Filmmakers reflect on current state of affairs

Many of the films that were shown at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) reflect the ever-changing geopolitical realities. With U.S. imperialism “battling” terrorists around the world, creating fresh enemies daily while curtailing freedoms at home, it’s not a wonder that filmmakers are deeply motivated to address these vital concerns.

Eugene Jarecki’s previous documentary, “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” investigated the case against Chile’s dictator, Augusto Pinochet, and Kissinger’s criminal involvement in the overthrow of Chilean President Salvadore Allende’s government. His newest documentary, “Why We Fight,” is yet another heavily researched and artistically assembled piece that analyzes the American capitalist system. The title is cleverly based on the WWII series of propaganda films meant to bolster support for our military involvement, whereas in this case it questions the real reasons we get involved in wars around the globe.

More than simply talking heads, and there are an amazing collection from all sides of the debate, the film utilizes fascinating archival footage. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s final address to the nation warning of the creation of our vast industrial-military machine sets the tone. Jarecki has honed his filmmaking skills, probing deep into the psyche of U.S. imperialism and the capitalist system, and created one of the more powerful and convincing anti-war statements in theaters this year.

Several films attempt to understand the nature of the “terrorists” that our government helped develop and fund in the war against the Soviet Union. “The Smell of Paradise,” from the Netherlands, is a journey into right-wing fundamentalism that breeds suicide bombers and fanatical killers. With privileged access to extremist groups, this film offers a chilling portrait of a world moving to extremes.

The tragic destruction of the 1,500-year-old Buddhist statues in Afghanistan is explored in the Swiss film, “The Giant Buddhas.” The demolition ordered by the Taliban caused international outrage and made world headlines back in 2001. The film goes onto explore the ignorance the Western world has toward Afghanistan and its culture, and the plundering of its history.

The effects of the “war on terror” takes an unusual turn in the American film “A/K/A Tommy Chong.” Part of an infamous comedy team heavily associated with marijuana use, Chong was recently busted for manufacturing bongs. The film follows the two-year case and makes hash out of Ashcroft’s draconian, ineffective and hypocritical “war on drugs.” It’s a display of the assault on civil liberties and the attempt to equate pot smoking with support of terrorism. Thoroughly relevant and entertaining.

The Toronto International Film Festival, which usually takes place the first two weeks of September, offers the finest and largest collection of feature films in the Western Hemisphere. With over 300 films, many of them premieres, the Festival also includes several choice short films.

The French short “Liberté Conditionnelle” tells the story of a humanitarian aid worker hauled away at an airport and interrogated without charges. “Mixed Signals” is an experimental short that makes a frightening comparison between the gospel of George W. and the evangelic Christian right. “Yesterday in Rwanda” recounts the horrors of war through the eyes of a young woman survivor who now lives in Canada.

Often the impact of a good short film can out-value all the benefits of a Hollywood blockbuster. There are several film festivals that focus on shorts, affording up-and-coming filmmakers a venue to display their work, since movie theaters and television rarely provide the opportunity. The Toronto Festival, in addition to its wide array of quality feature films, also offers a healthy sampling of shorts to please everyone’s taste.