VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
September 22 to October 5, 2000
A New World Order?
by June Heywood
Reviewer Festival Director, Alan Franey's new themed program this year is New World Order! This theme crosses national boundaries and gendres. It reflects political injustices and grass roots activism.
Two powerful documentaries presented at this festival were, "Paying the Price: The Killing of the Children of Iraq" and "Trade Off".
John Pilger, a veteran British journalist respected for his reporting on political injustices, spent three weeks in 1999 filming to bring to the world his harrowing documentary, "Paying the Price: The Killing of the Children of Iraq".
The film opened with a close up of the big-eyed, malnourished face of a sobbing toddler. He was just one child in one ward of one hospital of many full of children about to die, in pain, their bellies swollen, their blood tainted . A doctor informed Pilger that most of the children would live because sanctions on the importation of medicines were lifted.
The film informed us that The Gulf War broke out in 1990 between Iraq and Kuwait to protect the oil interests of the United States and Great Britain. Sanctions were imposed on imports to Iraq in 1991. Soon after the war, United Nations crews moved in to ensure that the ingredients western countries had sold to Iraq were no longer being used to make weapons of mass destruction. By 1998, the UN determined that Iraq was totally disarmed of nuclear and biological weapons. Yet sanctions, which only hurt the weak, were not lifted.
Pilger's film covered stories of family break down. How fathers sold furniture, books and everything else they owned to buy food and medicine for their families. How the conductor of Iraq's National Orchestra was left with claws for hands. He had tried to extinguish the flames of an oil stove. His wife burnt to death. They could not afford safe electricity. How children lucky enough to go to school must sit on stones (they have no desks or chairs) when the raw sewage from the playground seeps into the classroom. How six members of a sheep herding family, four of them young children, were deliberately killed on a hillside along with 150 of their animals by UN bombs only months ago.
John Pilger's film shocked, informed, and drove audience members to tears. You can never again unlearn the message of the film that the sanctions harm only the most vulnerable. Saddam Hussein and his cronies continue to live in luxury. The men, women, and children of Iraq continue to be denied their basic human rights of food, shelter, and health. And the US-led military action and UN-approved sanctions continue, each month, to cause the death of 4,000 innocent children.
To learn more about this documentary and similar issues go to www.johnpilger.com If you believe that peace and justice issues deserve a wider audience, contact Marie Nathanson at CBC TV's "Witness" program.
"Trade Off", directed by newcomer Shaya Mercer and produced by Thomas Lee Wright, received its International Premiere at this year's festival. The documentary was made over five days in Seattle, in November1999. The event shook the world and the World Trade Organization.
Through the words and music of protesters and delegates, Mercer gave a balanced, intense, and thought-provoking view of the event not shown by the mainstream media.
Over 95 minutes, the audience experienced the defensiveness of the WTO delegates; the disturbing force of unprepared Seattle police; the energy of the freelance organizer of the counterculture event, Mike Dolan; the politics of Tom Hayden (former husband of Jane Fonda), Senator Paul Wellstone, Mayor Paul Schell; the pranks of Michael Moore; the super-articulate, wicked humour of the Indian delegate, Vandana Shiva; and rap, jazz, and blues numbers from activist bands.
It was the demonstrators who stole the show. They were diverse, passionate, and funny. People interviewed had gone to Seattle from every continent.
All ages of people of conscience were represented-- from political, environmental, to social and religious groups. Significantly, trade union members also joined the protest, realizing that work sent to exploit cheap labour elsewhere would rob them of their own livelihood.
Scenes from the film showed protestors taking non-violent action by flying a flag on the freeway; linking arms joined in concrete; and silently circling in the rain. They took this action to protest against what they saw as the unelected, unaccountable-but-to-itself World Trade Organization. This force of capitalism was seen as encouraging globalization to benefit only rich, powerful, multi-national companies. Biotechnology, genetic engineering, and the secrecy surrounding these topics were discussed as they impacted on daily life. The demonstrators saw themselves as workers of the world walking into the pages of history to seek fair trade, not free trade.