The War On Democracy
So it was with eagerness I started watching this film, hoping to be educated and have my eyes opened to something that had been hidden from me, the story of how the United States of America has been involved in the manipulation and overthrow of democratic Governments in South America, and how some are really surviving without their meddling.
1 hour 34 minutes
I realised from the opening scenes that this film could be hard for some people to connect with as John Pilger sets a heavy tone with his up front introduction I felt we were about to watch a documentary that was going to be difficult to follow and full of complex information. However that's not the case at all, and this opening speech really does feel just too heavy for the start of the film, I expected I was in for a rather heavy history lesson.
What we actually get is a film that looks at a very big subject, a subject that's almost too big for one film, and so it skims the surface of the events and their history rather than delve into them and cover them in detail, giving plenty of information, backing up statements with facts and interviews from the people that were there.
Now I'm not saying that it isn't factual, nor that it doesn't back up what it is saying, in fact as I watched I believed what John Pilger was presenting, but he doesn't bury the different examinations of events in other countries in great historical detail. There are some very pertinent interviews and sequences shot on location, particularly for the Venezuelan sections of the film that really do convey what that country is going through, but this is the exception and I would have liked to have seen more backing up some of the other statements made.
Pilger himself comes through as an actual character of the film rather than a simple guide or voice over, and guides us through the stories sometimes with his personal slant, and he is often guilty of making sweeping statements that the audience just have to accept. Statements that tell the audience that the U.S. were the ones behind a coup in this country and the film moves on, something that although I have a vague knowledge of, I feel uneasy just accepting someone's statement on the matter.
In some cases I feel that this becomes a force of two personalities saying "yes you did", "no you didn't", and nowhere is that more apparent than an interview later in the film where he tries to find the personal views of someone involved in the U.S. foreign policy of the time, and indeed to this very day.
This is where I think that the film doesn't perform so well. I didn't feel that it really proved any major involvement of the U.S. in any of the examples of South American coup d'etat given, and if this had been done then I feel the film would have been much more powerful and effective.
It does manage to provide some very powerful moments, covering some very difficult terrain, and bringing up some terrible cases of human rights abuse and democratic violations, and overall the film is a very strong one. In some individual and smaller events it does provide some very compelling and concerning evidence.
I just think if it had delved a little deeper and demonstrated a little more, then I would have been overwhelmed by it and we would have seen a stunning documentary.
As I said though, it is a strong film that really does become much more powerful in the latter half when the scope of the film expands away from Hugo Chavez and Venezuela to examine other South American countries and their difficulties in achieving democracy for their people.
The film did leave me with a strong desire to find out more about the various countries mentioned in the documentary as well as to understand the events behind some of their changes of power, in particular that of Venezuela and how their new people focused government really is working. I just wish I could have had more of that from this documentary.
I already mentioned the interview that John Pilger conducted with the ex-CIA Agent who had been involved in the American foreign policy towards the South American countries, and it has to be said that Pilger does a superb job of this interview and it is one of the high points of the film. It quite easily and very strongly shows the outdated, aggressive, arrogant and extremely dangerous views of the American foreign policy, and indeed most of the governments that have enforced that policy. Some of the quotes he manages to get from the agent are extremely surprising and indeed shocking.
One of the strongest things to come out of this film though is the comparison of the western ideal of democracy compared to the actual one happening in Venezuela, and that is the real eye opener. Although people remain poor and work is still hard to find, none of them go without free education or health care. Surely those priorities are better than our own?
This is the best thing this documentary does, and it does it well, it makes you think in a different way than you have before, and makes you question whether our ideal of a democracy really is the right one.
1.85:1 - Other footage appears in varying formats
There's nothing really to comment on here as the documentary uses multiple sources and format types for footage, as documentaries do. However some of the modern sequences have some very strong visuals, both emotionally and for the bright and engaging cinematography.
Nothing exceptional from the audio here, it is a documentary after all and uses hand held cameras and other sources of footage throughout.
The biggest disappointment on the DVD is that there is nothing other than the film. This is where the documentary really could have packed a punch by delivering more footage, facts, figures and evidence to back up some of the stronger statements in the film. However there's nothing in the way of extras and this is a bare bones release, and for me that's a huge disappointment.
The most we receive are English, Spanish and Portuguese subtitles, and in a DVD nowadays that's quite a shortcoming.
The scope of this film is too big for its short time on screen, and with that we get a shallower version of events, and quite a few times we have to take the word of John Pilger for his take on events, and I would have preferred that we had a little more meat, and delve into these statements for some more understanding. However there is a good trade off between encompassing the events in South America and their parallels with the American ideals of democracy and delving further into the history of specific events.
The film has some very powerful moments that really do make for uncomfortable and upsetting viewing, but also for some liberating and eye opening sequences. What this film does is open you up to events that you had probably never really looked into before, and had merely heard the populous media side of, and that in itself is a huge success story.