The last few years have brought a resurgence of documentary films to the forefront of national attention. “Bowling for Columbine” in 2002 and “Spellbound,” “Capturing the Friedmans” and “Winged Migration” this past year have all been distributed widely, even making it to the once anti-documentary grounds of Santa Barbara theaters. This trend stands as a testament to the creative forces behind these films and the local and national public support for such fascinating and thought-provoking material. So, it was with great anticipation that Artsweek entered the Santa Barbara International Film Festival this past week hoping for more examples of documentaries willing to explore and examine a diverse amount of subjects.
So far, the documentary competition hasn’t disappointed. Two documentaries that stand out for vastly different reasons can be linked on the surface through the subject matter they cover. What determines the success of each film boils down to style reflecting substance. Each film deals with an underrepresented cultural history and squarely focuses on social oppression and injustice, namely the danger of governmental power put in greedy hands.
“The Fourth World War,” directed by Rick Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen, comments on the rhyme and reason for global violence in today’s capitalist world, showing civil unrest in countries as diverse as Mexico, South Africa, South Korea and Italy. Shot between 2001 and 2003, “The Fourth World War” has a frantic style coupled with voiceover narration that connects images of rioters throwing rocks and fiery Molotov cocktails at riot police. Though these moments appear truly harrowing, the sometimes preachy poetry spoken by the narrators doesn’t always feel sincere.
The problem with “The Fourth World War” isn’t its message of necessary education, but rather, it’s the way the directors and Big Noise Tactical Media represent these issues. Many people believe that corporations rule the world we live in, and fighting for some true notion of democracy is essential to the preservation of human rights. But let’s get a little balance going. The negative effects of globalization aren’t quite as simple as this film portrays them to be.
Throughout the film, each new outbreak of civil disobedience is accompanied by bass-thumping music, as if a rave scene had just invaded the streets of Cape Town or Seoul. When Artsweek asked Rick Rowley about the choice of editing the image and sound, he denied his style had anything to do with mainstream visions. Still, it seems his style verges a bit more on the choppily cut MTV-style younger audiences might be more familiar with.
On a more conventional, but more satisfying, note, “Condor: Axis of Evil” seeks understanding and redemption for a specific moment in history, forgotten by far too many. In the mid to late 1970s, the southern countries of South America went from democratically elected governments to military dictatorships. In Chile, Argentina and Uruguay, generals like Augusto Pinochet and Alfredo Stroessner held power through terror, arresting and executing more than 30,000 revolutionaries, student protesters and educators. Tortured in the most horrifying ways, these people were massacred without trial, justice or remorse.
Directed by Rodrigo Vazquez, “Condor” looks at how men with so much power sustained their leadership for so long. Focusing on the infamous Operation Condor alliance between the three South American countries, in which each helped the other eradicate any insurgency that could threaten their power structures, the film uses a cin