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Thessaloniki Documentary 2009

The Race is on:
America Under Siege
By José Miguel Gaspar

A documentary festival is the transformed happiness of the film genre format because, more than watching, the documentary has time to atone, to refit and is really the only genre that sees what is happening. Its alternative form of information is increasingly vital for survival in a post-America world after George Bush Jr.

The race is on. After a prolonged and afflicted period of eight years, America has finally entered its post traumatic era — and now the rest of the world may, at long last, stalk the acquaintance of it all, facing its questions and consequences. So, what was the 'W' Administration all about, besides the (upsetting) setting up of an emporium of dark ages, as claimed by its persecutors? Globally, it was about the ultimate utopian political ideology: the Americanization of the world. In specifics it was about something much more practical than the Disneyworld mentality (whereas the appearance of things is altogether much different than its substance); it was about a hard politics of expansion and extraction resources: oil, energy development, forestry and coal mining, and lead like a revenge of the old line.

For that matter, the ever more valuable Thessaloniki Documentary Festival (in its 11th year) offered the possibility of a new and most precious vision of what those eight years were all about. Going directly to the point, there is no doubt today that the American war on Iraq was, and is, an oil war.

With America needing re-assimilation, in the Greek program there was a full hand of documentaries that helped us understand what the world should expect from now on. And one might say that the future analysis of that past is not going to be a pretty thing to watch — as all of us must know that the global economic crash crisis is only in its infancy…

The Other America.
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"The Other America

If it is possible to establish a guideline in such a vast need of analysis, one should start with The Other America (L'autre Amérique, directed by Bernard Faroux, France, 2007), an urgent document that puts into perspective the rest of America not aligned with the Republican directories. Frame precisely, this is a film which shows there was a guerilla movement — intellectual, artistic, philosophical — which has grown with Bush and will continue to grow in the years to come, one that is now co-current with the American need for a Socratic critical understanding of itself. In one sentence, as George Orwell puts it, quoted within Faroux's film, "in a time of universal deception, speaking the truth is a revolutionary act".

Secrecy.
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"Secrecy"

That's exactly what Secrecy (directed by Peter Galison and Robb Moss, USA, 2008) does, a film that proves the conspiracy of America on the world — and on itself —, because the Bush administration has led to the extreme, the principle of a secrecy state. What exactly is that? A key to victory in the struggle of the war on terrorism — or, quite simply, a smokescreen excuse for all kinds of illegal interceptions, manipulation of data, highly questionable prison orders, torture, or a assorted variety of operations in the area of imperial capitalist exploitation (let's stick again to oil and think of Iraq, Nigeria, or the Amazon quarters of Ecuador…). The film is full of concrete data, excellent research and conjugates a handful of testimonies from trusty insiders.

Let's Make Money.
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"Let's Make Money"

So, it is official: America is under attack from contemporary documentarists. And the list keeps growing: Let's Make Money (Erwin Wagenhofer, Austria, 2008), although it was not entirely devoted to America, is triggered by its imperialist principle. It is a harsh Austrian lesson in 107 minutes that simply asks: "Until when will we have to finance the life of the rich?" The answer is an autopsy of cash and the engineering grotesque ways in which we live today, unbalanced between the infinity of the bottom of the trading for a minority of the 3 % that rule the world and the bottom of the pit to where is thrown the other 97 %, on five continents, 97 % of billions living in the dark. It is an autopsy showing that the financial monster is still alive, alive and kicking. The film is full of accounts, reports and experts, able to leave bloodless the lucidity of globalization. With some type of Babel on the global economy, the film is only for the firm stomachs in the audience.

Crude.
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"Crude"

Crude (Joe Berlinger, USA/Ecuador/England, 2009), is another case of real, horrendous, raw exploitation of man by man. Once again, it is supported by the lie of the state, with the W Administration in the role of the villain again (Bush Jr. and his troupe of Condoleezza's, Donald's and Dick's were definitely the most infamous favorites of Thessaloniki 2009). The case in question, and still ongoing after 14 years, is the hard fought opposition of the Cofán Indians of the Ecuadorian Amazon to the Chevron company, the giant corporate carnivores of oil that were close to the White House for the last eight years.

It is by turns a fascinating case, a contemporary epic of David against Goliath, known as Amazon Chernobyl, which documents the devastating effects of 30 years of American expropriation of Amazonian oil, between 1960 and 1990, and the toxic stain left behind, the inhumane effects on the ecosystem and the lean body of men and animals there — deformations, swim-dead, children and old men with cancer. The case, which has appeared on Live Earth, on Vanity Fair, on the CNN Heroes and even had the support of tantric Sting, has continued for 14 years and could last for ten more, say experts, ensuring that the Chevron strategy is one of exhaustion that bets on the bankruptcy of the opponent. Again, the bad guys continue to win.

Courting Condi.
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"Courting Condi"

And now, something completely different: Courting Condi (Sebastian Doggart, USA, 2008). This film is a baffling hybrid — "a musical documentary comic tragedy" — which traces the biography of Condoleezza Rice, from her birth in Birmingham, Alabama (the Ku Klux Klan attacks on blacks, 1963, a Sunday church full of children to burn…), until she grew and studied, in all her ascent from the Stanford University (where she began discriminating Latinos when a lay off was suggested…), until the high rankings of administration in the Chevron enterprises and, finally, the rise to Secretary of State, becoming the intimate tutor of W. Bush — and the 9/11 commission of lies, the sucking of Iraq, the Abu Ghraib scandals, the infamous weatherboardings in Guantanamo…

The film breaks with impressive sarcasm the cynicism of the American administration of the last eight years and presents an even greater challenge: it reports what was that falsehood in the most unexpected of genders, becoming a kitsch hyper comedy. This wavy ride is lead by a large and hopeful man, an all American man that thinks, in his naïve and brutal ignorance that he is in love with Condi Rice, the ex-most powerful woman on the planet, so he goes on a journey to conquer her heart, sniffing on her past, visiting neighbors and nannies, composing and delivering on the way pinky poems and corny songs, unprepared for the wolfish and tigerish truth. This bestial documentary is no less than brilliant — because it all starts as a joke, but we quickly realize that the joke is on us.

José Miguel Gaspar
© FIPRESCI 2009

José Miguel Gaspar writes for "Jornal de Notícias", the major Portuguese daily (www.jn.pt), and has been a film critic for the past 15 years. By formation a reporter, he has spread himself across humanitarian perspectives, doing so in a variety of genres. He recently published "JP 1825", his first multimedia reportage, about the dreams of a 25 year old ex-junkie / online: http://jn.sapo.pt/Reportagens/Interior.aspx?content_id=1005421

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Thessaloniki Doc 09

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bullet. "Bathers"
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bullet. Welles On Acid
bullet. Hybrid Worlds