Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Films - juicy docos

As the Napier Film Festival draws to a close I still have three films to see. In the last 2 days I have seen:

China Blue - this continues what is turning out to be a very good year for hard hitting, cutting edge documentaries. The makers have succesfully got up close to the lives of factory workers in Southern China making jeans for major retailers and buyers all over the Western world. They are often just 16 or not even, they frequently work 16-18 hour days and are so thoroughly and badly exploited it actually is hard to believe unless you hear it from their own mouths.

Painstakingly shot amid what must have been the most demanding conditions we are left with a bleak portrait of economic and social conditions for the masses in China today. 'Highlights' include a visit of the Canada/China commerce chamber from Toronto where one delegate comments, upon noticing the workers streaming up steps to their dorms during lunch breaks 'oh, how nice they can go back to their rooms to eat' (there are no staff dining facilities and the cost of the meals is deducted from pay); the comment by a French customer, buying for French government procurement, that 'one can get a good idea of how well the factories are run by how educated and honest the boss appears to be over dinner'; the continual postponement of payday until the wages are 11 weeks overdue and the workers are forced to mount a widlcat strike one lunchtime (strikes are illegal) whereupon some of the (14 year old) staff manage to corner and harangue the owner, who gives no quarter but does relent and post the wages sheets. They earn around 5c-15c (US) per hour depending on piece rates.

It's all very well bemoaning Chinese capitalism in action of course, but who is buying these jeans? Which of your clothes (and mine) has 'Made in China' on the inside label?

Next up was The Road to Guantanamo directed by Michael Winterbottom. Based on testimony of the Tipton 3, three British lads who went to Pakistan for one of them to get married, who then went on to Afghanistan and got caught up in the US invasion and overthrow of the Taliban. Detained and shipped off to Guantanamo Bay they spent about 3 years there. The film is a savage critique of US military power and abuse and a potent illustration of just how out of control some of their operations are, in scale, conception, aim and execution. With Kafkaesque brutality the men are pushed back and forward through the interrogation/torture system, completely trapped in a system that lacks the will or capacity to see that an error has been made. The dramatisation is intercut with interviews with the real people. They can hardly believe it has happened to them and indeed the story recounted is so harsh and painful that Winterbottom has had to use all his guile so that we, too, may accept that such mindless and xenophobic cruelty is possible.

We are not asked to blindly identify identify with the men - for example it seems crazy even to have gone into Afghanistan, let alone stay once they could see the country was being bombed - rather just to accept their actions on the grounds that however ill conceived, what happened to them subsequently was grotesquely unlucky and desperately sad. The next time you hear anyone described as Al-Qeada, Taliban, Hamas, Hizbullah and so on remember that it is rarely that simple. Jeez - I have a friend whose brother works for US military intelligence in Iraq. Sure would love her to see this one.

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