Doctors Without Borders: Life in the Field (National
Geographic Channel; Wednesdays at 9 pm ET/PT. Narrated by Kiefer Sutherland.
This is the ultimate “reality TV” show: follow around doctors
and nurses who have volunteered for the humanitarian organization Doctors
Without Borders (aka Médecins Sans Frontieres or MSF) on their
assignments in some of the most remote places on earth.
This series started off with a bang last month with a profile of “cool
hand Luc,” a seasoned nurse caring for prisoners in an overcrowded
prison on the Ivory Coast. In a candid interview Luc admits he has to
be somewhat crazy to work in such a place, but with a grin, he adds
that the rewards make it worthwhile and he’ll keep doing this
work for the rest of his life.
It’s hard to imagine waste management as exciting stuff, but watch
as engineer Richard Mowll tackles his task of draining several years’
worth of human waste from the basement of a hospital in Uzbekistan.
Soon you’ll be grinning with him as a ceiling-high room full of
stinking sludge slowly turns into a dry, clean basement.
Much of the shows center on logistics, which may seem boring, but much
of the work of MSF volunteers is simply—or not so simply—getting
to the places where they are needed. One segment follows Peter Rietveld
and Maria Kantilli on their mission to survey the health needs of remote
villages in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Scores of people are rumored
to be wasting away from an unknown disease in the “land of the
skeletons,” an area that hasn’t seen health professionals
in more than a decade. Watch as Rietveld and Kantilli doggedly make
their way through the wilderness on small motorbikes, getting stuck
in mud, crossing streams by balancing on logs, and fending off large
insects at night. They arrive to find villages plagued with people on
the verge of death, reduced to skin and bone, and shunned by other villagers.
One woman is found to have leprosy. Although heartbreaking, Peter Rietveld
manages to find hope, thoughtfully commenting that at least help is
now on the way. Due to his report, MSF will soon establish a clinic
to restore health to the villagers. It’s inspiring—and sobering—to
see each volunteer stare disaster in the face, yet find hope in spite
of it all. —C.C.
28 Days Later
directed by Danny Boyle (Fox Searchlight, 2002).
Believe the hype. This film is scary—very scary.
Set in London, 28 Days Later begins in a research laboratory.
A restrained chimp lies spread-eagle with wires attached to his head,
staring at banks of screens displaying horrific images of extreme violence.
A band of animal liberators sneaks in, shocked by what they see: rows
of fish tank-like containers, each holding a cramped, restless chimp.
A researcher happens upon them and panics, warning that the chimps are
infected with a dangerous virus, screaming that the activists don’t
know what they’re doing. A young woman opens a cage and is immediately
attacked by an angry chimp.
Twenty-eight days later a young man wakes up in a hospital bed. Disoriented,
he removes the IV tube and wanders into the hall. Nobody’s there—the
hallways are empty. Outside, the city lies silent—not a soul around.
The chimps had been given a highly contagious virus, which causes uncontrollable
rage within seconds after infection. When the chimps were released, it
jumped the species barrier and spread among people like wildfire, turning
them into vicious zombies. (Don’t worry—I haven’t given
anything away; this all takes place within the first five minutes.)
28 Days Later is a classic sci-fi thriller, mixing science with
fiction to make a scary story with complex and interesting characters.
What’s so great about the film is that it defies the conventional
scary movie plot twists. Just when you think you know what’s going
on, something entirely unexpected happens.
What is so disturbing about 28 Days Later is how conceivable
the scenario is. Researchers mess around with dangerous viruses and bacteria
all the time, injecting them into animals and watching what happens. In
the playground of the laboratory, scientists come up with all kinds of
inventive ways to kill masses of people. But even with the greatest precautions,
such contagions can be—and are—released, or simply sold, no
matter how corrupt or evil the buyer may be (smallpox and anthrax anyone?).
There are moments when you can’t help thinking that the live humans
may be even more evil than the rabid zombies. 28 Days Later will
tickle your intellect, making you seriously consider a frightening “what
if” scenario. It’ll also trigger that “fight or flight”
instinct and leave you sweating in fear. It’s fun. It’s scary.
Check it out. (Note: those of you yearning for movies about animal activists,
this is not your film—the activists appear only in the very beginning.)
Whale of a Story
directed by Niki Caro (Newmarket Capital Group, 2002).
Whale Rider is the coming-of-age story of Pai, a 12 year-old
Maori girl struggling for the affections of her chieftain grandfather,
Koro. He would have preferred she were born a boy so that she could continue
the family line of great leaders descending from Paikea, the tribe’s
legendary ancestor who rode a whale’s back to New Zealand 1,000
years ago. While Koro overlooks Pai and searches for a leader amongst
village boys, Pai doggedly works to show him that anyone can be a leader.
Director Niki Caro adapts the beloved bestseller by Witi Ihimaera (the
first Maori novelist to be published in New Zealand) into an artful, intelligent
film that is touching in an organic fashion rarely seen in its genre.
After the screening, I sat holding a soggy Kleenex, too emotionally drained
to evacuate the theater. The performance of Keisha Castle-Hughes (Pai)
and Rawiri Paratene (Koro) convinced me that I have lived this story—we
all have. It deals with the universal conflict between the individual
and the society into which one is born. While it is often argued that
a person must adapt herself to the environment in which she lives, this
inspiring film is proof that occasionally the individual does win.
I’m not surprised that Whale Rider has won several audience awards.
In about 90 minutes, it was able to place six year-olds, senior citizens
and my 20-something year-old self all in an emotional collective—this
film has something for everyone. Those interested in world culture will
enjoy the wealth of Maori folk art, music, language and tradition. World
travelers and authenticity zealots will appreciate that it was filmed
in Whangara, author Witi Ihimaera’s native village, and many members
of the community were extras in the film. Cinemaphiles will enjoy the
crisp imagery. Children will respect that the film doesn’t treat
Pai and the other young characters as cute intellectual midgets, but rather
as individuals with rich and complex emotional inner lives. Those disgusted
by movies that romanticize imperialism will love that Whale Rider exposes,
if ever so gently, the corruptive social effects this institution has
had on New Zealand aboriginals. Overall, anyone who has ever challenged
a system she feels is oppressive will get a gust of vicarious energy from
the triumphant Pai. Yep, I think that’s just about everyone. —Olivia
Tip of the Iceberg?
Afghan Massacre: The Convoy of Death
produced and directed by Jamie Doran (ACFTV, 2002).
I fear Afghan Massacre indicates only the tip of the iceberg
of something most of us would prefer remaining ignorant of.
Jamie Doran’s controversial documentary presents compelling evidence
of the massacre of thousands of prisoners who surrendered to America’s
Afghan allies after the siege of Kunduz in November, 2001. Loaded into
containers for transport to prison, trucks carried their live cargo on
a grueling journey that lasted up to four days. The lucky ones died straight
away. The rest suffered from acute dehydration, forcing many to do unspeakably
grisly things just to survive. Desperate cries for air brought bullets,
as soldiers were instructed to shoot directly into the containers—not
above prisoners’ heads but at body-level. Up to 3,000 now lie buried
in a mass grave.
Afghan Massacre tells of how American Special Forces took control
of the operation, re-directed the trucks into the desert and stood by
as survivors were shot and buried. After a screening of the film last
fall, the European Parliament called for an investigation. The UN has
agreed to send a special envoy but is holding off because their safety
cannot be guaranteed. Meanwhile, two of the eyewitnesses in the film have
Afghan Massacre premiered in the U.S. on the Pacifica radio/TV
show “Democracy Now” and broadcast repeatedly on WorldLink
TV last month. Excerpts can be viewed for free at www.democracynow.org.
This Just In: The latest documentary by Jamie Doran, The Need for Speed:
Going to War on Drugs, examines how the Pentagon has been issuing a concoction
of mind-altering drugs to its soldiers and airmen, resulting in the accidental
deaths of allied forces, civilians and, almost certainly, their own men.
Videotapes of both films can be purchased from ACFTV at www.acftv.com.
Making the World Safer?
Guns and Mothers directed by Thom Powers (Sugar
Guns and Mothers is the work of a filmmaker who, having grown
up in the early 80s in Detroit—then the “Murder Capital”
of the nation—wanted to explore from both sides the highly controversial
issue of gun control in America. Thom Powers uses two mothers’ contrasting
stories to portray why individuals become so passionate in their standpoint
on gun control that they dedicate their lives to fighting on behalf of
it: Frances Davis, who lost all three of her sons (and two nephews) to
gun violence, and Maria Heil, a “Second Amendment Sister”
who believes that maintaining (or achieving) real safety rests upon the
right to bear arms.
The opposing sides are really means to achieving an ironically similar
end—increased safety. To implement stricter gun control laws with
the goal of reducing the tragedy we see in the streets, versus zero gun
control in the name of one’s “right” to bear arms. No
matter what your position on the issue—and everyone has one—watching
Guns and Mothers fosters an understanding of the other side, which otherwise
often goes unheard (or more correctly, unlistened to). There’s one
particular scene that portrays this persistent mental block well—a
conversation between a group of pro-gun protesters and passersby starts
out with what seems like a genuine interest to engage in real dialogue
to hear each other’s point of view, but quickly disintegrates into
a shouting match involving a growing crowd competing for the louder voice.
Both groups are working fiercely toward their respective agendas, and
the battle between them is a difficult, emotionally inflamed one. On one
side are the countless victims of gun and street violence, and the loved
ones they’ve left behind to wonder why; on the other are individuals
concerned about being able to defend themselves should the threat of an
attack present itself. Personally, I’m of the opinion that guns
don’t have a productive role to play in society and our everyday
lives, and I’d never understood the logic of people who think that
they do. But now I do, at least more so. I still may not agree, but I
can better understand the thinking of someone who doesn’t agree
with me either.
To read an interview with the filmmaker or more about gun control, visit
You Know Where it Goes?
Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage
directed by Heather Rogers (AK Press, 2002).
This film is, well, just what it sounds like—an
exploration of what happens to the trash we produce (at a rate in NYC
of 13,000 tons a day) once it leaves our bins and our sight. Filmmaker
Heather Rogers maps out, in approximately 20 minutes, how “built-in
obsolescence” has come to dominate our market economy since the
second world war. So many of the things we’ve come to “need”
on a daily (or more) basis are now disposable, to the point where it’s
often impossible for even the most conscientious individual to be waste-free.
Gone Tomorrow examines waste disposal from a broader perspective
than the simplistic and ubiquitous yet underutilized mantra “reduce,
reuse, recycle.” It contemplates why we have so much waste in the
first place, as well as the complexities of recycling itself, which despite
its reputation as the miracle and only necessary solution, is in reality
more of a band aid approach. Some examples: to recycle plastic involves
melting it down and then reconstituting it into a material that’s
usable and marketable—processes that aren’t so ‘green,’
thanks to the amount of energy they require; and recycled plastic is more
precisely termed “downcycled” because the bonds holding the
plastic together lose much of their strength with each cycle of reuse,
and the downgraded material thus needs to be blended with a great deal
of virgin plastic in order to achieve a certain quality material.
With the film, Rogers raises serious questions about the full life-span
of the products we absentmindedly consume, from their final stages in
the recycling and waste disposal industries, to their birth in the industrial
plants that produce them for us—at a cost, measured in units of
waste, of 70 times what we as consumers throw away. Yep, 70 tons of industrial
waste for every household ton.
Gone Tomorrow may be one of those films that raises more questions than
it answers, but it provides critical insight into what people too often
think of as end-all, be-all solutions—misconceptions that don’t
adequately equip any individual to enter into a constructive discussion
about how to address these urgent problems. It begs the question—if
recycling isn’t as benign as we thought, what do we do? Here’s
a thought: consume less.
Recycle This!, a Brooklyn-based recycling and waste reduction advocacy
group, is organizing a NYC inter-borough tour of the film this fall. To
help organize or attend a screening, visit www.RecycleThisNYC.org.
To learn more about the film, email firstname.lastname@example.org. —R.C.
Tobacco’s New Face
Making a Killing directed
by Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold (INFACT, 2000).
Any living—breathing—person knows that cigarettes are bad
for one’s health, and most assume it’s safe to say the industry
that produces and promotes them is just as inconsiderate and harmful,
if not more so; but to articulate exactly why is more of a challenge.
Making a Killing is a quick lesson in just that: an important and intense
film about the global tobacco industry. The effects on people’s
health in the U.S. are relatively well known; but the film shows how the
industry’s influence doesn’t stop at U.S. borders. Big Tobacco’s
effects can be traced to every corner of the world, not least of all poor
countries that faced ample problems before cigarette addiction—and
the monetary expenses it accrues—were added to the load.
Making a Killing is sort of an exposé of some of the
marketing strategies that catalyzed much of Philip Morris’s corporate
growth, such as luring children into cigarette addiction (the one most
conspicuous in the U.S.) by marketing to them with free cigarettes and
‘cool’ gear, preventing governments worldwide from acting
in the interests of public health, and skirting what attempts governments
do make, such as implementing legal advertising restrictions, in oh-so-sly
ways. Then there’s the move—much overlooked with consequences
greatly underestimated—of acquiring all-American Kraft Foods, which
provided the tobacco giant with a more wholesome (and consumer-friendly)
foot to put forward.
A collaboration of filmmakers Kelly Anderson and Tami Gold and INFACT,
a group “challenging corporate abuse / building grassroots power
since 1977,” Making a Killing is a 29 minute film that juxtaposes
promotional materials from the early days of television with more recent
footage of board meetings, interviews, etc. to shed light on how the industry
has evolved to wield the immense political, economic, and social power—in
overt and subtle ways alike—that it does today. (Perhaps most shocking
was the revelation that Philip Morris shares a board member with Sloan-Kettering—as
in, yes, the esteemed cancer center.)
Nowadays ‘smoking endangers human health’ is more common sense
than a theory up for debate, yet we still are vulnerable to influence
by the industry that essentially catapulted lung cancer rates to unprecedented
levels—“tobacco is wacko” seems to ring truer than ever.
To learn more about INFACT or how to get the video, visit www.infact.org
or call (617) 695-2525. —R.C.
Hope Alive Through Music
The Flute Player directed by
Jocelyn Glatzer (Over the Moon Productions, 2003).
The Flute Player is a glimmer of hope in an otherwise dismal
and somewhat doomed situation—the loss of culture in a land that
used to be filled with and defined by it. The film tells the story of
Arn Chorn Pond, a Cambodian man who survived the 1975 genocide that killed
two million of his country’s people, his family included.
Traditional Khmer music had always played an integral role in Cambodian
culture, but with no one left to keep traditions alive, was almost wiped
out by the genocide. What enabled Arn to survive the Khmer Rouge takeover
was actually his musical talent, but after four years of living on the
frontlines and traumatized by the horror that life in the Killing Fields
was, Arn fled his country for the U.S. in an effort to move on—find
a “new” life perhaps. Faced with the guilt of feelings of
abandonment, however, Arn goes back to Cambodia to try to spread his knowledge
of the music that is quickly disappearing as the last generation in which
it thrived is slowly lost. Arn faces a tough challenge as he tries to
revive what the younger generations often see as un-“cool.”
But he’s making progress: the Cambodian Master Performers Program
that he founded is slowly gaining ground—and students—in preserving
Khmer traditional arts.
The Flute Player begins with a brief history of the genocide,
but the majority of this hour-long film is focused on Arn’s current
struggle, which involves scrambling to find and talk with elders and absorb
from them some of his ancestry before it’s too late to do so. Arn
is an internationally recognized and award-winning activist who has established,
among other initiatives, Peace Makers, a U.S.-based gang intervention
project for Southeast Asian youth, and Cambodian Volunteers for Community
Development, which organizes community rebuilding projects for young war
victims in Cambodia.
Screened at the Human Rights Watch Film Festival in June and on PBS in
July, The Flute Player is bringing attention to a somber issue
that would otherwise slip through the cracks. Anyone who gets the chance
should see this touching portrayal of a man trying to restore and preserve
the disintegrating fabric of a once close-knit people. —R.C.
to See It
Television Trust for the Environment
TVE is a nonprofit, independent production and distribution film company.
Since its 1984 inception, the organization has produced over 1,000 films
that specialize in environment, global development, health, and human
rights issues. The three series produced by TVE are Earth Report, Hands
On, and Life.
Earth Report focuses on the health of our planet, but the cleverly slanted
programs in the weekly series are anything but the drab documentaries
many of us were forced to endure in high school science class. An upcoming
documentary will cover the efforts of citizens’ groups in five cities
around the world to improve their environmental standard of living. Hands
On reports monthly on breakthroughs in green business and technology.
The Life series, which reports on the effects of globalization on poverty
and social development, is in hiatus through January 2004, however, synopses
of past shows are available through the website. TVE’s programs
are first aired on BBC World, and many later appear on PBS. Brief clips
and descriptions of all programs may be viewed on their website: www.tve.org.
There’s a good reason to fork over the cash for a satellite dish
or Direct TV: WorldLink—Television Without Borders. At last, there’s
a source for real international news, documentaries and films, culture
Here, you’ll find all sorts of things you won’t see on other
channels in the U.S., like their daily hour-long news show, Mosaic, which
features selections from TV news programs from throughout the Middle East
(subtitled in English when necessary). Chat the Planet is a new series
that links young people from around the world in real-time dialogue to
foster understanding and tolerance. Bridges to Baghdad I and II is an
honest and moving discussion between two groups of teenagers, one American,
the other Iraqi. The first show was filmed before the U.S. invasion of
Iraq, the second was taped after. The anger, confusion, empathy, humor,
and discovery of commonalities between the groups is electric and refreshing.
Worldlink’s website boasts: “90 percent of our programs have
never been shown on U.S. television.” One controversial film reviewed
in this issue, Afghan Massacre, supports their claim, and was aired repeatedly
last month. Tune in or visit www.worldlinktv.org
to learn more. —C.C.
Watch Free Films Online
In addition to the in-theater and video rental films exposing important
issues, there are plenty of flicks on the Internet doing the same. There’s
a growing number of groups working to improve access to news and activist
media—a refreshing and much-needed effort—often by streaming
A great example is The Pie’s the Limit, a film about the
hilarious pie-throwings by the infamous Biotic Baking Brigade, a group
that has developed its “guerrilla media and ground war with the
titans of industry,” into a full-blown Global Pastry Uprising. Watch
otherwise unpunished environmental offenders be pied in the face (with
vegan cream pie!) and be deeply satisfied as someone who will probably
never see the world from behind bars is brought down from his top-ranking
business position to a more human level.
Integrated with the humorous moments are the serious, urgent issues for
why the “victims” were chosen to be pie’d in the first
place, featuring interviews with activists and excerpts from meetings
and speeches of corporate leaders. The video is educational and a hoot
to watch at the same time, and is available, along with a few others,
to download and view at www.whisperedmedia.org/watch.html.
© STEALTH TECHNOLOGIES INC.