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Passive aggressive Pilger hurls well-aimed stone at his Goliath

The War On Democracy: 96 minutes. Rated: M. Directors: Christopher Martin and John Pilger. Starring: John Pilger. Website

Passive aggressive Pilger hurls well-aimed stone at his GoliathWith his shag of grey hair and weather-worn face, Aussie journalist-cum-documentarian John Pilger might well look more at home on an outback ranch than embroiled in the tumult of global politics.

Nonetheless in his feature documentary debut The War On Democracy, Pilger pits his astute investigative mind and radical's spirit against no lesser rival than the American political empire.

Utilising archival news footage and probing new interviews, as well as his own investigative acumen, Pilger dissects a range of troublesome US incursions into South America's political landscape, and constructs a compelling argument that suggests their seemingly self-interested interference has often caused more harm than good in these impoverished nations.

He couples this argument with a spiritous celebration of 'people power', and what can happen when the world’s oppressed classes finally decide 'enough is enough'.

While The War On Democracy is far more straight-faced than, say, Michael Moore’s 'infotainment' advocacy docos, Pilger does display the occasional underhanded approach to his interviews, and a condescending, 'nudge-nudge, wink-wink' attitude towards his interviewees that may leave some viewers questioning his methods.

For example, early in the film Pilger visits the home of a wealthy Venezuelan man, who proceeds to boast about his extravagant lifestyle and ludicrously expensive possessions.

Passive aggressive Pilger hurls well-aimed stone at his GoliathIt’s clear the man has no idea Pilger plans to juxtapose his disproportionate wealth (courtesy the country’s oil industry) against the poverty that pervades most of the country. The man may not be all that deserving of our sympathy, but surely he at least deserves the opportunity to respond to the implicit charge Pilger is laying against him: that he’s part of a wealthy elite sustained by the suffering of others.

Still, there’s no denying that Pilger’s point is effectively made, so in that respect perhaps the end justifies the means.

At the other end of the spectrum, yet no less effective, is a more openly confrontational interview later in the film with a former CIA big-shot who suggests somewhat inanely that Amnesty International are merely propagandists, who have fabricated or highly exaggerated statistics referring to alleged US human rights violations in democratic South American nations.

Rather than responding in kind to the man’s uncontained aggression, Pilger instead adopts a more passive aggressive approach and allows his subject to “hang himself” with his own diatribe.

Pilger has long been a critic of the 'American empire' and, with The War On Democracy, this particular 'David' hurls many a well-aimed stone at his vast 'Goliath'.



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