The Age of Incitement

Thomas Friedman wants to see a movie.  So do I.

Radio and movies made mass incitement possible and effective in the development of fascism (Italy) and nazism (Germany.)  Now, add the Internet to the tools available.

The movie is called “Rabin: The Last Day.” Agence France-Presse said the movie, by the renowned Israeli director Amos Gitai, is about “the incitement campaign before the 1995 assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin” and “revisits a form of Jewish radicalism that still poses major risks.” This is the 20th anniversary of Rabin’s assassination by Yigal Amir, a right-wing Jewish radical.

A worker fixes a new memorial sign for the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in the centre of Tel Aviv November 3, 2005. Ten years after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot at a peace rally by an ultranationalist opposed to his talks with the Palestinians, the Jewish state is seeing a resurgent swirl of rumour and speculation about his death.

A worker fixes a memorial for the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in the centre of Tel Aviv 

“My goal wasn’t to create a personality cult around Rabin,” Gitai told A.F.P. “My focus was on the incitement campaign that led to his murder.” Sure, the official investigating commission focused on the breakdowns in Rabin’s security detail, but, Gitai added, “They didn’t investigate what were the underlying forces that wanted to kill Rabin. His murder came at the end of a hate campaign led by hallucinating rabbis, settlers who were against the withdrawal from territories and the parliamentary right, led by the Likud (party), already then headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who wanted to destabilize Rabin’s Labor government.”

I hope many many see the movie and interpret not only Israeli history, connected to its present, of course, but U.S. history.  The extreme right has an almost total monopoly on radio incitement and has had for decades.  It’s a backhanded tribute to the American people that only 34% think Donald Trump is the greatest leader of the free world.

Cambodian Film Maker Receives Cannes Prize

An autobiographical French-Cambodian film, “The Missing Picture,” which explores the bloody history of Pol Pot’s dictatorship in late 1970s Cambodia, has won the “Un Certain Regard” prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Director Thomas Vinterberg, who was this year’s jury president, said he was “very honored to be awarding this prize, which we all agree is for a fantastic movie.”

… “This selection was ferociously non-sentimental but poetic nonetheless. It was political, highly original, sometimes disturbing, varied, but above all unforgettable,” Vinterberg said.

“Clay figurines, extreme beauty, violence… systematic humiliation of human nature… are images that will follow us for a long time… Moments that remain in our collective memory, a mirror of our existence,” he added.

Our Fabulous Two Minutes!

Zero Dark Thirty: Is It Pornography?

I’ve been wrestling with myself about whether or not to see Zero Dark Thirty, not only because the violence is up-close, personal and gruesome for some forty-five minutes, but because many reviewers who have seen it say that torture is linked directly to the success of finding and killing Osama bin-Laden.  A filmic argument is being made that torture was effective, without the smallest counter argument being shown, even though in the real world, which the movie aims to depict, there were arguments conducted at high volume and at the highest levels of government.

My mirror neurons are so tightly tuned that I had to walk out of Syriana a few years ago when fingernails started being pulled out.  I was sweating and breathing fast and shallow.  It took me fifteen minutes walking through a chill Marin night to get back to nada nausea, but not enough to want to go back in.  I nursed a beer until my friends came out.  That might have been a five minute scene.  Forty five minutes?  Of a man hanging by his wrists, being sexually humiliated, being shoved into a tiny box?

So I don’t think so.  Meanwhile, here are some reviews to help you make up your own mind; Read more of this post

Heist: Who Stole the American Dream

KPFA, the venerable public radio station in the Bay Area, is offering during its fund-raiser, a copy of the film Heist, which looks as if it deserves a viewing everywhere.  Help out KPFA (right column, 12 down)or go directly to the film site.

HEIST…”has the virtue of taking the long view of a crisis that recent films like “Inside Job” and “Too Big to Fail” have only sketchily explored. It makes a strong case that government regulation of business is essential for democracy to flourish.”

—Stephen Holden, New York Times

HEIST earnestly paints the picture of a democracy slowly and methodically being nudged toward oligarchy with help from all sides.”
—Mindy Farabee, LA Times

Heist: Who Stole the American Dream

KPFA, the venerable public radio station in the Bay Area, is offering during its fund-raiser, a copy of the film Heist, which looks as if it deserves a viewing everywhere.  Help out KPFA (right column, 12 down)or go directly to the film site.


HEIST…”has the virtue of taking the long view of a crisis that recent films like “Inside Job” and “Too Big to Fail” have only sketchily explored. It makes a strong case that government regulation of business is essential for democracy to flourish.”
—Stephen Holden, New York Times

HEIST earnestly paints the picture of a democracy slowly and methodically being nudged toward oligarchy with help from all sides.”
—Mindy Farabee, LA Times

Asset Stripping: In Zimbabwe and at Bain Capital

My traveling wife having just returned from a three week trip to Africa (south) we settled in to watch an eye opening (for most of us) documentary about Zimbabwe, the long struggle of a white African family to hang on to their farm against Mugabe’s madness, rolled in a chaff of racism.

Titled Mugabe and the White African, it is a documentary focused on Michael Campbell and his son-in-law, Ben Freeth and their effort, principally in the courts, to hang on to their farm — where 500 Zimbabweans are employed.  Mugabe, as he does with anyone who presents him opposition, has them beaten.  There are some horrific pictures following the beating of the two men, and Campbell’s wife.  Freeth was close to death from the skull fracture he took. It’s a sad, personal story and one which has been true of many other white farm families under Mugabe’s reign of terror, thought  they have not been the principle targets of his armed-lunacy.  That privilege belongs to black Zimbabweans who have stood up to him repeatedly, in courts, in elections and in the streets.

What caught my attention particularly, however, was a phrase that was used to describe the behavior of the so-called peasant-farmers who are sent to add the whiff of legitimacy to what is going on to this “land redistribution.”  These men, and some women and children, are not farmers, farm-workers or even farm laborers.  They, according to the film and other articles I have read, are the poor and homeless, easy to find in the wretched economy Mugabe has engineered, and aresent in as a rag-tag army of looters.  They don’t know how to drive a tractor but they know the tires might be sold, and the bolts, and cutting tines, and gasoline, and spark plugs and…..  Copper is worth a lot — whether in the form of wire, tubing or brass pots.  A television might get a bit at the local market.

This is called asset stripping.

And who should leap into my mind, watching the shaking, wildly swinging shots from the clandestine camera, of the farm being stripped, but Bain Capital and it’s founder and presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney.

Though Bain doesn’t send in thugs with knives and firebrands, the end effect is much the same. Ruined companies stripped of all their tools, labor and organization.   Under color of the law, Bain and others — dizzy with the ideology that only money matters– take over companies which need help, with the promise of bringing in teams to set things back to stable.  In some cases this happens.  A  knowledgeable team is put together.  Financing is secured.  Marketing experts find willing buyers of the product and a company is turned around.

In most cases, as we have read, this does not happen.  Instead, the company, once with a corporate life of its own, and people who depended on it for a livelihood, is “asset stripped.”  Pieces are sold off, sometimes in the dead of night; mailing lists, patents, methods, hardware, software, down to the desks and computers.  Ask anyone who has ever gone to a  corporate asset auction say, under the steady gavel of Dove, Disposition Services, or Corporate Assets, Inc. For the happy scavenger these are happy days.  I remember boxes of hard-drives being carted out to the back of the station wagon, fine flat screen monitors and printer that might or might not work, but who cared, they were so cheap!

For the fired worker, manager and sometimes even founders, the day is not so happy, as some of the testimonies in the Obama ads have been telling us. It shouldn’t take such ads for us to know the pain, and suspect the deceptive hardball practices of the Bains of the world.  They don’t give a damn about turning an unsteady company into a steady one. They want to know what the parts are worth, and they set about stripping them, to sell them on any market they can find.  Just like the scavengers in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, who at least have their own spectacular poverty to exonerate their actions to some degree.   In Romeny’s case the sold-off parts have built him mansions around the world.

Mark them up with nice graffiti:  Asset Stripper Lives Here.


The movie, qua movie, is not terrific.  The focus on the white farmer, almost exclusively, means that the much larger case against Mugabe isn’t made.  Their story needs to be told.  The beatings and fear they have lived under should happen to know one, but they are a mid-size piece of a much larger, and even more terrible, story — which wasn’t told.  Had it been, and the Campbell farm story been part of it, we would have had a powerful and much needed indictment of Mugabe and his band of thugs.

Let There Be Light: John Huston’s 1946 Documentary on PTSD

John Huston is one of the great directors of American movies. Who hasn’t seen “The Maltese Falcon” (1941), “The African Queen” (1951) or “The Misfits” (1961)? And always with great sympathy for the underdog. Now, after 66 years of being hidden away because of the feared impact on soldier and civilian alike, his 1946 documentary about returning “psycho-neurotic” — now called PTSD– soldiers, is available.

It is so affecting, even on the computer screen I can scarcely imagine seeing it on a big screen in a dark theater. Here it is, 58 minutes long. Keep in mind, none of these men are acting. The camera is bringing them to us, in all their raw emotion.

John Huston’s World War II documentary Let There Be Light is so legendary for its censorship controversy that its sheer power as a film has been easy to miss. Produced by the U.S. Army in 1945, it pioneered unscripted interview techniques to take an unprecedented look into the psychological wounds of war. However, by the time the film was first allowed a public screening—in December 1980—its remarkable innovations in style and subject, which in the 1940s were at least a decade ahead of their time, could be taken as old hat, especially because of the poor quality of then-available prints. This new restoration finally reveals the film’s full force.

Let There Be Light

Some of the illness and treatments you will see are excellently described in Pat Barker‘s powerful WW I Regeneration trilogy, itself bringing into fiction the work on traumatized soldiers of W.H.R. Rivers.  The long scene on hypnosis may seem odd, even a bit of hocus pocus, but Rivers in 1914-1920, pioneered its use and  argued strongly for its utility and success, particularly as measured against the other recommended “cure,” electroshock therapy. [Just imagine a soldier with psychosomatic paralysis, or stuttering, being shocked repeatedly until he ‘improved.”  This was done to British soldiers traumatized by the never ending trench fighting of WW I, though not, as far as I know, to US soldiers in the period of Huston’s film.]

Alhaam: A Film from Iraq — 2005

Alhaam, a movie shot in Iraq in 2004 — during the full catastrophe of the US invasion and related Iraqi insurgencies– is the rawest, hardest to watch movie of war I have ever seen — and I’ve seen many.    Not as tightly plotted or scripted as such American movies as The Hurt LockerFull Metal Jacket or The Thin Red Line  –which are in any case, about Americans in these wars–  the ragged effects of hand-held camera work, the not quite seamless narrative, the sometime loss of control in acting, adds to the chaos of what we are seeing – what they are experiencing.  In American war movies, even if hard-hitting and raw, it is still possible to think — this is not happening; this is a movie.  That’s Sean Penn, or Brad Pitt.  They were on the cover of People this month.  In Ahlaam it is very hard to think any of those things.  Whatever knowledge we retain that the movie has a director and actors it is hard not to believe that this is not a pure documentary of citizens caught in hell.

The film begins on the second day of the infamous  “Shock and Awe,” air campaign as American explosives light up the sky over Baghdad, scenes most of us are familiar with from the actual days of the bombing, scenes we saw on CNN.  One of the buildings blown to smithereens is an insane asylum.  Through the broken walls and over smoking rubble the terrified inmates escape. The film follows several of them through the streets and back into their lives to show how they came to be there, beneath the bombs.

Alhaam, the lead character – whose name means Hope–  is bubbling and pretty on the days of her engagement.  She and her fiancee meet by the Euphrates and laugh about having their mothers take care of all the children they plan to have.  Her wedding day, with the dancing, ululating family,  is just a day before the bombing.  As she is about to come downstairs for the ceremony, masked Iraqis burst into the house and kidnap her fiancee.  Through most of the film she staggers across the still-being-bombed cityscape trying to find him.

Ali’s story and institutionalization began in 1998, during the earlier bombing of Iraq by US and British forces during Operation Desert Fox.  An easy going soldier, he tries to cheer his best friend, in the army with him, who constantly talks about fleeing Iraq, the army, and the butchery of Saddam Hussein and beginning again in Europe.  During a bombardment the friend is badly wounded and Ali makes a heroic effort to carry him across the desert to get help.  He is eventually arrested by Iraqis, having gone mad and still carrying the corpse of his friend.  He is charged with desertion, and incarcerated.  In the asylum he calls the name of the friend over and over, obsessed with his inability to have saved him.

The third of the major characters is Mehdi, a hard working, diligent medical student who, after passing his board, is rounded up by that Baathists and impressed into the army — because of his father’s communist ties.  It is Mehdi who is in charge of the ruined hospital and leads a desperate search — with Ali in the lead– for those who have escaped and are roaming madly in the madness.

There are some over-the-top moments which might have been more powerful if more understated; even in a movie about chaos and human emotion we seem to have a sense of “over acting.”  The trope of inmates running, or escaping, an asylum as an allegory for the rest of us may be a bit cliched to educated readers, but as the crazed Ahlaam searches for, and occasionally “sees” her fiancee, when she is raped  by Iraqis who should be the first to help her, when a masked sniper deliberately picks off citizens, including some the inmates struggling back to the hospital any idea of cliche is blown away.  Some of the shots, the image of Ali carrying his friend through the mirage emitting desert comes to mind, are as powerful as any you are likely to have seen in any movie, anytime.

There isn’t much to be cheerful about during the course of the movie; nor in the war, of course.  Mehdi, the doctor is a wonderful portrait of patience and desperation, trying to befriend the terrified inmates, offering them cigarettes to show he means no harm,  carrying one through the swampy mud at the edge of the Euphrates…  Ali, racing around Baghdad often in nothing more than boxer shorts,  becomes the idiot-every man rising out of his personal maddness to help those around him.

Next to the hell of  Alhaam Hieronymus Bosch’s Hell seems almost a cartoon of fanciful symbols, a misleading distraction from the actual hells that humans create.

Mohammed Al-Daradji, the director, is a young Dutch-Iraqi film maker, living  in Europe to avoid persecution from the Baathist regime.  When the war broke out in 2003 he went back wanting to make a film about ordinary Iraqi people. Ahlaam was shot in Baghdad in extremely difficult conditions – not only did he have to work around curfews and electricity cuts but members of his crew were arrested both by insurgents and by the Americans, neither side believing that they were simply making a film.

An interesting interview at Electric Sheep, can be found here.


AD: The character of Ahlaam is the one that brought me to the story. In 2003 I was watching the news about the war in Iraq while I was studying for a Master at Leeds University and I saw a reportage about a mental institution in Baghdad and how they were affected by the war. And then I saw Ahlaam – she was talking in a nonsensical way and it really shocked me. I couldn’t sleep that night. I dreamt about Ahlaam, on the street in Baghdad as you saw in the film.

VS: So Ahlaam was a real character?

AD: She was a real character, but I couldn’t meet her when I went to the mental institution in Baghdad two months after I saw the reportage. But I met another character, Ali. She wasn’t called Ahlaam. Ahlaam in Arabic means ‘dreams’. It’s not just about Ahlaam’s dreams but it’s also the dreams of the other characters, Ali’s dreams, Doctor Mehdi’s dreams, the dreams of any Iraqi who’s lived under Saddam’s regime and under the invasion. So for me it was about giving two meanings to the title: it’s the girl, and it’s also the meaning of the word.

 Alhaam was his first full length work, which he followed up with Son of  Babylon, not yet available at Netflix, but in the queue.  It was made under the auspices of Human Film  which also has other note-worth films to its credit, a new style production company like Participant Media, which ties it’s movies into vehicles not for product placement but for social change.


Twinned, Human Film & Iraq Al-Rafidain established in 2005, with a goal to seek and explore individual creativity, producing films with a social conscience and impact.
With roots in the east through our bases in Leeds (UK), Rotterdam (NL) and Baghdad (IQ), we are collectively committed to producing innovative, compelling films that entertain, inspire and challenge perceptions, furthering understanding on critical human issues to worldwide audiences through film.

Through our existence, we have the opportunity to share stories that we have a strong personal belief in, and through not applying any language, cultural, political, religious, or any other barriers to our filmmaking practice our work has the potential to affect and inspire.

Over the past 5 years we have successfully completed 3 feature films in Iraq; Ahlaam (2006), Iraq’s official entry for the 2011 Oscars and Golden Globes, Son of Babylon (2010) the recipient of the Berlinale IFF Peace Prize, Amnesty Film Award 2010 and Karlovy Vary’s NETPAC Award and most recently: Iraq, War, Love, God and Madness (2010).


You won’t find a more honest, direct and even heroic account of the toll war takes on non-combatants than in this movie.  Ahlaam is a must see, even if you can’t watch some of it.


Inch’ Allah Dimanche: Algerian Immigrants to France

Immigration is big in the news these days – mostly the opposition to it–  around the world.  It is absolutely the case that most people welcome immigrants when they need them and curse them when they don’t.  What the natives really want is the fairy tale world of snapping fingers to make the genies of cheap labor appear and disappear as needed.  It was as true in France after WW II as it is now.

Inch’Allah Dimanche, a quite wonderful, if not quite complete, film from French Algerian director Yamina Benguigui, explores in microcosm what happens when, after ten years, women and children are allowed to join their worker-husbands in mainland France.  Zouina, as played by the wonderful Fejria Deliba,  also French Algerian, brings three children, and her ferocious mother-in-law [Rabia Mokeddem] to a small row-house in Saint Quentin, France.  After a too painful parting from her own mother at embarkation — with the mother-in-law cursing her, and the children frantic — she arrives to a husband, Ahmed,  [Zinedine Soualem] who is more engaged with his mother than with his wife.

Zouina, despite having to steal the key to get out of the house, begins to make her way around the neighborhood and into the prize flower bed of her next door neighbor after the hyper competitive horticulturist stabs the kids’ soccer ball for a transgression into her sweet babies – that would be flowers.  She learns the strange ways of shopping, that you can’t prepare your coffee in the back yard, and that some French women are demons and others are friends.  She knows when one brings a gift of lipstick and rouge it must be hidden, after a quick try and pleasure at seeing the results.

Deliba  is really wonderful as the determined, curious — and beautiful– mother.   Her  mother-in-law is a dragon of almost unbelievable portions, though she won’t be seen as a stranger to many cultures we are more familiar with.  The man of the house is alternately a beginning guitar player painfully picking out “Apache,”  a dutiful son and a rage-filled husband.

The weakness of the movie  is that Benguigui didn’t quite make up her mind as to whether she had a comedy going, or an angry tale about women in the Arab world.  The husband administers several savage and prolonged beatings.  A heart wrenching scene ends Zouina’s  first contact with another Algerian woman well into the film.  On the other hand, the music, the exaggerated sneaking and running, the flower-gardening neighbors,  sometimes cast it as a French comedy — promising to be all well that ends well.

And in fact it does end well as, after one more escapade, Zouina comes home with her kids alone on a bus whose driver she has caught the eye of.   Ahmed, standing outside waiting for her, suddenly orders his mother to shut-up and go back inside and seems to leap to a new regard of his wife — who announces proudly “From now on, I am walking my children to school.”

An evening of intelligent fun and social commentary, not nearly as disturbing as BiutifulAlejandro González Iñárritu‘s wrenching film, with Javier Bardem, about immigrant life in Barcelona.  Inch’Allah Dimanche won several awards in 2001 for best film, best actress and for  the director.  A very nice sound track complements much of it,  including several songs by Algeria’s well known Berber singer and song writer, Idir, [and here and here,] Alain Blesing’s “Lail” and “Djin,”  Hamou Cheheb’s sweet and scathing “Mon enfance,” [My Childhood.]  (English [google] translation below the fold.)

The title by the way, mixed Arabic and French, translates to “Sunday, God Willing.”

I’m going to watch it again, just to gaze, like the bus driver,  at Fejria Deliba‘s smile.

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