By Ernesto Aguilar
Political Media Review
August 1, 2010
Big Noise Films continues its tradition of blistering journalism in volume six of its Dispatches series, the latest of which features some of the best reporting of the DVD releases.
Dispatches 6 starts with a punch, in telling the story of nine-year-old Ali Kinani, killed in a massacre of Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Iraq, following the U.S. invasion of the country. Military contractor Blackwater was largely blamed for the internationally notorious shootout in a civilian-filled district in 2007, though the company cast aspersions on everyone from insurgents to the U.S. military for civilian deaths. The massacre is a crime for which no one to this day has gone to jail. Journalist Jeremy Scahill, who authored the sublime Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, does a masterful job in “Blackwater’s Youngest Victim.” In this short documentary, he helps to convey a grieving family’s search not for money, but justice — in this case, an apology from Blackwater for the boy’s murder. The stoic recounting of Ali’s death by his father, Mohammed Kinani, is likely one of the most wrenching things you will see this year.
In Scahill’s nuanced storytelling, Mohammed Kinani presents a man who at once welcomed U.S. troops as liberators and the mix of dignity, determination and quiet anger that the killing of his son and subsequent denials by Blackwater have brought out in him. The segment is absolutely riveting, and a powerful beginning to this installment of the series.
A mini-documentary that has gotten a fair bit of coverage, “White Power USA,” is the best-known part of Dispatches 6. Its premise — that the tea party movement, anti-immigrant uptick and hate-rock scene are part of a resurgent white nationalism taken hold since Barack Obama’s election and as a response to diversification — is not new, but some of the footage is chilling. Unabashed racists speak cynically of exploiting economic uncertainty and fears of the unknown to lure white people to a cause and a means of converting them to extremism. Longtime bigot buster Chip Berlet connects the dots here, reminding viewers that, when tea party activists and neo-Nazis talk of taking back “their” country “back,” the overtones are not without ahistorical assumptions of America as a white, Christian nation. Fading global Caucasian political, cultural and economic muscle, anti-racist organizers explain, generates disquiet among whites who fail to hold accountable the truly powerful who have exported jobs and bought off politicians. If you don’t believe the tea party is racist, it is doubtful you will be swayed by praise from people waving queer banners that look like Confederate/SS/U.S. flag mashups and admirers of Adolf Hitler. For tea party critics, those same declarations will only give fuel to views held already. In this sense, “White Power USA” does not make for an especially convincing case, but nonetheless the program is provocative in chronicling a political flashpoint.
A fascinating look by Greg Palast at the economic situation in Liberia rounds out Dispatches 6. Specifically, the woes created by debt speculators based in the United States, who essentially prey on one of the poorest countries in the world, are shocking. In his typically bombastic style, Palast goes that extra mile to find the “vultures” wherever they are to ask them tough questions. What Palast reveals is just as insightful, however. And finally the fight to save East St. Louis, once revered by Stokley Carmichel and H.Rap Brown as a perfect training ground for what a Black revolutionary town could be but now facing its end due to the death of industry, is profiled.
Big Noise’s Dispatches documentaries have brought some of the finest short documentaries to wide audiences. These stories have included racism and the drug war in Tulia, Texas, Israeli crimes in Lebanon, South American struggles against Chevron and so much more. The newest edition is a worthy successor to previous volumes.