The War on Democracy - DVD Review

'before the film really got going I was thinking ‘you know, I’ve never really seen or read anything positive about Chavez’ by the time it finished Pilger had me thinking, ‘well why would I? I live in a capitalist, Western state that hates him and wants me to too''

The War on Democracy is a 2007 documentary focusing on the U.S.A’s treatment of South America over the last century or so, narrowing in on recent events and the US’s fractious relationship with Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

If there’s one lasting impression I took away with me from The War on Democracy it was; ‘my oh my, John Pilger sure is perma-tanned’. Of course it wasn’t and the film is an extremely worthy and well executed polemic against the US and its dubious foreign policy towards the Southern American states as a collective.

However, lets deal with Pilger’s tan first. John Pilger is an Australian journalist who champions free speech and makes it fairly clear during the film that he doesn’t think US foreign policy equates to a much larger doctrine than; ‘see it, invade it’. His opinions and, ultimately, research to back up these opinions therefore make for a fairly interesting film but he simultaneously cannot resist from ensuring people know he has done the research himself, trodden the path through South America and spoken to those that matter. And therefore, because of this, Pilger falls into the trap of thousands of documentary film-makers before him in making himself the subject of the film. Hence we see far too much tan.

Linked to this is the fact that his style is, at worst, archaic and at best, made for TV. If he could have been talked out of directing the movie himself and relying on a younger, more hip, helmer then maybe this could have been avoided but undoubtedly this is HIS project in capital letters and so we get three quarter length shots with a slow zoom in to Piger’s (nicely tanned) features while he mouths a lengthy piece of expose, rather than the more preferred ‘voice over’ style of the modern documentary.

From a subject perspective though, it is hard to fault him. Before the film really got going I was thinking ‘you know, I’ve never really seen or read anything positive about Chavez’, by the time it finished Pilger had me thinking, ‘well why would I? I live in a capitalist, Western state that hates him and wants me to too’. Despite the fact that the film is polemical it stops short of being a tirade and Pilger has the experience and nous to present calm and mediated opinions, never deteriorating into a rant until perhaps he makes his angry conclusions.

If there’s serious fault here it’s that Pilger hardly ever shows the other side of the argument and when he does he picks extremely overt people to do it. An ex-FBI man for example rails against him, denying the mass deaths under General Pinochet in Chile and therefore not actually representing ‘the other side’ but strengthening Pilger’s case. In his defence, Pilger would say there is enough pro-western material out there anyway but it would make his case stronger, as it does any case, if he sometimes recognised the other side of the border.

Pilger’s tan is distracting yes, but he cannot be accused of looking at the world through rose-tinted spectacles. The story he weaves together, through personal interactions and interviews and archive news footage, is compelling and enthralling but needs to be watched with the awareness that while the US may hate him, Pilger is undoubtedly a Chavez champion and as with most tales the truth may actually sit somewhere in the middle.



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