A litany of blunders and oversights in “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes”

Jess Reid, “Deepwater Horizon: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

An investigation into the causes of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico near the US state of Louisiana in April 2010, that killed 11 workers and created a massive environmental catastrophe in the Gulf, this documentary manages to be fairly well researched yet easy for its target general public audience to follow. Concentrating on the major errors behind the oil rig explosion, starting with aspects of the culture of BP that emphasised the pressure of time and budget over-runs over safety issues, to mistakes and fateful decisions made by engineers on the oil rig, to underestimating the enormous size of the oil spill and the lack of proper plans to cap the well and to clean up the oil spill, the film draws out what it considers to be the major blunders behind the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and explains how they contributed to the accident. A number of experts including former US Energy Secretary Stephen Chu who served in the first Obama administration add their perspectives to each of the issues raised. Their points are illustrated with fairly simple technical animations and archived film of the explosion and the environmental and economic disaster it caused.

Although very detailed, the film does not do enough to show how the various mistakes it identifies are linked and reflect a corporate culture in the oil industry obsessed with making profits and taking unnecessary risks, especially in a highly risky and dangerous activity such as deep-water oil drilling. In such an industry, the pressure on keeping within time and budget limits can encourage people to take short cuts, to overlook or compromise on safety issues, to conform rather than speak out or express misgivings, and downplay problems or the scale of problems when they occur. Disaster and contingency planning is given short shrift and when a disaster does occur, the corporation resorts to a quick technical fix to disperse the problem to make itself look good for the government, the media, the public and (most of all) its shareholders and investors.

The film fails to pound the US government for its weak regulation of the oil industry and its revolving door personnel policy in which oil industry executives take up positions in the US Department of Energy, loosen regulations on their former employers and then later return to the industry with a change of government. Perhaps the most depressing aspect of the film comes near its end when the government fails to punish BP in proportion to the scale of the explosion and the damage it caused to marine environments and the livelihoods of communities and the industries around the Gulf that rely on viable marine environments and ecosystems there. The consequences of the oil rig disaster and of the use of Corexit dispersant to disperse the oil spill on the health of the people who worked on the rig and in the affected environments were and still are considerable. The experts interviewed in the film agree that many of the mistakes and blunders identified have not been properly dealt with and could lead to another major deep-water oil rig explosion.

The film serves as a good introduction to a major human-made disaster that is still generating long-term environmental, economic and human costs in the Gulf. Viewers wanting more information will need to do their own research but at least they will have a handy foundation to work from.

A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper: a snapshot of discrimination against Dalit people in India

Amudhan R P, “A Day in the Life of an Untouchable Sweeper” (2003)

Known as “manual scavenging”, manually cleaning public and private toilets, open drains and streets of human excrement is still being done by thousands of men and women across India. Much of this work is traditionally done by people from the Dalit (untouchable) communities that are at the bottom of the caste social system. Dalit women sweep and clean dry waste in streets, collect it in cane or metal vessels, and carry these vessels on their heads to dispose of the shit at central disposal points in their communities. Men and women clean faeces from public and private toilets, gutters and drains, and men usually clean sewers and septic tanks.

This video, scripted and filmed by Amudhan R P, follows Mariyammal, a sanitary worker with the Madurai Municipal Corporation as she cleans a street near a temple in Madurai. Mariyammal describes her daily routine to Amudhan as she goes about her work – her employer does not give her proper protective clothing or equipment like a mask, gloves or appropriate footwear so she goes barefoot to avoid soiling her shoes – and vents her anger and frustration about the work she has to do, the lack of proper equipment she is given to do her job, and the discrimination she is forced to put up with from the people around her because she is a Dalit and a sanitary worker.

Featuring close-up shots, and with a jerky style due to Amudhan having to carry the camera on his shoulder, the film can be very confronting for viewers as they see the amount of back-breaking work Mariyammal must do every early morning: scattering ash or sanitary powder over piles of faeces, and sweeping the shit into her vessel with scoops she must obtain or buy herself. She makes three trips to a central disposal area in Madurai. She tells Amudhan that she herself is in bad health (in the opening credits, the film notes that sanitary workers are at risk for asthma, malaria and cancer from their work) but despite requesting a transfer to other work, her employer refuses to move her. She cannot give up working despite her meagre pay and demeaning job as she is a widow with a large family of boys (some of whom must work as labourers) and a huge debt with high interest to pay moneylenders after taking a loan to pay for a son’s wedding. Amudhan passes no judgement on how Mariyammal does her work or on her frustration but patiently asks questions and absorbs some of the anger she vents. Mariyammal turns out to be a feisty lady especially when she takes a break and orders morning tea for herself from a tea vendor. She is not afraid to boss local children for shitting in the street she has to clean and local people appear to tiptoe gingerly past her as she strolls through the streets like a queen.

Since the film was made, it has won awards at film festivals in Tamil Nadu and New Delhi and was even shown at a film festival in China. The street where Mariyammal worked was shut down and Mariyammal was shifted to different work. The working conditions of other Madurai sanitary workers have improved somewhat with better equipment given them as well. Providing the poor people of Madurai and elsewhere in India with better living and working conditions that might include better public sanitation infrastructure – when one sees the dreadful public toilets in Madurai, one understands why poor people prefer to poop in back lanes and alleys – and which turn the faeces into a useful asset such as fertiliser or fuel, seems to be beyond the scope of government at local, regional and national level though: the legislation to provide proper public and private sanitation, making manual scavenging unnecessary, may exist but enforcement is something else altogether.

The litany of lies, cover-ups, blunders and shortcuts that led to two air crash tragedies in “737 MAX: Ten Mistakes”

Nick Gillan-Smith, “737 MAX: Ten Mistakes” (2021)

A crisp and succinct documentary, going into just enough detail (but not too much so) to satisfy the general public target audience, this investigation of the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 MAX passenger jet crashes in October 2018 and March 2019 respectively breezes through the list of blunders, errors and cover-ups that all but doomed the flights of two jets resulting in the combined total of 346 deaths and severely dented the reputations of Boeing as a reliable aircraft manufacturer and of the US aviation industry generally. The documentary begins its litany back, way back, into the 1960s when Boeing unveiled its 737 models which immediately became the company’s favoured workhorses, being sold to airlines all over the world for decades. In the first decade of the 2000s, rival aircraft manufacturer Airbus brought out a new, more fuel-efficient model which put pressure on Boeing to come up with a competitive counterpart. This set off a series of actions, combined with pressure on Boeing employees, to tinker with adding new, heavier and longer engines onto the current 737 model rather than design and engineer a new plane from scratch which would have required at least a decade and more to complete. Adding the new engines to the 737 model entailed other changes, not least the addition of new anti-stalling Maneuver Characteristics Augmentation Systems (MCAS) software to help keep the plane’s balance during flight. This would have required pilots already familiar with flying the 737 model to undertake more flight simulation training (which airlines would have had to pay for) and the updating of flight manuals.

Each “mistake” – the term really encompasses the various cock-ups, short-cuts and “sssh, don’t tell” cover-ups – is explained through a mix of interviews with aviation experts and a pilot, and how it contributed to the catastrophes in Indonesia and Ethiopia. The Airbus innovation caught Boeing by surprise and the US company was under pressure from managers and shareholders to come up with a product that was also fuel-efficient as soon as it could. Pressure was put on employees and contractors with the result that short-cuts were taken and the issue of safety became secondary to the pursuit of cost-cutting and quick profits. Testing more or less fell by the wayside. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) allowed Boeing to conduct its own safety testing and inspections and to approve the results of such tests. Boeing told the FAA that pilots would not need extra training and failed to include mention of the MCAS in its flight manuals.

On top of all this, when the Indonesian accident occurred, Boeing immediately blamed pilot error for the tragedy. As Lion Air did not have a great record for safety, Boeing’s explanation seemed plausible enough, at least until the Ethiopian Airlines jet fell out of the sky in March 2019. The recovery of that plane’s flight recorder tapes soon led to the revelation that the Ethiopian flight crew had the exact same problem as the Lion Air pilots did in controlling the plane and trying to stop it from nose-diving. As Ethiopian Airlines had an excellent reputation for flight safety, pilot error could no longer be blamed.

Lion Air does not get off lightly either in that the airline is revealed as not having or keeping records of problems with individual jets: the Lion Air 737 MAX jet was shown to have had a nosediving problem on a short trip just before its final journey. In this case though, the flight crew were lucky that an off-duty captain was travelling as a passenger and was able to assist with controlling the plane. Though the flight crew reported the problem, for some reason this issue was not relayed to the next flight crew who had to fly the plane the next day.

Though the documentary wraps up fairly quickly (and superficially) by noting that Boeing was forced to ground all 737 MAX jets and that US Congress committee inquiries were held – hilariously, Congressional meetings are called “parliamentary” meetings – with the result that Boeing was fined heavy amounts and now faces lawsuits from families of crash victims, it fails to show how several of the problems identified are inter-related and demonstrate that a culture of excellence and prioritising safety no longer exists at Boeing. The change of organisational culture from one based on careful design and meticulous research, a high standard of engineering excellence and regard for flight crew and passenger safety to one obsessed with profit and cutting costs to the extent of passing work to non-union factory labour or outsourcing work to lower-paid engineers in Third World nations is not covered; many of the short-cuts and cover-ups, and in some cases even outright conflicts of interest (and with the FAA turning a blind eye to such corruption) have their origins in the gradual Wall Street takeover of Boeing, exemplified by Boeing HQ’s shift from Seattle, where much of the engineering and manufacturing work was being done, to Chicago (home of neoliberal economics) some time in the late 1990s. Unfortunately it seems to me that Boeing is not alone among US corporations to fall prey to the neoliberal cult of worshipping Profit Uber Alles and damning everything else – even safety measures – that cuts into making profits for corporate banker shareholders.

The Empire’s 2021 Coup in Guinea: a succinct example of US bullying and meddling in small nations’ politics

Carlton Meyer, “The Empire’s 2021 Coup in Guinea” (Tales of the American Empire, 17 September 2021)

This video serves as another short and succinct example of the United States’ openly blatant bullying of other much smaller and poorer nations in faraway continents in its determination to remain the dominant world power even though those countries pose no threat to its economic and financial power. The reason the US intervenes in other nations’ affairs and overthrows their leaders, no matter that those leaders were elected in open and transparent elections, is to dominate those countries if they are in regions the US considers its own backyard, to prevent them from doing deals and forming alliances with other nations that could threaten the US’ own interests, and to warn countries neighbouring the target nations from following the targets’ example lest they also incur Washington’s wrath and invite interference. On 5 September 2021, the President of the Republic of Guinea aka Guinea Conakry Alpha Condé was deposed by the Special Forces unit of his country. Special Forces Commander and former French Foreign Legion corporal Mamady Doumbouya led the unit soldiers who deposed Condé.

The video explains the US connection to Doumbouya’s coup: US Special Forces soldiers were present in Guinea-Conakry at least two months before the coup was carried out, and their presence in the country before and after the coup can hardly have been coincidental. Although the US officially denounced the coup, it did not move to sanction Doumbouya and did not move troops or naval ships near Guinea-Conakry to enable Condé to regain leadership. Visual evidence in the form of a photograph of Doumbouya posing with US AFRICOM personnel in front of the US Embassy in Conakry is presented in the video. Other visual evidence from cellphone videos taken by Conakry residents who then uploaded the videos to the Internet shows armed US soldiers in city streets while the coup was under way.

In his voiceover, Meyer provides the context in which the coup was carried out: Guinea-Conakry’s chief export is bauxite, from which aluminium is obtained, and its main customer for bauxite is China. Condé developed close economic and trade relations with China, the latter also investing funds in improving Guinea-Conakry’s infrastructure and hospital facilities. In a populous region not far from Central and South America, and with considerable offshore oil and gas deposits, Guinea-Conakry’s growing links with China and the investments China was making in the country could not be ignored by its equally poor neighbours – and those links and China’s other activities certainly came to the attention of the US.

In an age where the US is in deep economic, financial and military decline, and other nations such as China and Russia are rising powers in many different spheres, not only economically and militarily, even a small and poor country like Guinea-Conakry which is no threat to Washington is not allowed by the US to make its own trade deals with China or whoever else it wants to contract with and to pursue its own political, economic and military self-interest.

Be Water: a dull and over-long biography of global pop culture icon Bruce Lee

Bao Nguyen, “Be Water” (2020)

A stolid documentary, Bao Nguyen’s visual biography of global pop culture icon Bruce Lee is a conventional retelling of his life, starting with his birth in San Francisco in 1940 and his early years in Hong Kong as a child actor and his introduction to martial arts as a young teenager. Through the use of archived films and photographs, and interviews with people who knew Lee, “Be Water” follows Lee’s journey between two very different worlds that he was part of, and yet not part of, as his family sends him away to SF and then to Seattle for further education after the teenager gets involved in fighting other kids and runs afoul of Hong Kong police. Lee completes high school in Seattle in 1960 and later travels to Oakland to continue his martial arts training and to teach others, Chinese and non-Chinese alike. He is criticised by people in the SF Chinese community for teaching martial arts to non-Chinese students. He participates in martial arts exhibitions and comes to the attention of Hollywood producer William Dozier in 1964 who sees potential in Lee as an actor. This leads to a role as Kato in the TV series “The Green Hornet” which lasted one season from September 1966 to March 1967. During this period Lee meets and marries Linda Lee Cadwell and they have two children, Brandon and Shannon.

From then on, Lee continues to develop his particular style of martial arts, which he called Jeet Kune Do, a hybrid art drawing from different martial arts and combat sports including boxing and fencing. In this, he was influenced by the examples of Muhammad Ali and other rising boxers of Ali’s generation, many of whom were African-American. He also appeared in other TV shows and worked as a stuntman and martial arts instructor to actors who sought him out. After being turned down for the lead role of the television series “Kung Fu” – the role went to David Carradine – Lee returns to Hong Kong on the advice of a Hollywood producer to make a film there that he could later show to Hollywood studio execs. Lee discovers that he is a huge star in HK where “The Green Hornet” was broadcast. Signing contracts with Golden Harvest and later forming his own production company, Lee makes three films “The Big Boss”, “Fist of Fury” and “Way of the Dragon” in which he is the lead actor: these films rocketed him to stardom across Asia.

The documentary can be very long and quite dull in its chronological layout, and for an in-depth work it does contain some inaccuracies about details of Lee’s life and some of the work he did. The concept for the “Kung Fu” television series was developed independently by three script-writers and Lee had been invited to audition for the show: Lee had independently developed his idea for a similar TV series “The Warrior” based around a martial arts practitioner but, contrary to what the documentary says, the “Kung Fu” series was not based on “The Warrior” though the two shows shared similar ideas. Despite the documentary’s heavy reliance on interviewees like Lee’s widow Linda Lee Cadwell and their surviving child Shannon, and others close to Lee, the information about Lee’s philosophy that underpins Jeet Kune Do and its heterodox approach seems to have been cherry-picked and shoehorned into fitting the film’s agenda about Lee himself trying to find an identity in two societies and cultures that initially reject and then accept him. Lee’s own emphasis on being inclusive and how his adaptability and open-mindedness led him to become an innovator as a martial artist, actor, film-maker (director and script-writer) and philosopher are given short shrift. I have the impression that Lee himself regarded his path as a continuous work in progress, the “identity” of which would not and would never be complete until death, yet the film insists on imposing its own notions of what Lee was carving out for himself within the framework of identity politics.

While there is interesting information about past discrimination against Asian-Americans in US society and in Hollywood in particular, and how Asian-American people have been patronised by American culture as well-behaved and subservient minority American citizens (implying that African-American citizens are bad because they dare to protest at the discrimination they suffer), at the same time there is not enough information about Lee’s own impact on US popular culture and how his example and work influenced Hollywood beyond his death in 1973. How his work influenced his children – and many others – to follow in his foot-steps as actors and martial artists themselves is not discussed. In the wake of other film documentaries and other material about Bruce Lee’s life, this recent documentary adds very little that is new apart from pigeon-holing him as an Asian-American attempting to “bridge” two cultures..

A plot to take down Russian political activist in “Navalny: Fake Poisoning (Part 1: The Patient)” is unravelled

“Navalny: Fake Poisoning (Part 1: The Patient)” (Soloviev LIVE / Vesti News, 24 August 2021)

Presented by Alexander Sosnovsky and Sergei Karnaukhov, this very smooth and slick investigation traces in considerable detail the chronology of Russian political activist Alexei Navalny’s journey on that fateful day 20 August 2020 when he left his hotel in Tomsk accompanied by two aides Ilya Pakhomov and Kira Yarmysh and went to the airport in that city to catch an early morning flight back to Moscow. While on the bus to the airport, Navalny is recognised by bus passengers who take selfies on their mobile phones with him. Half an hour into that plane trip, he falls ill and the flight crew divert the plane to Omsk. Just before the plane lands, Omsk airport officials receive bomb threats but the plane is cleared to land. Omsk Hospital medical personnel rush to the airport and take Navalny to the hospital.

While doctors put Navalny into an induced coma and on a ventilator, take blood samples and conduct tests, and stabilise the patient, news flashes around the world that the activist has taken ill and almost immediately Western news media speculate that he has been poisoned with Novichok, a deadly nerve agent of organophosphate origins. Over the next few days, Navalny’s wife Julia demands that Navalny be transported to Berlin for treatment and Russian President Vladimir Putin gives permission for this to happen.

With recorded video statements from various medical workers who treated Navalny while rushing him to hospital and in the hospital itself, and from a police officer, Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov posit a narrative that suggests a plan to have Navalny fall ill on the plane and the plane forced to circulate above Omsk airport while Navalny’s condition deteriorates was in place. The behaviour of the people accompanying Navalny on the plane or associated with him while he was in Tomsk and then Omsk is very odd. In particular, Navalny associate Maria Pevchikh and two others immediately make their way to Navalny’s hotel in Tomsk, break into the room where he stayed and collect various items including three water bottles after seeing Yarmysh’s tweet on their mobile phones that Navalny has been poisoned. (Later, Pevchikh is photographed at Novosibirsk airport buying a water bottle from a vending machine with the exact same labels as the three bottles collected at the hotel.) Significantly the three people who collected the water bottles in Navalny’s hotel room refused to answer police questions during the police investigation and Pevchikh flew out of Russia and back to Britain.

Meanwhile the Omsk hospital doctors, consulting with doctors in Moscow, determine that Navalny is suffering from a metabolic disorder – a high amount of sugar is found in his blood samples – and treat him accordingly. Elsewhere in the program, Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov mention that Charite Hospital doctors treating Navalny in Berlin found lithium in his system and wrote a report which they submitted to the British medical journal The Lancet. The presenters note that lithium is used to treat bipolar disorder and depression and that an overdose of lithium can lead to confusion, fainting, seizures, coma and death. Combined with other substances, lithium can inhibit the action of cholinesterase (necessary for the proper functioning of the nervous system) in the body.

The involvement of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) who apparently found toxins in blood samples taken from Navalny by Charite Hospital doctors that were consistent with toxic chemicals in schedules 1.A.14 and 1.A.15 in the Annex on Chemicals to the Chemical Weapons Convention, in contrast to what doctors in Omsk and Moscow found; and various odd discrepancies in details regarding when the samples were collected, depending on whether the German doctors or the OPCW are making the claim, not to mention that the bomb threats to Omsk airport came from a server in Germany, might suggest that a plan to poison Navalny had already been in place some time – perhaps even weeks or months before – before Navalny went on his trip to Tomsk, and that various organisations such as the OPCW among others were under pressure to adhere to the plan. Somewhere in the elaborate establishment and running of the plan, the water bottles in Navalny’s hotel room disappear and the Novosibirsk vending machine water bottle turns up instead with supposed traces of Novichok.

Sosnovsky and Karnaukhov compare Navalny’s poisoning with the dioxin poisoning of then Ukrainian presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko during Ukraine’s presidential elections in 2004, and how that poisoning incident led to run-off elections which Yushchenko won, with the implication that Navalny’s poisoning was supposed to have set off a train of events that would result in Navalny somehow becoming Russian President eventually. (Leave aside the fact that Navalny enjoys little popularity in Russia and has no significant political backing.) At the end of the episode the two presenters promise that Part 2 will cover Navalny’s recovery and what happens when he leaves Charite Hospital in Berlin.

The value of an investigation such as this conducted by the television show “Soloviev LIVE” is in showing how an incident is conceived and planned, with propaganda supporting the plan is created and repeated across news media outlets, and how the plan depends on the various actors involved and/or drawn into the incident behave … and how the plan can rapidly fall apart when some of those actors don’t play their part as ordained. Whichever parties make such plans seem arrogant enough to assume that people will behave in certain patterns and follow certain paths, simply because those patterns and paths would be what the planners themselves would follow. Apart from a few technical details – the constant flashing of “Patient” throughout the program is annoying, even though this title card is used to help structure the program’s chapter-by-chapter presentation – this episode is very professional and appears thorough in its investigation. The presenters put forward facts and details with no apparent visual or audio bias (though they finger the lithium as the cause of Navalny’s poisoning and collapse) and leave viewers to make up their own minds.

Becoming Bond: an affable light comedy biography of one-time James Bond actor

Josh Greenbaum, “Becoming Bond” (2017)

Part-fictional comedy re-enactment, part-biography, this is a very affable review of Australian actor George Lazenby’s early life up to and including the period when he played James Bond in the film “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, one of the most beloved and esteemed films in the entire James Bond series of spy movies. It takes the structure of an extended interview with Lazenby himself in which he talks about his childhood, his relationships with girlfriends from early in his adolescence onwards, and his early career as a car salesman, paralleled by re-enactments of significant moments of his life when opportunities out of the blue fall into his lap and he seizes them because they seem like fun and promise adventure. The film moves leisurely – perhaps a bit too leisurely, because the main reason I imagine people would watch this film is to find out how a former car salesman manages to land the movie role of the century with no acting experience or qualifications, and what qualities he must have had to land such a role – with an air of bemused bedazzlement which one imagines Lazenby carried with him during those heady days in the 1960s when he moved to London in pursuit of a girlfriend, took up modelling and through sheer accident met a movie agent who put him in contact with the producer and director of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”.

Split into thirteen chapters, each one with a title that spoofs a James Bond film, the film rolls its way through Lazenby’s various escapades, all illustrated with Lazenby’s droll reminiscences which may be true or not. While the film doesn’t drill deep down into Lazenby’s psychology and motivations for doing the things he does, the impression that for Lazenby, life is a big adventure that you roll with is strong. Of course the big moment when Lazenby explains why he walked away from the Bond films after completing “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” eventually comes and Lazenby’s reason, which may be self-justification on his part, seems quite reasonable given the way his early life has unfolded so far: he’s a man who’ll try anything once but never more than once, a man who can’t and won’t be tied down to meeting others’ expectations. After a fitful acting career, Lazenby returns to Australia, becomes involved in real estate investment and goes through two marriages (the second of which was to famous US tennis player Pam Shriver) with two sets of children.

The hokey re-enactment of Lazenby’s early years in Australia and London, in which Australia in the 1940s-50s appears as romanticised kitsch and people in London drive cars with the steering wheel mounted on the left-hand side of the vehicle, is marred by awkward and inconsistent acting from Josh Lawson playing Lazenby. Jane Seymour as the movie agent is the stand-out of the cast in the re-enactment scenes.

The film might have worked better if the narrative were more streamlined and less meandering, at the cost perhaps of one of its themes: that of its protagonist’s life as a Great Australian Yarn of tall stories, opportunities that fall out of the sky into his lap and how, through all the adventures he has, he manages to remain a simple and basically well-meaning character with simple, down-to-earth values. Lazenby may not be particularly profound, his early ignorance can be jaw-dropping and his treatment of his girlfriends leaves much to be desired. Yet he appears to have intuited when people are trying to exploit him and own him, and to walk away from what could have been his ruin despite the fame and wealth that beckoned. Of course the reality was different: his agent convinced him that the Bond films had run their course and were becoming outdated.

The film works as light entertainment rather than as a straight biography or documentary and viewers must not expect to take it seriously.

Chinese Doctors Changing Africa’s Healthcare: the challenges of working in impoverished and alien environments

“China / Africa Big Business (Episode 4: Doctors for Africa)” (ENDEVR, 2013)

A very good episode in the “China / Africa Big Business” series from the South African company Sabido Productions, this looks at two teams of doctors working in Zanzibar and a city in Angola. The first and third parts of the documentary follow the team working in a hospital in Stone Town on Zanzibar Island, how they deal with the challenges of working in impoverished conditions, communicating with patients and student doctors who speak a different language from theirs, and coping with homesickness, isolation and being separated from their families. The middle part of the documentary follows the team in Angola: there, the doctors also have to confront the reality of working in a country devastated by decades of civil war, chaos and destroyed infrastructures, as well as communicating with and helping patients and local staff in the hospital they have been assigned to. These doctors also have to adjust quickly to the difficult local conditions in which they have to work.

Interviews with individual Chinese doctors and specialists help viewers understand and appreciate the trials of being a doctor working in a busy and often overcrowded and under-resourced hospital in a poor country. Voice-over narration fills in the context behind the challenges the Chinese doctors have to face. At the same time, the interviewees emphasise what motivates them to keep going under difficult conditions: in particular, they talk about how the patients are grateful for their help. African interviewees stress the professionalism of the doctors they consult.

As with previous episodes of this series I have seen, the cinematography (which often emphasises close-ups of faces and picturesque scenes, and tracks the doctors going about their tasks) is excellent. The only technical problem with this episode is that often the narration is forced to compete with ambient background noises for listeners’ attention, and parts of the documentary have to be replayed to pick up information that is missed as a result. Apart from this issue, I’d recommend this episode to viewers interested in learning how China uses its recently acquired wealth and technical expertise to assist other nations, especially poor nations, in improving people’s lives.

How is US pop culture used against Venezuela? – a punchy sketch of US propaganda in action

Ricardo Vaz, Joshua Wilson, Mayra Soto, “How is US pop culture used against Venezuela?” (Tatuy TV / Venezuelanalysis, 21 June 2021)

At less than five minutes in length, this may be a very tiny documentary but it is punchy all the same. This video is a sketch of how Venezuela is demonised in American popular culture products such as videogames, movies and television shows, and showcases offensive examples like Amazon’s “Jack Ryan” series, Fox’s “Legends” and even NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” comedy series. In these products, the most egregious (and tired) stereotypes are planted over and over: Chavez or Maduro as a dictator, or Venezuela as a repressive place where people are thrown into jail without trail for being journalists or for having fun at the wrong time.

A major part of the film is taken up with action videogames like “Call to Duty: Ghosts” in which Venezuela is portrayed as having acquired nuclear weapons or malevolently infiltrating other South American nations to form an evil empire to menace the Free World. Players of these games assume the roles of mercenaries or covert agents to seek out and kill the Venezuelan President or some thinly disguised version of the President.

The film-makers observe that Hollywood colludes with the US government in making these films and videos though they spend little time on observing the effects of this visual propaganda and its repetition on the Western general public. One can assume though that this propaganda, repeated often enough, and produced in huge quantities, is intended to prime Western audiences to accept a US-led invasion of Venezuela in the near future and to urge young American people in particular to join the US military. A more detailed documentary is needed though to analyse the nature of Hollywood’s collusion with the US government and its various agencies including the CIA and the Department of Defense, and how the flood of pop culture propaganda shapes popular attitudes towards Venezuela and US policies toward Venezuela.

The film concludes on a surprisingly bright note by demonstrating how popular Chavez and his Venezuelan brand of socialism have been among Venezuelan people themselves and among the poor in other countries. One can’t help but see how vibrant and lively Venezuelan culture has become since 1999 and how dull, unimaginative and banal US pop culture propaganda products are in comparison.

Combating terrorist infiltration and brainwashig in “The War in the Shadows: Challenges of Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang”

“The War in the Shadows: Challenges of Fighting Terrorism in Xinjiang” (China Global Television Network, 2021)

Part of a series of documentaries produced by China Global Television Network on the history and nature of terrorism in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region in western China, this exposé examines the ways in which people, usually children, teenagers and young adults, are exposed to and radicalised by extremist religious networks linked to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM) / Islamic Party of Turkistan which preaches a fundamentalist Wahhabi ideology and urges young people to wage “jihad” against Xinjiang authorities with the aim of overthrowing the government in that region and establishing an independent East Turkistan based on a strict interpretation of Shari’a law. The documentary is structured in four parts: the first part “The Networks” outlines how various terrorist incidents that have occurred in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, over several years are linked as they have been carried out by people adhering to the same ideology and who are part of the same underground networks; the second part “Enemies Within” looks at how individuals affiliated with the ETIM infiltrated Xinjiang’s police and security forces; the third part “The Textbooks” examines how the ETIM infiltrated school textbook publishing in both the Uygur and Mandarin languages; and the fourth part “The Black Hands” details how the ETIM attracts young people’s attention through social media and websites.

Based on interviews with senior police, education officials and former jihadist fighters (some of whom have come to regret their radicalisation and involvement with terrorist groups), the documentary provides much detail into the sophisticated methods used by the ETIM and affiliated groups to manipulate youngsters’ thinking and lure them into their ranks to carry out bomb attacks or to travel overseas to train and fight as jihadis with ISIS, with the aim of returning to Xinjiang and fighting the authorities there. At times the documentary goes very deep into particular business and other schemes cooked up by individuals seeking power or influence over others and which initially appear not to have much relation to the overall themes and messages of how the authorities found and eliminated, or are still eliminating, separatist jihadi infiltration and influence.

Astute viewers cannot fail to notice that the people fighting ETIM infiltration and influence themselves are Uygurs loyal to Beijing, and that they believe very strongly in using reconciliation and trust to reconnect lost young souls with society through psychological counselling and other methods in a prison setting. One may presume that prisons are also providing young people with education and work skills. By emphasising what the authorities are doing to combat religious extremism, separatism and the brainwashing of young people, and how they are bringing former jihadis back into society, the documentary ends with a positive (if a bit sappy) outlook.

The documentary says very little about ETIM itself, how large the organisation may be and where and how it formed. Viewers wanting to know the history of the organisation, how global it may be and where it gets its funding and other resources, are directed to read F William Engdahl’s article “The Truth behind China’s ‘Uyghur Problem'” at this link, and this report posted online by The Grayzone Project exposing the ETIM’s links to Al Qaeda and the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington DC, no less.