Like Yoav Shamir, whose Flipping Out was in last year’s programme, and whose entry this year, Defamation, is pretty provocative stuff?
Defamation starts out as a film about anti-Semitism and about people who have set out to expose and fight anti-Semitism around the world. In the course of his research, however, the director discovers that insisting on anti-Semitism can also be a profitable business. The other, perhaps even more dramatic finding of Shamir’s film is the systematic indoctrination of young people in Israel, who are taught on a mass scale that the whole world hates Jews and that the only way to define oneself as an Israeli is on the basis of this worldwide animosity. Defamation is about the use and production of these kinds of negative stereotypes.
That sounds like a difficult subject, in the sense that there’s always the risk of getting caught up in a vicious discursive circle.
It is a very difficult subject, and I doubt the film will make many friends in Israel. We nevertheless think this film is absolutely worth showing, especially because our programme includes a contribution that functions as the more or less perfect counterpart to Defamation.
Letters to the President by Petr Lom is also about the manipulation of public opinion. The “president” here is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to whom the Iranian people are encouraged to write the “letters” – millions of petitions a year, in which the people supposedly share their worries with a president who then personally attends to them with the greatest solicitude. The idea that there is this degree of approachability is really quite a bold bit of propaganda. The film shows clearly how this kind of construction of identity is also intended to get people to take a stand against the hatred the entire non-Islamic world supposedly bears against Muslims – most of all, of course, the allegedly world-dominating Jews.
In Letters to the President, then, you have the mirror image of precisely the same kind of rehearsal of victimhood, the definition and identification of an entire people and religious community with being the victim, as is portrayed in Defamation. This equivalence also explains why both sides of the Israel-Palestine conflict feel themselves to be and portray themselves as the victim. No one seems to recognize that the only way out of this vicious circle is to acknowledge the fact that neither is the whole world against Muslims nor is the whole world against Jews, but that what most people want in the first place is peace. These two films are very well suited to stimulate a discussion along these lines.
A Balance Between Film and History
Other documentaries in this year’s programme also reflect a strong focus on social and political issues.
The manipulation of public opinion is also one of the main themes in the Canadian documentary L’encerclement by Richard Brouillette. The film focuses on an almost sectarian, elitist group of neo-liberals who spread their fairytale of the free development and self-regulation of the market, and ultimately succeeded in infecting the entire global economy with this doctrine. These people are even arguing that the solution to the current financial crisis is getting rid of all barriers to business.
They’re actually still saying that?
Sure, although not in the film, which was completed before and is just very timely right now. Using mostly interviews, it documents in a very intelligent and meticulous way how it was possible for this small group to exert such a big influence on public opinion, particularly in business circles. A fascinating, intellectual work.