chosen by Pilger himself, covering 70s work, The Quiet Mutiny and Year Zero ?" The Silent Death of Cambodia, mid-period work such as Nicaragua - A Nation’s Right to Survive, and the more recent Palestine is Still the Issue and Breaking the Silence - Truth and Lies in the War on Terror.

But while Pilger is a hell of a lot more contextual than just about anyone in his detailing of the history behind the events he focuses upon, he’s also far from impartial. Yet when, for example, in Palestine is Still the Issue, he mentions Israel’s usurping of Palestinian land during the 1967 Six Day War, he fails to mention that Israel did so because of the Arab troops amassing on its borders. This isn’t at all to excuse Israel’s consistently belligerent attitude, but it does allow space for hard-line Zionists to counter him. Pilger’s desire to make a point sometimes means he’s not so much lax with the truth as prejudiced with the facts.

In a recent interview with Anthony Hayward, included on this four disc set, Pilger talks about the need for scepticism. It’s useful to keep your own scepticism in mind when watching these films. From this position we can’t help but admire Pilger’s range, his confidence, his sense of righteousness, and his willingness to take on bureaucratic bunglers, peering over the top of his trademark reading glasses as he gives his latest victim a steely stare. This is television that matters, and many of the films were made when TV itself seemed to want to make a difference. With minor reservations, this is as good as good as it gets.

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