IDFA 2014

IDFA is the International Documentary Film Festival in Amsterdam that is probably the biggest and most important doc fest of the year with over 300 films, a market of films for sale, web based docs on view and many side events.
This year was distinguised by a number of very intense, powerful films involving war and trauma from Joshua Oppenheimer’s follow up to The Act of Killing, The Look of Silence, about an eye doctor who confronts former death squad leaders and their families at no small amount of rish to himself, Drone, on the US drone war and a “pilot” who discusses it and the trauma he’s suffered, and Of Men and War, an amazingly personal story of Iraqi vets working out their trauma in a unique program based in Napa Valley. Their tales of horrific events they witnessed or perpetrated is about as harrowing as anything imaginable and their guilt, shame, anger and profound desire to heal is breathtakingly intense. It’s one of the most powerful films I’ve ever seen; I had a chance to do a Q&A with the director after the screening and he spoke movingly of the relationships he built with the men and of their struggles to regain their souls and honor their families. He made a previous film, De Guerre Lasses (Living Afterwords: Words of Women) about women and war in Bosnia, and this one looks at men as casualties of war. No U.S. distribution yet but watch for it. It won the Festival Award for Best Feature Length Documentary and will no doubt win more awards in the days ahead.

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Obama’s Fatal Error

Let’s go back to the beginning of it all, 2008, when a newly elected President Obama arrrived on a promise of change and the nation had seen enough lying, deception and outright criminality by leaders who rewrote what words like “torture” meant to suit their ends. A fraudulent, completely unnecessary war gave Al Qaeda a new recruiting ground (it didn’t exist in Iraq before the U.S. invasion) and a poorly executed, half-baked effort to capture Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan floundered and morphed into another hopeless attempt to win hearts and minds by having soldiers storm through villages and prop up a corrupt regime.

But it all did yield profits for the defense industry and lots of prisoners who got shuffled off into black sites and Guantanamo where torture was the name of the game.

What if Obama did then what many urged? What if he ordered a formal investigation into whether crimes against humanity had occurred during the Bush administration? No one would expect Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Gonzales and the other decision makers to serve jail time or perhaps even to stand trial but if there had been a finding that Yes, indeed: crimes against humanity occurred and these were the ones responsible, a new, clear, honorable moral tone would have begun to take hold. And even if the charges led to a trial, President Obama could use, properly, his right to pardon as a way to avoid what could become a political football and an international embarrassment. The shame could be left at the feet of the perpetrators.

Such action would have confirmed President Obama’s desire for change, his determination to set a new course, his vision of a future that remained true to the great American values of due process and the rule of law.

Instead Obama has slowly and it seems inexorably drifted into complicity with what we thought he’d change: prolonged, grinding wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for far longer than necessary to dismantle the core elements of Al Qaeda housed there; continued coddling of the corrupt regime in Pakistan that clearly and well nigh openly shielded Bin Laden and droves of other terrorists; efforts to compromise with those Senator Reid has finally identified, correctly, as “Banana Republicans”–extremists who seek to overthrow the Constitutional division of powers and nullify existing law by refusing to respect either their opponents, the Constitution or the vast numbers of us who need, want and value government services from the National Parks and air controllers to the FDA and Medicare; continued and expand the use of drone aircraft attacks against presumed terrorists despite vivid evidence of killing civilians as well; continued to rely on Depleted Uranium as a key element of shells even though these shells virtually vaporize, creating micro-particles that indiscriminately ravage the lungs and distort the DNA of those nearby, including U.S. troops, and despite a hypocritical aversion to chemical weapons if used by adversaries; hanging onto the economic advisors who sat on their butts as we slid into a totally avoidable economic crisis (who, in Larry Summers and others, in fact helped engineer it by promoting the legislation that allowed for the reckless practices that led to the overinflated balloons of bad, very bad, debt, that burst; giving in on aspects of the initial Affordable Health Care Act in order to placate the radical right but with painful consequences for the millions of us who were counting on the government to modernize the 1930s legislation that began to weave an indispensable safety net under the bloody arena of the so-called free market.

Taking the moral high road from the very start would have made all this folly stand out for the folly it is because it would have been clearly and cleanly repudiated.

We’d be in a very different place today and those who got us here would know full well that we know who’s responsible for attempting to plunge this country into the dark world of terrorism, greed and mindless conduct that has, instead, become all too rampant and all too familiar.