While there has been much hullabaloo about the current political influence of documentaries that criticize the Bushies and their foibles and supporters, we shouldn’t forget the critical documentaries made during the last Republican-dominated decade. These films were made by dedicated and often underappreciated filmmakers who fought budgetary odds and relied on 1980s technology, and whose work was often overlooked by distributors and the media. In the Reagan/Bush 80s, wars raged in Central America as the United States backed dictators in El Salvador and Guatemala and supported the Contras against the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua. In the case of Panama the United States supported a dictator and subsequently invaded the country (sound familiar?). Films like When the Mountains Tremble (see below) helped expose the atrocities committed by the U.S.-backed dictatorship in Guatemala and ultimately helped bring recognition to indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchu, who went on to win a Nobel Peace Prize. The Panama Deception by Barbara Trent and David Kasper went on to win the 1992 Academy Award but didn’t get nearly the kind of distribution some political docs are getting right now. Then as now, political filmmakers helped create an important part of the historical record, one that is increasingly becoming standard, recognized and wholly embraced.
When the Mountains Trembled
20th Anniversary DVD (available in stores or at docurama.com on August 24th)
I recently was reading a journal I wrote when I was traveling in Central America in 1990. I came across a passage I wrote while living in Guatemala and attending a language/cultural school in Xela, where at night we would sometimes watch documentaries. The passage went: "…then I watched When the Mountains Tremble—a great doc. about Guatemala with Rigoberta and all—real footage of strange things—funerals, massacres, URNG meetings, trainings—it was very intense—definitely—then I went back—read and wrote a poem—the next night actually—in español." I very much doubt that poem I wrote as a 21-year-old voyager was much good, but this seminal and Sundance-winning film about Guatemala by Pamela Yates and Newton Thomas Sigel should be seen and added to any collection.
The Take (opens September 22 at Film Forum)
Canadian No Logo author Naomi Klein writes and produces this film about the extraordinary drama of Argentina’s economic decline in the 1990s at the hand of structural adjustment and globalization. In 2001, Latin America’s most prosperous middle class found itself in a ghost town of abandoned factories and mass unemployment. The story mostly revolves around how 30 unemployed auto parts workers walked into their idle factory and took it recreating it within a wholly different alternative framework.
Fourth World War (August 26-29 & September 10-14 at Anthology Film Archives)
Big Noise Tactical produces this burgeoning epic from the makers of films like This Is What Democracy Looks Like and Black & Gold. It weaves together stories of popular movements rarely visited by the mainstream media including Argentina, Palestine, and South Korea as well as resistance footage from Quebec City and Genoa. It is an activist tool and a radical compendium of footage from around the world, perfect for dipping into during the RNC. If you bring a Republican you can watch them squirm; if you come as a protester you’ll see you’re not alone.