JWR Articles: Film/DVD - For Your Consideration: Documentaries 2013 - 1 (Directors: Roger Ross Williams, Janet Tobias, Gabriela Copperthwaite) - December 31, 2013

For Your Consideration: Documentaries 2013 - 1

4.5 4.5

Three excellent films

God Loves Uganda
Roger Ross Williams
90 mins.
Four and one-half stars

Prayer warriors

How terribly ironic that in the same year that 12 Years a Slave bursts onto the screen (and into the limelight of awards season) that the next incarnation of systemic slavery also appears as one of 2013’s most cautionary documentaries.

Pity the thousands of Ugandans who have come under the TLC of America’s religious right—most especially the International House of Prayer whose stated mission is to take over the world not with weaponry but rather by spreading the “good news” that theirs is the only religion worth joining. Too bad for, say, the world’s Muslims, but—after all—“Christ was born 500 years before Muhammad.” And as for the planet’s homosexuals, their spirits are “more demonic than Islam”: “they deserve to die for their sins.”

It’s not surprising that post-Idi Amin Uganda has become the testing grounds for IHOP’s indoctrination strategies, with 85% of the population reportedly Christian, the chance for getting a foot in the door are much higher than, say, Egypt.

Williams presents a balanced look at both “sides” in the struggle for hearts, minds and cash in the name of God. IHOP leader Lou Engle is mostly all fire and brimstone but makes a curious admission that he was a “porn addict” lo those many years ago until He intervened. Seasoned missionary Joanna Watson confesses to being attracted to women in her youth (well, hanging out with actors, what could you expect?) and has now—metaphorically—married into every black man in her care. Wide eyed Jesse Digger and his wife Rachelle can’t wait to convert the next lonely soul (“Only God can fill the emptiness”) even as they praise the Lord for having Starbucks in faraway places.

Doing research into the brainwashing of Ugandans—especially its youth—is Boston vicar Reverend Kapya Kaoma, who had the audacity to visit Kampala and stand up for the rights of the LGBT community while hatemongers such as Chris Lively spew their vermin to Parliament (resulting in an Anti-Homosexuality Bill—sponsored by MP David Bahati who is now also head of the Boy Scouts…—that would jail first offenders and kill repeat heathen—it was passed into law December 20, 2013). On the ground in the “young” country where 50% of the population is less than 15 years old, Bishop Christopher Senyonjo preaches tolerance and acceptance, but is ex-communicated for his efforts. Nonetheless, he still manages to bring a modicum of dignity during the funeral of David Kato—LGBT activist brutally murdered in 2011—after the official clergy denounced all gays during the early part of the service.

It seems since time immemorial, with God on your side (choose your own) it’s a duty to bring the rest of humanity around to the true and only way of thinking. Of course, violence would never be used thanks to the power of prayer.

Somebody’s God did smile on director of photography, Derek Wisehahn, as a beautifully queer rainbow (following a typical deluge of rain) rose above a van filled to the brim with soul savers about to ply their trade on unsuspecting sinners. JWR

Forced to live underground

No Place on Earth
Janet Tobias
83 mins.
Four and one-half stars

Of Beasts and Caves

Yet another awful chapter in the overflowing chronicles of bullies and beasts systemically making the world a better place by murdering those who—in their minds—aren’t fit to coexist.

Tobias has expertly crafted this tale of Jewish families in the western Ukraine fighting for their lives by ferreting underground and living for nearly a year and a half in dark, damp caves in the countryside. With a memoire upon which to base the facts (Esther Sterner’s We Fight to Survive) and intrepid caver (Chris Nicola) who quite literally dug up this story while searching for his own roots along with a flashback cast who braved the mud, cold and perpetual darkness to retell the incredible story for survival against all odds (including, of course, most of the hapless victims’ own neighbours), this production rings with verisimilitude from the first glimpse of Verteba cave through to the those still hale enough to return—decades later—to their very personal hell on Earth (accompanied by some of their grandchildren whose bedtime stories frequently focussed on the underground miracle of determination, invention and resolve).

John Piscitello’s finely crafted score (notably the solo violin and flute interventions adding poignancy and sleigh ride zest, respectively) deftly underlines the wealth of emotions that both the telling and recalling require. The quartet of cinematographers and pair of editors fire on all of their collective cylinders adding a feast for the eye even as the pathetic truth sinks in. JWR

Magnificent creature; penned up for cash

Gabriela Copperthwaite
90 mins.
Four and one-half stars

Death by 1,000 shows

Centuries ago, audiences took huge delight in watching prisoners and slaves of all stripes being forced into the ring to kill or be killed by wild animals (some might say that practice has been resurrected with the bloody spectacles of Mixed Martial Arts). But for many decades, Sea World and its imitators have been pairing up orcas (killer whales) with their personal trainers to fill their coffers as the public pays to be splashed and thrilled by the largest member of the dolphin family.

These magnificent, intelligent and socially interdependent creatures provide many incredible moments of beauty in Copperthwaite’s portrait of “blackfish” in their natural habitats. Yet many very disturbing images wash over the screen when these black-and-white beauties are penned up in concrete pools—no more 100-miles-per-day runs in the ocean for these showpieces. Not surprisingly, the captured beasts strike out in frustration and quite literally bite the hands that feed them. On a few occasions their human minders pay with their lives for administering TLC to animals that never asked for applause or compensation.

Using a large number of former industry employees to explain the realities of the business, it becomes readily apparent that the well-meaning staff were seldom given the whole truth about the danger they were in. When things did go terribly wrong, management was quick to put down the deadly incidents of revenge as “trainer error.” The firsthand accounts and difficult-to-watch video footage of the attacks paint a far different picture.

Bald lies abound from an investigating sheriff to Sea World’s executives whose narrow view of the truth is fuelled by greed and electability.

Particularly effective is the use of animation for the court proceedings as the Annie-type witnesses spread their fictions in newspaper type.

After a death in Victoria, B.C., (resulting in the end of Sea Land) perpetrator Tilikum is shipped to Orlando where his sperm is harvested between shows for the readily titillated crowds. It’s a long time coming, but violent history will repeat itself. In other parts of the animal kingdom Inexpensive pit bulls, for example, are routinely put down after tasting human flesh; bull orcas live to cum and kill another day due to the millions it would cost to replace them.

A spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration says it all when asked just what had been learned over the twenty years between the deaths: “Nothing at all,” he replies with as much frustration as the orcas must feel in their manmade cages as the pathetic truth sinks in. JWR

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