NewsAsia Interview with Sergei Lavrov: how to behave gracefully under pressure from an interviewer with a prejudiced agenda

NewsAsia “Conversation with …” Interview with Sergei Lavrov (2015)

For an example of an interviewee displaying grace under fire from a biased interviewer, I direct interested readers to this NewsAsia “Conversation with …” interview of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on a range of issues with a particular emphasis on the Dutch investigation of the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Boeing Flight MH-17 in Ukraine in July 2014 and Russia’s opposition to the draft resolution that would lead to the establishment of a UN tribunal to examine the evidence and come to a conclusion as to culpability for the shoot-down. The video of the interview and its transcript can be viewed at The Vineyard of the Saker website here.

Lavrov is a very impressive if rather monotone speaker: he knows the details behind the push by various UN Security Council members and Malaysia to create a criminal tribunal to investigate the shoot-down very well, and his staff who have briefed him have also done excellent work. The interviewer appears impatient and uninterested in what he has to say. Lavrov insists that the UN Security Council Resolution 2166 should be followed to the full and this has not been the case so far: the four countries initially involved in the investigation (Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands, Ukraine; Malaysia joined the investigation much later after its government complained that as the country whose national carrier lost the plane it should have been included in the first place) have ignored this resolution. The interviewer seems to lose track of what Lavrov says and continues to ask loaded questions implying that Malaysia is being manipulated by Ukrainians or by another third party and its agenda. Lavrov deftly returns to his point that proper procedures have not been followed in the investigation of the jet’s downing.

Eventually both interviewer and interviewee agree to disagree on whether Russia was right to have vetoed the draft resolution proposed by Australia, Belgium, the Netherlands and Ukraine to establish the criminal tribunal and to insist instead on adhering to Resolution 2166 so the two go on to discuss a range of other issues such as Russia’s relations with various Asian countries such as China and Russian intentions in Asia. Again and again the interviewer seems to goad Lavrov into saying something that would incriminate Russia in some activity aiming at destabilising a part or parts of Asia, such as supporting Chinese military build-up in the South China Sea or anywhere near the Korean Peninsula or Japan. At one point in the interview, the interviewer insinuates that Russia is jealous of the level of trade that the United States conducts with ASEAN countries, and Lavrov laughs off the idiocy.

Lavrov comes off as a skilled and intelligent diplomat who prepared well for the interview. The interviewer herself, if she has brought an agenda to the interview, is frustrated at every turn and concludes the interview having not extracted from Lavrov whatever it is she was after. She appears to have been looking for a fight and has got none.

Incidentally what was left out of the interview – because the interviewer was unaware (and even if she had been aware, she probably would not have cared much for it) – is that Russia had good reason to veto the draft resolution for setting up the criminal tribunal: Article 7 of the statute is worded in such a way that, if used in the tribunal, would help place blame for the MH-17 shoot-down on Russian President Vladimir Putin. It becomes apparent that the tribunal, if allowed to go ahead, would have been a trap for Russia and a way of extending regime change to Russia. That the shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and the 298 people who died should be used as pawns by the West to bring down a democratically elected government is nothing short of cynical and malevolent.

 

MH17: A Year Without the Truth – uncovering the secrecy surrounding the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 shootdown

Yana Erlashova, Vitaly Biryukov, “MH17: A Year Without the Truth” (RT Documentary, 2014)

On 17 July 2014, Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-17, carrying nearly 300 people, was shot down in the Donbass region in eastern Ukraine. Over a year later, debris from the shootdown is still being uncovered, the investigation into the incident is still shrouded in secrecy and the narrative accepted (without much questioning) by the mainstream Western news media that the passenger jet was hit by a BUK missile fired by Donbass rebels, supposedly backed by Russia, is not backed by the evidence so far recovered. What is also very odd is that one of the parties likely to be culpable, Ukraine, has signed a non-disclosure agreement with Australia, Belgium and the Netherlands  which allows any of the signatories to veto any attempt by other signatories to release results of the investigation into the shootdown to the general public. In this context, a documentary about Flight MH-17, the secrecy around its fate and what actually lies behind that secrecy by Russia Today (RT) is not only welcome but necessary.

The documentary takes the form of various interviews with people in Malaysia, parts of Europe and the Donbass area where the plane went down, all of whom have some interest in the shootdown: among others, the families of Captain Wan Amran and a co-pilot who were part of the flight crew are interviewed as are also close relatives of a couple of passengers on the jet. The RT team also talk to some of the people who are still recovering debris from the fallen jet in fields around their homes. Dutch blogger Max van der Werff, Malaysian engineer Mohammad Azahar Zanuddin and German freelance journalist Billy Six (who visited the crash site and spoke to witnesses) are among those who doubt the official Western narrative of a BUK missile having brought down the jet. For different reaons, everyone interviewed expresses a desire to see the secrecy surrounding the plane’s shootdown lifted and the facts about how it came down made public: the grieving families of the two crew members need to know how their loved ones died so they can get on with their lives; others such as the Berlin lawyer representing German families who lost relatives in the crash believe that Ukraine must bear responsibility at least for allowing Flight MH17 to fly over an area where civil war was raging and the Donbass rebels had brought down a military jet.

The interview with the relatives of Captain Wan Amran is quite revealing in sections where the women say they were not allowed by the Malaysian government to view the dead pilot’s body directly, let alone touch it to prepare it for proper Muslim burial. The Dutch blogger says that he learned more about the case by visiting the crash site than on what he saw on his laptop; he also questions the Netherlands’ role in leading the investigation into the shootdown, given that the country is a member of NATO and therefore cannot be an impartial party. The German freelancer admits that initially he believed Western reports about who shot down the plane but after visiting the crash site and talking to people in the area, his opinion changed. Local people tell the RT reporter that they saw military jets approach the jet and shoot at it. The Berlin lawyer says that he received death threats by phone from someone claiming to be a Ukrainian Nazi. Most tragic of all is the story of the co-pilot who left behind a young wife pregnant with their first child.

Astonishingly in one scene, the RT journalist and a local Donbass resident in Petropavlivka find fragments of the Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777; the resident points to a round hole in one piece of the wreckage. They take the fragments to a local government building where a woman tells them that the fragments are set aside for the Dutch Safety Board to collect.

Later in the documentary the former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammad bemoans his country’s lack of spine in insisting on obtaining the truth about the crash and in following the Western news reporting in spite of the lack of evidence. He did not think that the investigation into the crash is being carried out objectively.

Although the RT documentary does not claim to have discovered who is responsible for the shootdown, what evidence is presented defies the official Western account and suggests very strongly that the Ukrainian government and military may be complicit in bringing down the plane. Why the Western narrative puts the blame on the Donbass rebels (and by association, Russia) is never explained – the aim of the documentary is mainly to penetrate the secrecy surrounding the crash – and so the shootdown is not placed in the context of the civil war in Ukraine and the parties behind that war that wish to see it continue and drag Russia into the fighting, so as to drain and ruin its economy and possibly destabilise that country and make it ripe for a colour revolution masterminded by Washington.

A more detailed exposition of what happened to Flight MH17 that would put it into a wider context that includes the ongoing war in Ukraine, what is at stake behind it and the media propaganda surrounding its reporting would have been welcome; this documentary does not do nearly enough but given the paucity of information so far about the crash, it is the best there is. Curiously, after this documentary was broadcast, its makers were contacted by the Dutch Safety Board for help in obtaining the fragments of MH17 shown in the film.

Nine Queens: clever film about two con artists with a message about how societies built on greed and mutual distrust crash

Fabian Bielinsky, “Nine Queens / Nuevas Reinas” (2000)

Talented Argentine director Fabian Bielinsky made just two films before his untimely death in 2006 and his first, “Nine Queens”, is now considered a classic in his native country. A naive young wannabe grifter, Juan (Gaston Pauls), attaches himself to the older and more experienced con artist Marcos (Ricardo Dario) for 24 hours to learn the tricks of the trade after a botched scam at a convenience store. Marcos shows him how to improvise and create scenes at newsagents and restaurants in order to get what he wants while paying as little as possible.

Next thing you know, an old associate of Marcos, Sandler, calls Marcos to say he needs help in selling counterfeit copies of a stamp collection known as the Nine Queens. Sandler, Marcos and Juan target a rich Spanish businessman, Gandolfo, who is being deported to Venezuela and needs to smuggle his wealth out of Argentina. They take the fake stamps to Gandolfo at the hotel where he is staying – coincidentally the same hotel where Marcos’ sister Valeria and younger brother Federico work – and after Gandolfo’s hired expert has checked them and declared them authentic, the parties agree to the 450,000 peso exchange. As luck would have it though, the hired expert later demands a cut of the money (he knew the stamps were fakes) and a motorcycle gang steals the briefcase with the fake stamps and throws it into the river.

Marcos and Juan return to the owner of the stamps and persuade her to sell them for 250,000 pesos. The two men find the money to buy the stamps off her and return to Gandolfo, who then insists that he will only buy the stamps at the agreed price on condition that he gets to sleep with Valeria. Valeria for her part agrees to sleep with Gandolfo on condition that Marcos must confess to Federico that he, Marcos, scammed his siblings out of the family’s Italian property inheritance. Amazingly, everyone adheres to the various conditions of the deal and Marcos and Juan get paid – in a bank cheque. Marcos tries to cash the cheque but as luck would have it, the bank suffers a crash, all its customers try to pull their money out and the cheque is worthless.

The film is blessed with well-drawn character roles and fine acting along with a plot that’s just barely plausible. All attention is focused on dialogue and plot, and the actors (especially Dario) play their parts tersely and well. The pace is fast with brisk conversations, a minimal style of presentation and single-minded focus. By the film’s climax, viewers will feel everyone in the film is out to deceive and con someone out of money: Gandolfo’s hired expert is on the take and even Valeria, who despises Marcos for his character and seedy ways, seems prepared to prostitute herself for money. Soon it becomes apparent that the entire society in which Marcos and Juan live is full of con artists, as even banks – incidentally the film is set in Argentina at a time when the country was defaulting on its debts due to past corrupt governance and asset-stripping of the country’s resources under the façade of privatisation – go belly-up and leave their customers in the lurch while their executives are marched off to prison on charges of stealing and operating pyramid schemes.

Viewers who enjoy guessing how the plot unfolds may be surprised (pleasantly!) at the film’s denouement, in which supreme con-man Marcos is revealed to be the victim of an even bigger con carried out by all the people he has met during the course of the film. There is the suggestion that the giant con had been planned and executed to restore the moral fabric of the cosmos, put out of order and harmony by Marcos’ past scams and double-dealing. Marcos ends up thoroughly alone with not even the prospect of jail-time to add some meaning and purpose to his future. There is no outlet for him to do penance and perhaps turn over a new leaf, and that way gain some forgiveness and another chance at being a better person.

There is another lesson that the film conveys and that is a society built on self-interest, mutual mistrust of others and the belief that morality is only for suckers is a shaky one and when hard times come, that society will collapse and its future will be very bleak.

District 9: sharp social and political satire buried under a sketchy action thriller plot

Neil Blomkamp, “District 9” (2009)

The inspiration for this science fiction film arises from a context in which racial segregation and exploitation informed the basis for an entire society. In 1966, the South African government used a 1950 law to declare an area (District 6) in Cape Town a whites-only area and commenced clearing out the black communities there. Two years later, the forced removal of people began and by the 1980s, nearly 60,000 people had been turfed out. The intention behind the forced removal was to open up the area to developers (with the government perhaps benefiting financially as well). Thirty years later, with the Israeli government pursuing similar apartheid policies of removal against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, and for similar reasons, little has changed and this is where “District 9” packs a strong punch.

The film opens its narrative some 28 years after an alien spacecraft has arrived in Johannesburg and deposited its load of sick and malnourished refugee aliens who resemble giant walking shrimp crustaceans there. The aliens are made to live in a slum area of the city and their conditions are portrayed as debased and grim. Under pressure from the public, all white, black and shades in-between, who fear and distrust the alien presence, the South African government decides to evict the aliens and force them to move elsewhere, and gives the job to a private security firm MNU. A rather ordinary administrator employee Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is tasked by his sceptical father-in-law Piet Smit (Louis Minnaar), to oversee the relocation. While clearing out the aliens, Wikus enters one of the aliens’ homes and picks up a cylinder of alien liquid. He accidentally sprays the stuff into his face and from there the film traces Wikus’ transformation from human to alien.

When MNU discovers what is happening to Wikus, the company detains him under heavy security and begins investigating the effects of the transformation. Almost straight away, MNU scientists realise that Wikus’ changing DNA and blood enable him to fire weapons captured in the past from the aliens and Smit, on hearing the news, callously gives orders for the vivisection of Wikus. Wikus escapes and makes his way to District 9 where he enters the place where he picked up the cylinder and is reacquainted with the alien called Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope) and his son. When Johnson realises what is happening to Wikus, he and Wikus strike a bargain: if Wikus and he can return to MNU to retrieve the cylinder, whose juice is needed to power an underground jump-ship up to the mother-ship and kick-start it back into action after 28 long years, Johnson will try to find a cure to reverse Wikus’ transformation.

From then on, the action thriller story with its attendant violence spurs into action and takes viewers all the way to the end. Along the way, the film fleetingly touches on various contemporary issues: the practice of corporations under the pretence of scientific research exploiting humans and aliens for military purposes; the scapegoating of the aliens and the use of fear to impose police state measures on society as a whole; the outsourcing of government functions to private companies for profit and the negative consequences that arise as a result; and the examination of racism, xenophobia and greed. A powerful undercurrent in the film is the paradox of Wikus becoming more fully human in a moral sense as his physical humanity ebbs away: he becomes more compassionate and discovers reserves of bravery and heroism in defending and aiding Johnson and his son.

The use of actual interviews with Johannesburg residents (about Zimbabwean aliens) and fictional interviews with MNU employees gives the film an air of gritty reality as well as fleshing out details of the plot and its themes. Unfortunately however, these interviews and the layering they give to the film are quickly ushered into the background as the Hollywood-style action plot with its emphasis on stereotyped characters such as the psychotic mercenary Koobus Venter (David James) and Wikus’ long-suffering missus Tania (Vanessa Haywood). Too much of the film is given over to various gunfights, each more bloody and using more special FX than the last.

In the end, the film just about holds together thanks to Sharlto Copley’s acting. What a pity though, that Copley had to shoulder an otherwise rather sketchy film whose potential as sharp social commentary remains frustratingly dormant. The film’s conclusion appears open-ended and one senses that a sequel in which Johnson returns with the panacea to reverse Wikus’ transformation and Wikus confronts his callous father-in-law is needed.

Sõda: political satire as animal fable takes on a dark tone

Riho Unt and Hardi Volmer, “Sõda” (1987)

It has the look of a political satire disguised as an animal fable and I would say that the hapless little bat represents Estonia, buffeted by the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Our flitter-mouse friend takes shelter in an abandoned water-mill and initially whiles away its time catching flies to eat and exploring its new surroundings. Before long though, the water-mill is invaded by crows from the sky, having found their way through a hole in the roof, and the bat is under siege from the birds which peck at it and try to dominate it. If that weren’t enough, hordes of rats from underground flood into the water-mill and attack the bat in the few refuges it can find. Soon the crows and rats start fighting over possession of the water-mill and the bat does its best to escape the crossfire and occasionally swing the battle in its favour.

The stop-motion animation has a raw and crude look which is effective for the film’s theme and plot. The puppets look cartoonish enough yet (in the case of the crows and rats) convey sinister menace. The music soundtrack is not intrusive and helps define the characters and the plot trajectory. The general look of the film is dark and grey-ish, in agreement with its sombre theme.

The film’s theme is adequate for a mainstream audience in scope though the reality is more complicated: Estonia did in fact collaborate with Nazi Germany during the Second World War, helping to round up Roma gypsies and Jewish people for incarceration and extermination. Currently Estonia finds itself losing people due in part to following an austerity program (which is eroding social services and infrastructure) and being part of the Schengen zone (meaning Estonians can travel to any part of the European Union to find work without needing visas) within the EU; and has accepted American troops in its territory on a supposedly temporary basis to defend itself against supposed Russian aggression. It seems that the bat is now up against forces more powerful and terrible than the crows and rats ever were. The film’s conclusion takes on a darker tone than the film-makers intended.

Kapsapea: an entertaining parody of action adventure / romance films

Riho Unt, “Kapsapea / A Cabbage” (1993)

A stop-animation parody of action adventure films like the Indiana Jones movie series, “Kapsapea” revolves around the travails of a humble farming family that discovers a giant cabbage has grown on their plot. The farmer, who conducts scientific experiments with alcohol on the side, imagines the fame and fortune that will accrue so he takes his giant vegetable down to his local pub where it is photographed by reporter Harrison for The New York Times. News of the giant cabbage spreads far and wide and it’s not long before American gangsters, agents from the KGB and spies from Communist China turn up in the neighbourhood eager to claim the cabbage for themselves. Most of the film is taken up with chases around the Estonian countryside as the farmer is pursued by hoodlums and spooks alike who’ll stop at nothing to grab the cabbage off him. Meanwhile Harrison falls in love with the farmer’s young daughter but their romance is nearly derailed when they fall foul of the Russians.

The action is tight and easily understood by audiences who don’t speak Estonian, although some of the finer points of the film, like any satire, will be lost on outsiders. One has to overlook the racist stereotypes surrounding the Chinese and Russian spies. There is plenty of slapstick comedy, some of it quite crude, and some scenes in the pub put the film out of reach of young children. The animation is well done although some of the action sequences are a bit hard on the eye and I’m not really sure what was chasing Harrison and his lady love while they were barrelling through an underground tunnel, in a recreation of the opening scenes of “Raiders of the Lost Ark”. The characters are stuffed dolls made of cloth and various other soft materials, and look rough-hewn.

It’s definitely very light entertainment with not much of a moral or deeper meaning behind the plot. The farmer and the men who chase him are played for greedy buffoons while the women around them either faff about or strut sluttishly.

Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue: clarion call for everyone to know and resist resurgent global fascism

John Pilger, “Why the Rise of Fascism is Again the Issue”, JohnPilger.com (26 February 2015)

Australia’s conscience comes with a real name: this is John Pilger and true to form, he has written an excellent essay on the resurgence of fascism in Europe and the rest of the world, to the extent that we all now stand on the brink of another major world war and the possibility that nuclear weapons will be used to wipe out whole nations – as if in the form of DU-enhanced ammunition they weren’t already slowly annihilating countries like Iraq – becomes greater every day. This fascism has a distinctly American face: its roots are in the American belief in Manifest Destiny and the notion that the United States is unique because it was founded on the principles of freedom and democracy, and therefore its civilisation is superior to others. This American fascism relies extensively on propaganda in the form of news media, Hollywood film and television output, and other cultural product, and is reinforced by pervasive surveillance through digital technologies, the manipulation of financial markets, the collusion of academics and so-called experts, and widespread censorship and misrepresentation and manipulation of facts working hand in velvet glove with global media and cultural exports.

Pilger ranges widely through examples of US warmongering and violence throughout the world, and how governments and corporate news media have consistently lied about American psychopathic behaviour, in the event demonising impoverished people or people standing up for their rights and convincing the Western public that such people are the villains. He brings his readers up to the present day where in Ukraine the criminal regime of President Petro Poroshenko has ferociously prosecuted a war in the country’s eastern Donbass region (which sits over considerable Yuzovka shale oil deposits, for which the company Burisma Holdings – and guess which US politician’s son sits on that company’s board as a director?) that has resulted in the deaths of thousands and displaced 2 million people, many of whom have fled to other countries. This conflict serves to help demonise Russia and its president Vladimir Putin who are frequently portrayed in the Western news media as aggressive and intent on fashioning a new post-Soviet empire encompassing currently independent nations like Armenia, Estonia and Kazakhstan. Pilger correctly identifies the aim of war against Russia: it is to grab that nation’s considerable energy and other natural resources for commercial exploitation that benefits a small global elite at the expense of the rest of us. In this context, Vladimir Putin and Russia have to be treated as Global Enemy No 1 for committing the unpardonable sin of following an independent course.

Pilger comes to the point of his article which is for the rest of us to wake up and learn the truth, and refuse to follow or co-operate with those individuals, organisations and governments pursuing the path of fascism. Knowing the truth, we must awaken others as well.

The article can be read at this link.

Yuck! A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary about School Lunch: young investigator’s sleuthing into public school lunch program is queasy to stomach

Zachary Maxwell, “Yuck! A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary about School Lunch” (2012)

Here comes wisdom from the mouths of babes … in this case, 9-year-old Zachary Maxwell who at the time of filming was attending a public elementary school in New York City. Every day, he’d look forward to school lunch based on the day’s menu which read like a menu that might be offered by one of NY’s finest 3-starred restaurants … only to be disappointed by the over-wrapped, bland and tasteless factory offerings dumped onto his tray. Irritated by the huge gap between what was advertised and what was the reality, Maxwell began a guerrilla film project in which he surreptitiously filmed or photographed about 75 school lunches served to him over several months, at least until he became careless and the Lunch Monitor caught him waving his phone camera in the air. Out of these pictures and videos, Maxwell created a well-structured investigative documentary project which highlights the hypocrisy behind the school lunch programs being run in New York City.

The documentary is very slick and Maxwell received a lot of adult help in editing the film and creating special effects and animation for the project. He ropes in his young brother Lucas for several scenes including a number of scenes in which they conduct an experiment (not very scientific) to see whether the school cafeteria’s fried potato chips last as long as a sponge cake or fresh vegetables. Maxwell appears in nearly every shot where he plays both investigative sleuth and narrator.

Maxwell concludes from the results of his project that the school lunch program’s hype about its lunches being varied, delicious and nutritious is just hot air and the actual lunches themselves – and viewers can see for themselves – are monotonous and consist of highly processed foods with dubious levels of nutrients (to say nothing of what they contain in additives and preservatives) and little if any of the fresh fruits and vegetables they are advertised as having. Along the way he and his fellow students get an early lesson in the power of propaganda to lead impressionable minds astray. He and Lucas decide that the best school lunches are ones they make themselves and carry to school in brown bags.

The film is at once funny and very entertaining, and very revealing about what children at Maxwell’s school have to put up with when private corporations and governments collude to pursue maximum profits by dumping junk … er, in serving school lunch meals to primary schoolchildren. Maxwell’s school may or may not be typical of schools in New York state in supplying such bland and useless lunches. One would hope such films like Maxwell’s should serve as a wake-up call to education department bureaucrats in that state and across the rest of the United States to start supplying more nutritious school meals to primary and secondary school students … but as long as the country hews to an ideology that privileges self-interest, greed and competition over co-operation, and believes that pursuing profit at the expense of the health of young Americans trumps everything else, Maxwell and his friends will have to be satisfied with eating more plastic processed pulp.

The documentary can be seen at this link.

The Look of Silence: a grim and monotonous film about a personal quest but no context to make sense of it

Joshua Oppenheimer, “The Look of Silence” (2014)

A companion piece to Oppenheimer’s earlier documentary “The Act of Killing”, this film considers the effects of Indonesia’s purges of Communists and people suspected of being Communist in 1965 on society and the general public. Adi, a fortysomething eye doctor in his village, seeks out the people involved in the torture and killing of his brother Ramli, whom he has never known, the brother having died before he was born. His journey takes him around various families in his village. The murderers of his brother hold considerable power and respect in the village, and Adi’s questions have the potential to put him and his own family in danger for their lives. Indeed, a number of people, not the murderers themselves but their children and other relatives, do make threats towards Adi and Oppenheimer himself. Throughout the film, Adi conducts himself with quiet dignity, asking hard questions about how the killers themselves feel about living with lies, and how they think their victims and the victims’ families might feel about them.

It’s a gruelling and unrelenting film to watch, and one that could have been edited for length in parts: I confess I felt quite tired and drowsy during parts of the film. The film’s style is spare and its focus is on Adi’s unassuming yet quietly determined quest to gain some justice and peace for his brother and parents in a country that continues to glorify the mass murder and tortures and teaches schoolchildren highly distorted versions of this dark period of Indonesia’s history. The extreme minimalism can make proceedings quite monotonous and dreary. The film becomes more than one person’s search for answers about his brother’s fate: it’s also an investigation into the nature of denial and evasion, and how continued denial keeps families apart in society from one generation to the next. At the very least, Adi and Oppenheimer are able to get the killers to make idiots of themselves when they revel in the details of Ramli’s murder and how they drank the blood of their victims in the bizarre belief that this would stop them (the killers, that is) from going crazy.

The scale of the narrative, focused on Adi’s personal quest for answers and perhaps an apology or acknowledgement from the killers for how his family has suffered, does not address the issue of how Indonesia’s government and institutions continue to suppress inquiry into the 1965 mass murders and make the search for truth, justice, any reparations and above all reconciliation between the murderers and their victims, and their respective families, impossible. As with Oppenheimer’s previous film “The Act of Killing”, “The Look of Silence” gives no background information or context to Ramli’s murder or the 1965 mass killings generally, so viewers not familiar with Indonesia’s recent history come away knowing no more about this dark episode than they did before, or why the government still will not admit that wrongdoing and harm had been done during this period. That this situation continues more than 15 years after the resignation of President Suharto, whose rise to power had been enabled in part by the so-called Communist purges, after 31 years as the nation’s leader, and the part that Western nations may have played in encouraging Suharto and his followers to take power, is the real puzzle that gnaws away at the film’s credibility.

A curious aspect of the two Oppenheimer films is how the director manages to get adult men and women, even Adi’s aged father, to act in childish ways. For most of these people also, acting like little children (boasting of their exploits, drinking blood in the belief it will protect them from harm)  incriminates them as murderers but viewers might question the methods that Oppenheimer uses to encourage these people to condemn themselves.

Under Skin, In Blood / You Turn / Karroyul / Man Real / Nulla Nulla / On Stage / Maap Mordak: seven shorts showcasing Aboriginal Australian film-making talent

Larissa Behrendt, “Under Skin, In Blood” (2015)

Ryan Griffen, “You Turn” (2015)

Kelrick Martin, “Karroyul” (2015)

Tracey Rigney, “Man Real” (2015)

Dylan River, “Nulla Nulla” (2015)

Ben Southwell, “On Stage” (2015)

Dot West, “Maap Mordak” (2015)

I had the good fortune of a free ticket to see these seven short films written, directed and/or produced by Aboriginal Australian film-makers and writers. All these shorts cover a range of issues faced by indigenous Australian characters in various urban, suburban and rural contexts in short dramatic narratives. In the order that the films are listed from Behrendt’s film to Dot West’s, the dramas are as follows: a woman living alone holds desperately to memories of happier times with her husband and son at home before asbestos dust in their mining community robbed both men of their health and lives; a man on the run from police over a bungled robbery discovers two unexpected passengers in his getaway car who force him into a life-or-death situation when his car crashes; a young woman mourning the loss of her mother reconnects with her people’s past through the unlikely medium of an abandoned farmhouse; an ex-con tattooing his friend’s leg taunts the naïve pal about his supposed lack of cojones; a rookie white police officer must negotiate the delicate unspoken mores of a rural Aboriginal community in order to break up a fight between two women; a transsexual cabaret singer, lucky in love, fame and fortune, still yearns for her father’s acceptance and love; and a young school-girl teased about her fair skin by Aboriginal kids at school draws hope and strength from her grandmother’s stories and fount of wisdom.

Technically the films are very well made and the acting is very good. “Karroyul” could probably stretch for another 10 – 15 minutes for a deeper and more satisfying treatment of the young woman’s dilemma and alienation, how she comes to terms with her mother’s passing and perhaps how she is entrusted with carrying a legacy to future generations, so that the film becomes open-ended rather than closed off in a tight loop. The cinematography is very beautiful and is epic in ambition, and it seems a shame that the film is so short and its plot and characters sketchily developed almost to the point of being stereotypes. The two police officers in “Nulla Nulla” need another one or two little episodes that bring out aspects of their unique mismatched pairing as older wise Aboriginal man and younger rookie whitefella naïf that riffs on the good-cop / bad-cop routine. Behrendt’s film is the saddest piece with its suggestion that the asbestos mine that blighted the woman’s family was kept open mainly to keep the local Aboriginal community firmly under the thumb of both government and the mine operator and not be allowed to determine its own economic destiny.

“You Turn” is unexpectedly powerful for the choice the robber is forced to make when his car crashes and one of his passengers is thrown out onto the road. “Man Real” is dark and serious for its questioning of macho sexuality and the role that violence plays in shoring up men’s fragile identities as men, all under an apparently light-hearted and jokey veneer. Indeed, quite a few films in this collection have a common theme of a crisis of masculinity and what being a man means for Aboriginal men living mostly Westernised lives in unfulfilling urban, suburban and even rural environments. “You Turn” and “Man Real” address this particular problem head-on but even other films like “Karroyul”, “On Stage” and “Under Skin, In Blood” allude to the issue obliquely: the young woman’s uncle in “Karroyul” is a bit ineffectual in encouraging his niece to reconnect with country; the father of the cabaret singer finds his offspring’s changed sexuality an affront to his identity; and the men in the mining community are denied self-determination and are forced to find identity and fulfilment through mining work at the cost of their health.

Other common themes include continuity through the generations, and the threat that losing a parent or a child can make to breaking this continuity, as expressed in the sorrow and despair of the lonely widow staring at the blurry TV screen in “Under Skin, In Blood”. On the other hand, the characters in “Maap Mordak” seem rather stereotyped: Granny is always available to offer wisdom and comfort to her unhappy granddaughter but doesn’t actually offer the girl any tips to resist the local kids who might turn into nasty bullies the next time she meets them.

Altogether these seven films are fine examples of Aboriginal Australian film-making and writing talent, and I hope the people who made them have even greater ambitions to write major film and TV series screenplays about modern indigenous Australian dramas and issues, and turn them into reality.