Friday, 14 December 2012

Lens Politica 2012

Early this December, it was again time to look at several documentaries dealing with some very pressing issues. Lens Politica is the one in Helsinki's film festivals that's most likely to change the world, inform people and raise some very valid discussion points. It's values go far beyond just the quality of the films on display, although it certainly helps that most of them manage to tell about complicated issues fairly smoothly all the while not looking down on their audience.

As one can guess, there's certainly a green, left-wing alignment in a major part in the audience at Lens Politica. This is since political filmmaking tends to want change in some things, and thus require larger aknowledgement on what's wrong with the traditional way of doing things. I've now revealed my own liberal agenda, since the "reviews" I've written seem to turn quite easily into rants over the issue these films have. But bear with me here. Even if you do not agree on everything a political leaning might entitle, the issues these films deal with are important, and one must inform oneself to be able to be able to react accordingly.

Follow the Leader: Young, American & Right
Director: Jonathan Goodman Levitt

At the center of this film are three American teenagers, all interested in politics and all leaning toward the Republican party at first. DJ Beauregard, Nick Troiano and Ben Trump each graduate from high school as class presidents and yearning to do more. They all hope to become the President one day. Along the way, their views on politics start to shift, and one becomes a Democrat and one a Libertarian.

The film tells a lot about the political climate in the United States. The main characters fight for their views but are met with contempt, mockery and apathy. They themselves are not much better, since they are arrogant, not willing to make any compromises and openly hostile against differing views. The film suggests that the party one belongs to causes such steep misconceptions about the opposing side, that negotiation becomes harder and harder. Add that to the shifting moods and hormonal changes to a regular teenager and you've got yourself a walking time bomb.

In their view, everything is seen as a struggle. To become self-made men, the boys figure they must first crush the opposition, instead of learning how to negotiate and compromise. The boys are not seen as very admirable, the thought of them becoming leaders is positively horrifying. The final scene features the presidential election won by Barack Obama. Even though the boys think everything will change, the film is a lot more cynical in its view. The political system is too corrupt to really change things for the better.


The Island President
Director: Jon Shenk

Another film about whether one man can change the world has a lot more symphatetic protagonist. President Mohamed Nasheed of the Maldives is fighting tooth and nail against the global climate change. The reason being that since the Maldives are an island nation, and a very low one at that, the country is in troble of being flooded when the sea level rises due to melting ice caps.

The film is intimate in a way that very rare political film can accomplish. Nasheed allows the cameras to follow him everywhere. He meets with Indians and the Chinese, who as developing countries refuse to take proper action in trying to control their rising carbon dioxide levels. His lobbying has little avail. Americans don't even seem to find the time to meet him, even though they pollute the most. For his cause, Nasheed must travel around the world, meeting to meeting, all the while focusing perhaps too little on the problem back home.

The charismatic president is a very likeable person, having the sense of humor to lobby for tighter emission limits by hosting a meeting under water or shooting a water knee-deep in water - with his most expensive suit on. Yet he grows more and more desperate as it begins to dawn no one is going to help him. World leaders keep on ignoring the problem, growing worse and worse. Finally, a small but important victory is achieved thanks to Nasheed. The film thus gives a glimmer of hope, but also a stark warning that action must be taken ASAP.

★★★ 1/2

Director: Kristin Canty

It's strange that the newfound interest in organic and near-grown food products is still seen with contempt by many. It's not just a hipster thing to eat more healthily and ecologically, but rather something we should all strive for. But this documentary film helps to explain a lot why small-farm products are only produced for such a small niche group while gigantic multi-brand supermarket stuffs own the business.

Journalist Kristin Canty became interested in the subject when she realized that organic milk, for instance can help nurse a sickly child back into health. her original movie ideawas to just tell about verious small-time farmers and organic food co-ops and clubs that share healthy farming products. As it turns out, it dawned to her how food markets are driven like cartels, in that large corporations own the business and have the government working for their benefit.

Healthy, clean food has to go through a lot more tests and standardization before it appears to the supermarket shelf than chemical-induced industrial farming products grown by major corporations.
State and local governments raid smaller farms, asking for licenses, fees and other paperwork and dashing out bills to pay. The whole thing comes to culmination when a small-farm owner is held at gun point by government agents due to some missing license or document. Healthy animals are slaughtered just because they didn't have the same permits that ranches holding thousands of animals in sub-par conditions get almost automatically.

The movie is adamantly on the farmer's side, listening to their stories, but could benefit a few more major ranch-owners, doctors and biologists. The government officials interviewed make total fools of themselves on tape. It is even-minded enough to pass as journalism, although the whole subject is so applling it reads also as a call-to-arms. While case is looked at a very American viewpoint, the bureaucratic licenses and other unfair costs do limit the choices for food products in Europe quite a lot, too.

The unfair competition in the farming market formed nowadays so that big producers aim to drive smaller farms out of business. As one farmer says, that's not even capitalism sincethat should give consumers the right to choose, and the maker of the best product a chance to strive. In fact, there's a whole other name for a supremely right-wing, oppressive system that forces people to consume what government allows them to consume.


The Lottery of Birth (Creating Freedom Part I)
Directors: Raoul Martinez, Joshua van Praag

The closing film of the festival is partly Finnish-funded first part of a trilogy. It seems that the Creating Freedom series attempts to give a multi-sided idea on what is wrong with the modern western liberal democracies of today, and how they should be developed. The aim is to give people true freedom, as opposed to just an illusion of one. In short, the films could pass as the introduction pamphlets to the ideology behind the Occupy movement.

This first film of the trilogy deals with a lot of things. It's main points are that our education, sense of the past and the information we gain have influenced our identity and way of thinking. And thus they are also the sort of things that can and have been used to form our viewpoints into passing the status quo in power throughout history.

Interviewed are an impressive cast of historians, economists, politicians and experts. The film stumbles on its fairly obvious agenda. The excerpts of the speeches cut here are never nothing short of interesting, but they seem to underline the fimmakers' own views so much this becomes more of a pamphlet. What's worse, while the film should have a fairly clear focus point, it stumbles here and there. The title suggests the film should be about how the conditions in which you are born, form your identity and thinking to a certain point.

This is seen as almost a brainwashing thing, instead of totally natural phenomenon in human interaction, that is called a culture. The film's authority figures have plenty of good quotes, and I tend to agree with a lot of them. But the ham-fisted editing (not to mention the cheesy imagery played over all the talking heads) makes the viewer easily turn against the film and it's ideology. This certainly isn't going to turn the heads of any neo-liberals into accepting another more democratic and socially equal ideology. Let's hope the ideas will brighten up and the next film will feel more like it's worth of the time and effort used to it.

★★ 1/2

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