Antonio D. Sison is a doctoral student at the Catholic University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, doing research on systematic theology and Third Cinema. He wrote the screenplay for "9 Mornings," a film from the Philippines. He has written for the online Journal of Religion and Film and has contributed a chapter to the anthology Representing Religion in World Cinema: Mythmaking, Filmmaking, Culturemaking for Palgrave-Macmillan.
A lively debate ensued after the film screenings. ... the debate picked up what the films had already proposed -- that there are no easy answers to the issues in question.
An earth-friendly film festival
By Antonio D. Sison
AMSTERDAM, The Netherlands -- There are a number of film festivals held annually in the Netherlands, the most popular of which is the Rotterdam International Film Festival. When a friend invited me to a film festival called "Moderne Schatgravers" ("modern treasure-diggers" is the literal translation), I immediately obliged because it promised to be very different from the usual. The film festival was organized by the Dutch group Milieudefensie (also known as "Friends of the Earth Netherlands") to draw attention to environmental and human rights issues surrounding oil extraction and mining projects in the developing world.
Twelve documentary films were lined up, each representing a different point of view about the compounded socioeconomic issues in question. A sampling of those I was able to screen:
|Other Global Perspectives by Antonio D. Sison
|Jan. 8, 2004
||Playing David to Hollywood's Goliath
|Nov. 19, 2003
||Third Cinema and the God of the edge
Breaking the Bank: Introduction to the World Bank
The film critically traces how the World Bank was instituted primarily to help rebuild countries struggling for survival in the aftermath of war and colonization, but has, in fact, functioned "for the betterment of those who are better." Protesters in Washington D.C. during the 2000 annual general meeting are shown stridently denouncing the "unholy trinity" of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the World Trade Organization for working solely along profit lines and yoking impoverished countries under an impossible burden of debt. The film set the tone for the festival as the World Bank has funded a number of contentious oil extraction projects in the Third World.
The Ogoni people of southeast Nigeria surreptiously shot this film in protest of the irresponsible oil extraction activities by global oil giant Shell. Shell has built oil pipelines through villages and farmlands despite the high risk of spills and explosions. "Delta Force" reports that in a 15 year period, there was an average of 15 oil spills per week, which resulted in huge tracts of land being rendered unfit for farming for thousands of years. Protesting the destruction of their way of life and the incursion of a World Bank-funded project they will not benefit from, the Ogoni were subject to military suppression; their leader Ken Saro-Wiwa, put to death by hanging.
Movement Against Malaria
In stark contrast to "Delta Force," "Movement Against Malaria" is meant to project Shell as a company with a social conscience. The film, which was produced by Shell Philippines, banners the company's support of the anti-malaria drive in the island of Palawan, site of ongoing oil exploration projects. Palawan is considered as the last frontier of Philippine biodiversity and home to the Tubbataha Reefs, an irreplaceable marine park listed as a World Heritage Site. While Shell's support of the anti-malaria program is laudable, the film is obviously one-sided, a smoke-screen for the potential environmental time bomb of oil exploration in such a precious and fragile environment.
I also caught two other contrasting films which were screened side-by-side to powerful effect:
Report from the Route
A film produced by oil company BP (British Petroleum) in connection with its massive, World Bank-financed oil pipeline project that will run through Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. It attempts a pre-emptive strategy by featuring varying opinions about the project. The multiple issues, which range from the looming danger presented by an earthquake fault line in Turkey to the destruction of archaeological sites in Georgia, are given foregrounding. The film seems to project that the issues are well-ventilated and given due attention by BP. Curiously, the company's position on the issues are, at best, kept ambiguous.
Oil Be Damned
The "shadow" of "Report from the Route" is "Oil be Damned", a satirical take on the BP oil pipeline project. Using the stylistic conventions of film to convey a clear, unapologetic stance against the BP project, "Oil Be Damned" recalls the melding of stylistic strategies and ideology associated with Third Cinema. For example, it juxtaposes actual vignettes from "Report from the Route" with unrelated footage such as images of protest rallies, in order to provide sociopolitical comment. It parodies the voice-over pronouncements made in the BP film by matching them with incongruent footage of environmental disasters. As it shows a montage of U.S. presidents, "Oil Be Damned" also dares to implicate U.S. interests as a decisive factor in oil exploration projects; structural causes, as such, are not left unexamined.
A lively debate ensued after the film screenings. Guest speakers included Paul de Clerck of Milieudefensie, Tundu Lissu of the nongovernmental organization LEAT in Tanzania, and Ad Melker of the World Bank. Framed by a point-by-point discussion of key issues that covered, the environment, proper governance, and ethnic communities among other topics, the debate picked up what the films had already proposed -- that there are no easy answers to the issues in question.
It was also clear at this point that there was a different function for film in Moderne Schatgravers. Borrowing theologian Hans Küng's words, I understand film here in the sense of "a symbol that can rouse our passion for freedom and truthfulness, our hunger for justice and love, our yearning for fellowship, reconciliation, and peace."
As a result of the efforts of groups like Milieudefensie, civil society can pressure the World Bank into re-thinking its oil extraction projects. It will reportedly come up with a definitive decision next year.
For more on the concept of Third Cinema, see "Third Cinema and the God of the Edge," Global Perspective, Nov. 19, 2003.