Engaging with Reality: Documentary and Globalisation
By. Ib Bondebjerg
It is a daunting thought that globalization influences almost every aspect of our daily lives; from the food we eat to the media we watch to the way we communicate with one another. Unless you are happy enough to be marooned on a desert island or isolated on a remote mountain retreat there is no way to avoid it, and although global institutions appear weak at times, they are incredibly important in the way the world and all its workings perpetuates.
Engaging With Reality: Documentary and Globalization analyses examples of documentary film and television from the US, UK and Denmark from 2001 onwards- a significant year that changed the world forever. These documentaries attempt to tackle major issues that have shaped modern politics, notably the War on Terror, the globalization of politics, migration, the multicultural challenge and climate change.
The author of Engaging With Reality, Ib Bondebjerg admits that the spark of the project came from viewing the Danish director Christoffer Guldbrandsen’s documentary film, The Secret War (2006), which explores the Danish involvement in the war in Afghanistan. There is almost no tradition of war films in Denmark and Bondebjerg mentions that “[W]ar is simply not an important reality of the Danish mentality and historical importance…War was until recently only something that involved others”. However, the last two decades have seen an increase of Danish involvement in conflicts, which has started to filter through to the various strands of Danish media.
The following is an extract taken from the book itself. The section analyses Michael Moore’s documentary Fahrenheit 9/11; one of the most controversial documentaries made following the events of September 2001.
“Seen in a public debate perspective it is clearly Michael Moore’s film Fahrenheit 9/11 that has managed to reach a broad mainstream audience, but also to divide the audience and create very diverse reactions. Nevertheless, Moore’s film is the largest grossing US documentary ever, based on theatrical income alone (McEnteer 2006: 98)…But looking at Fahrenheit 9/11 in retrospective, it becomes very obvious that McEnteer’s characteristic of Moore as an ‘ambush artist’ is very true: he uses his own persona and his films to go on the attack by any means, with a strong visual language that is both serious and funny. The facts presented in Moore’s films are almost always convincing and well substantiated by experts and visual and written documentation, but Moore knows his film language and how to send a clear message. The opening sequences of the film about the election scandal in Florida represent a stunning piece of rhetorical and filmic montage, and when it finally shows the president going on vacation, the satire becomes very clear. This is the kind of film strategy that makes Moore’s films popular and, at the same time, controversial with mainstream America. He has an eye for the comical details even in connection with the most serious political issues and problems. Another example is those small clips during the introduction of the film where we see leading figures off-screen preparing to go on television: it is political satire with a sharp edge.
Even though the film clearly deals with the post-9/11 situation, the beginning of the film shows that Moore sees 9/11 as just one element in a longer political trauma in the United States starting with the Bush era and particularly his second term of office. But the images from the 9/11 tragedy are not commented on by Moore, the images of human sorrow and tragedy are just backed with music. When his commentary starts it’s with the now-famous minutes in the Missouri school where Bush just sat and waited. With rhetorical elegance he continues the listing of the things not done by Bush and his administration in connection with the fight against terrorism. When a report about a potential Bin Laden attack inside the United States was presented, ‘Bush went fishing’ is the commentary. The sequences showing how the Bin Laden family was helped out of the country after 9/11 adds to the confusion about what is really going on inside the hearts and minds of this government.
… The final sequences of Fahrenheit 9/11, where Moore first shows the absurdities of the airport and coastguard security programme and then drives his little van up to Washington to confront senators on the street, asking them to get their sons to fight in Iraq, may seem over the top and populist. But seen against the well documented fact that it is the coloured and poorer people that pay the price in Iraq, it can be defended, and it certainly drives the main point of the film home: those in power serve their own interest, that is what this war is about. Perhaps even stronger is the way in which he lets us see the attack on Iraq from the viewpoint of ordinary Iraqi citizens and the cruel results of the bombings for them.”