Sunday, September 21, 2008

"Battle in Seattle": Docudrama hybrid film about 1999 WTO protests


There is a new film about mass protests and “civil disobedience.” This time, it is about the mass demonstrations and protests during the WTO meetings in Seattle between Nov. 29 and Dec. 3, 1999.

The film is “Battle in Seattle,” and is directed by Stuart Townsend. I had never heard of the distributor, Redwood Palms, but the film is very professionally made (with DGC auspices) with many major stars, who may have put up their own money to make a political statement in film. The link is here.

It is a little different in layout than the typical entertainment film. It starts with a brief newsreel-like history of GATT starting in 1947, and the forming of the WTO. It shifts then to a couple hanging from belayers to string a political sign. The movie starts telling the story of the protests in docudrama fashion. At first the protests were to be peaceful and the police would leave them alone. Some labor and other activists up the ante, and soon representatives were kept out of the meetings by lines. The police eventually used tear gas, and order broke down, with martial law. The streets of Seattle started to resemble Beirut, as the film says, or Chicago during the 1968 Democratic Convention (“Medium Cool”). The film concludes with some political and social moral summaries, of what has happened since 1999.

The movie’s midsection tells an active story with many stars. Woody Harrelson, bald this time like Lex Luthor, plays a policeman, whose pregnant wife protests and miscarries when attacked by police. That forms the central story, as does another activist whose girl friend eggs him on, eventually to be beaten up by Harrelson’s character. The mayor (Roy Liotta) is tamed by a female lawyer. The cast includes Charlize Theron, Joshua Jackson, Channing Tatum, and Connie Nielsen.

At the end, the film summarizes the world trade protests since 1999, especially the 2003 Cancun event.

The film seems more relevant today as our economic crisis, where western consumers are viewed as living behind their means, adding to the trade deficit, and benefitting off the backs of almost slave labor overseas.

Yes, when I heard about this film, the first title that flashed into my mind was the 1966 French film “The Battle of Algiers” (1966), which I actually saw at Landmark in 2006. Today’s performance (of the Seattle film) played to a small audience (about 20, I think) at 4:30 PM at the Landmark E Street Theater in Washington.

On Aug. 28 on this blog I reviewed another documentary on the 1999 Seattle protests, "This Is What Democracy Looks Like”, released in 2000, directed by Jill Friedberg and Rick Rowley.

Picture: the Amistad slave ship, on display Sept. 16-22 at the National Harbor in Prince Georges County, MD (near the Wilson Bridge).

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