Thursday, December 11, 2014

Greg Barker's WE ARE THE GIANT: Remembering Arab Spring--together with its not-so-hot results

I suspect it will be very easy to get angry at Greg Barker and his new documentary, WE ARE THE GIANT, which offers up a few of the folk who were (and still are -- some of them, at least) actively involved in the ongoing protest collectively known as Arab Spring. After all, what looked like, at last, a wonderful explosion of the possibility of "democracy" in the Arab world, involving some 20 countries, beginning with Tunisia and spreading through-out, turns out to be either the further rise of putrid fundamentalism or rather an even stronger dictatorship, pushing citizens under its thumb ever more fiercely. Showing us Mao's revolution and then Chinese students protesting that revolution with no intervening commentary is perhaps not the most intelligent of choices.

So, when we begin our viewing, we see a quote from Che Guevara together with a rapid montage of various "popular" revolutions throughout history, though whether these involve Mao, Lenin, Jefferson or Castro, or whether these helped or hindered the people, does not seem to matter much to Mr. Barker (shown at left). It's the idea of a popular revolution that counts. But, then, when the documentary lets us know that its subject is the would-be "popular revolutions" in the Arab world -- after what has happened there over the past few years -- one's hope further declines.

Don't give up, however. Although Barker's initial foray into the Middle East involves Libya and a father-son team of born-in-America Arab patriots (pictured, above, front), who may be fighting more out of religious than populist fervor -- does not Barker notice the name of Allah being invoked here and what that might mean for women and other minorities, come the revolution? --  as the movie moves onward, to Syria and then Bahrain (where the fight is led by a father his two daughters, shown below), the film takes on increasing strength and meaning. (Although what this meaning actually is is up for grabs.)

In between, we meet two Syrian revolutionary leaders dedicated (initially, at least) to peaceful protest. One of them, below, remains so, even though we see the horrendous results of peaceful protest under a cruel dictatorship. The we see the results of violent protest, too, which Syria gave over to, with results no less horrendous -- except now, as one fellow points out, the protestors can at least strike back against their overlords using the same kind of death and destruction rained on them. Some fun. At least here, we get an interesting idea of how Syria's "Free Army" was born and then grew, unfortunately, into something that could be taken over by extreme fundamentalist killers.

We get a little Gandhi, Mandela, King and Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, before delving into the lives of that family from Bahrain, in which one of the sisters must finally ask America's government -- since we have refused to intervene in this country the way we have in Libya -- "Is a Bahrainian life not worth as much as a Libyan life?" Evidently, not. You see, Libya for years had a dictator unfriendly to the western powers, whereas Bahrain's equally cruel and dictatorial guy is friendly to us. The Maoris of New Zealand present a case study for one of the sisters to use in facing the opposition, but this goes only so far. We hear the tale of the girls' father being arrested and beaten in front of his family, and finally the remaining sister (the other has earlier fled to the West) is arrested, released, and then arrested again and again and again.

Does all this sound a bit depressing. It sure is. The titular "Giant," as explained by Dad to his children, stands for the people. Why should this enormous population be held in thrall to the small minority who rule, Dad asks? His daughters cannot answer. No more than can we. Except to note that, since that small minority controls all the resources and thus the power, its control will go on indefinitely -- despite any revolution, peaceful or violent. The "giant," as usual, is a helpless one. And we are, all of us, indeed that giant, serving ever more the powers-that-be -- which, here in the Western world, we now call the corporations and the one per cent.

While I doubt that this is the point the filmmaker intends to make, it is the depressing one that must be taken away from his film -- which is, above all else, hugely thought-provoking. We Are the Giant -- from Music Box Films,  running 92 minutes and in both Arabic and English -- opens tomorrow, Friday, December 12 in New York City (at the Cinema Village) and in Los Angeles (at Laemmle's Music Hall 3). 

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