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Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Left I at the Movies Premieres

I've had the privilege in the past two weeks of attending premieres of two new political films. Both were extremely informative and well worth seeing.

Posada Carriles: Terrorism Made in USA

Two weeks ago, in El Paso for one of dozens of nationwide demonstrations against the dropping of charges against notorious terrorist Luis Posada Carriles, I watched the U.S. premiere of a new film by Venezuelan filmmaker Angel Palacios entitled "Posada Carriles: Terrorism Made in USA." It's a chilling portrait of the 45-year career of a man who has been called "the Osama bin Laden of the Western hemisphere," his associates (like the equally notorious Orlando Bosch), and the CIA who has been behind them every step of the way, condoning and protecting them when not actively guiding them.

The film covers things that are fairly well-known (at least in activist circles), like the 1976 Cubana plane bombing that took the lives of 73 people, and others that are less well-known (at least in the United States), like Posada's record as a torturer and murderer of Venezuelan political activists when working for the Venezuelan political police, the DISIP. Interviews with victims and relatives of victims, combined with evidence straight from the files of the U.S. government, make this a well-researched, information-packed documentary. It's also a very watchable film, very professionally made, with an interesting sound track, lots of catchy (but not gratuitous) graphics, and more. There are a number of showings scheduled around the country at this time (with undoubtedly many more to come) and the film should also be showing up in film festivals around the country during the coming year. It will also be available for purchase on DVD within the next week from the website of the National Committee to Free the Cuban Five.

War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death

Last night, I was fortunate to be able to attend the West Coast premiere (the world premiere was last week in New York) of a new film based on Norman Solomon's essential book, "War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death" (some of my comments on the book from last year can be found here). As filmmaking, it's a fairly basic effort, intercutting an interview with the extremely knowledgeable and well-spoken Solomon with historical footage from wars, presidential speeches, TV "coverage" (a.k.a. "promotion") of wars, and so on, mixed in with some narration by Sean Penn. It won't win any awards for innovative filmmaking. But as an informative documentary, it's a must-see film. The book, as should be no surprise, has a lot more details (just to name one, the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic, one of the powerful examples from the book, isn't mentioned in the film). The book also has the virtue of being divided into chapters which Solomon uses to beautifully illustrate the 17 components which make up the "How" of the title of the book and film:

The movie covers most (not all) of these points, but its organization is less linear, and the viewer doesn't leave the film with those points all clearly in mind. It sounds like I'm putting in a strong recommendation for the book. I am, and as I have in the past, I couldn't recommend the book more highly. But...but...the film is a film, and as such it has strengths that the book can't possibly match. For one thing, lots of people don't read! For another, the film can be shown in public venues, accompanied by a discussion which helps people organize their thoughts and organize themselves for action. But aside from those "logistical" questions, there's also what the film itself can do. It's one thing to read a series of quotes from Presidents, each saying something like "We want peace, not war" or "We're fighting this war for democracy." It's quite another to watch them say it on film, one after the other. Seeing or hearing the original source material simply has an impact that no printed word can match; it's why the Daily Show or Countdown has an impact that it's hard for a blog to match (readership/viewership numbers aside). And it's why the film is well worth seeing, even if you have read the book.

At the showing last night, the film was criticized for discussing the "How" but not the "Why" - why does the U.S. want to keep fighting these wars? The book (see point six in the list above) does discuss the issue, but not at length. Solomon answered that this was simply a question of scope, both for the film and the book as well. On the one hand he's certainly right. Dealing extensively and insightfully with the things he does deal with is certainly preferable to trying to deal with too much, and losing focus. On the other hand, there's a chicken-and-egg question. To use an example from the movie (but add my own spin), there's the famous Colin Powell at the U.N. presentation. The book and movie make clear that there were some people who saw right through the presentation, even while the corporate media (at least the U.S. corporate media) were falling all over themselves in praise. But take a look at those who did see through the talk. Did they do so simply because they were knowledgeable about how the U.S. government lies to start wars and the ways the media enhances those lies, or because they understood the motivations of the U.S. ruling class to fight wars and were therefore more motivated to look closely at what Powell was saying and see it for what it was? The two factors are intertwined, but I'd say it's more the latter than the former, and in that sense, it's more important to understand the "why" rather than the "how."

But that's a quibble, criticizing something for what it isn't. What it is is an incredibly powerful movie, taken from an even more powerful book, which teaches the viewer/reader with well-documented detail precisely how "Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death." And, although the title doesn't reflect it, Solomon is also one of the few who never forgets to remind his audience that it's not just "us" who are being spun to death, but millions of Iranians, Afghans, Serbs, Vietnamese, and more, as well.

See the film (you can order a copy now, it will be available in a couple weeks). Solomon is promoting the "Robert Greenwald" model, encouraging people to buy a copy of the movie and then set up a "house meeting" to show the movie to their friends. And don't forget to read the book as well.

Coincidentally, there's an article on the front page of the liberal British paper The Guardian today, whipping up the flames of war against Iran, about "Iran's secret plan for summer offensive to force US out of Iraq" (guess it's not much of a secret, eh?). Of course it's all based on the usual collection of "senior US officials," not a single actual fact in the article. Precisely the kind of thing that this film is all about.


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