Films inspire call to action
September 25, 2008
ASPEN ” There are two movies showing at this year’s Aspen Filmfest that can be viewed in tandem, as a kind of complimentary, one-two call to action for anyone interested in making a statement, having an impact or just “doing something” about the state of the world they live in.
The films are “Pray The Devil Back To Hell” (showing Friday at noon at the Wheeler Opera House and at 8:15 p.m. at the Crystal Theatre in Carbondale; and Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at the Isis Theater) and “Crimes Against Nature” (Saturday at 2 p.m. at the Wheeler).
Together the two films depict situations that have cried out for intervention by an activist citizenry and, in the case of “Pray The Devil,” an example of how one rather unlikely subset of a nation’s population decided it was time to take action, and took it. But first:
This 120-minute documentary, narrated by the actor Morgan Freeman, was inspired by the writings and words of Robert F. Kennedy Jr., whose 2004 book of the same title blasts the record of the Bush administration on the environment.
“In a ferocious three-year attack, the Bush administration has initiated more than 200 major rollbacks of America’s environmental laws, weakening the protection of our country’s air, water, public lands and wildlife,” Kennedy writes in the book. “Cloaked in meticulously crafted language designed to deceive the public, the administration intends to eliminate the nation’s most important environmental laws by the end of the year.”
The film, by director Angus Yates, mirrors much of the book, in its examination of the Bush legacy in general, zeroing in on factory farms and the drilling frenzy of the oil and gas industries, and the behind-the-scenes work of lobbyists rewriting the laws that are supposed to govern the industries involved.
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But a huge portion of the film, more so than the book, deals specifically with the devastation wrought by the mountain-top-removal coal-mining industry in the Appalachian Mountains.
Yates has captured the mining process in action, from the mammoth explosions that pulverize areas the size of football fields, to the gargantuan trucks that haul the debris away and dump it down the mountainside and fill up conveniently located valleys and hollows.
But he also puts a human face on the issue by interviewing some of the people involved, from the victims whose lives have been turned upside down by the mining industry to the lobbyists and corporate barons in charge of the business.
Yates, who said the book reads “almost like a whodunit” but “in a who did it and here’s how they did it” kind of way, met Kennedy at a county fair in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., where the two hit it off and agreed to work together on getting the book translated to film.
Yates said the movie is not truly “an environmental film” or “a political screed.”
Instead, he said, “it’s more like a deconstruction of a crime. I think the mining of coal is so overlooked. It would change the dynamic of coal, if the American people knew how destructive it is.”
And, he said, part of his intent is in “letting people see how morally corrupt [the system is], and to what extent greed has absolutely infiltrated the levers of government” against a background of a devastated American landscape.
But, Yates stressed, he has worked hard to make a movie that is not “laborious and heavy,” and that “weaves between being very investigative and very irreverent.”
When civil war broke out in Liberia in 1999, newly elected President Charles Taylor was widely blamed for setting the nation on a collision course with itself.
At the same time, the rebels, called the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD), were seen as perhaps the nation’s only hope for a return to normalcy, given that this was the second civil war to visit the country since the early 1980s.
But as the atrocities became known, the casualties mounted, and the children were dragged off to fight for the two sides equally, a strange thing happened ” the nation’s women concluded that they had had enough.
The 72-minute film, by director Gini Reticker, is the story of the leader of that movement, a social worker named Leymah Gbowee who took her inspiration from the late U.S. civil rights giant, Martin Luther King Jr.
Gbowee started by calling for women of all walks of life, Muslim and Christian, to come together in her local church and pray for an end to the war.
What followed could be a textbook outline for creating social activism among people who do not consider themselves to be radicals in any way. Forced by the intransigence of the warring factions, Gbowee and her small army of women (which grew considerably over a short period) began staging sit-ins and other actions, writing letters to high-ranking officials and demanding that peace be arranged by any means possible.
Deliberately avoiding any alignment with either side, they called for peace talks in neighboring Ghana, and ended up in a sit-in that prevented the men at the talks from leaving until they reached some sort of resolution to the conflict.
And in the end, probably as a direct result of the women’s peace movement, peace was declared and a woman was elected to head the newly formed government of Liberia.
Reticker, who met Gbowee at an event at the United Nations, worked with producer Andy Disney (a relative of Walt Disney), compiling a collection of footage from the war, and even some of the footage of the Ghana peace talks shot by Charles Taylor’s own videographer.
The film, which does contain some stark images from the war, deliberately keeps such footage to a minimum and focuses instead on the women and their campaign.
The result is an object lesson in how a small group of determined people can affect the course of a nation, even an entire region.