As I sit and type these words, in the background is news footage of burning cop cars and protesters awash in a sea of teargas -- welcome to the G20/G8 Summit in Toronto, Canada ... my home town. Nobody knew quite what to expect in the weeks leading up to the global economic summit; would the mild Canadian temperament prevail, or were we in for one hell of a weekend? Judging from what I've seen so far, it looks like the latter ... and today is only the beginning.
So here's the thing: this isn't the time or the place to get into a deep discussion about global politics. I'm smart enough to know that the last place you should look for political advice is in Hollywood. This is a movie site and I'm going to work with what I know (and trust me there is no shortage of top notch political coverage to choose from): watching movies. But I'm not burying my head in the sand, because I happen to believe that movies do have the power to change things sometimes, and the same people who wouldn't be caught dead at a rally will line up to go to the movies on a Saturday night and watch a Michael Moore flick.
No other genre has the ability to rile up the folks like documentary. and its greatest power is its ability to expose people to subjects and ideas that they would normally never even think about. In the best case scenario they walk out of the theater and do something about it. And in the worst case? At least they walk out a little less ignorant than they once were. Of course, I'm not here to advocate hurling bricks and setting fires, I'm just saying that sometimes I can understand the urge, so I channeled that feeling into something a little more positive and made a list of the five movies that fire up sense of righteous indignation.
Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room
This 2005 documentary chronicled the collapse of one of the most evil corporate scams in the history of evil corporate scams (and I know evil boards of directors when I see them). Based on the book of the same name, Alex Gibney's tale of greed was released long before news of economic collapse littered the headlines, but is a reminder that most of us still don't understand how our financial systems work -- and that's just what the Enrons of the world are counting on.
One of the major themes of the activist groups that have converged for the summit are environmental groups, and the 2009 Oscar winning documentary about the annual killing of dolphins in a Japanese National Park will bring out the tree-hugger in anyone. Louie Psihoyos reinvigorated an environmental movement after secretly filming the slaughter of dolphins kept from the public and the possible corruption of government agencies taking bribes from the International Whaling Commission. The film is easily one of the best nature documentaries ever made, but be warned ... it is not for the squeamish.
Taxi to The Dark Side
There has been no shortage of documentary filmmakers trying to make sense of George Bush's 'War on Terror', but the film that wins the award for most likely to make my blood boil is Alex Gibney's film about the murder of an Afghan taxi driver while he was being held in Bagram Air Base. This 2007 Oscar winning film shows you the real cost of Cheney and Bush's definition of 'torture', and the trauma left upon the men and women who believed in their country and were left holding the bag.
Born Into Brothels
While watching Zana Briski and Ross Kauffman's 2004 documentary about child prostitutes in Calcutta I was overwhelmed with the desire to sweep in and save the abused and exploited children who are forced into a life of misery beyond comprehension. But unfortunately nothing is ever that simple. What Brothels does do is make a difference in a new way; not as an easy fix of throwing money at the problem (we've seen how that works out) but instead by trying to teach these children that another life is possible, and that despite what their families and culture may tell them, they are valuable.
Harlan County USA
It's easy to make jokes about surly teamsters and Sally Field hopping up on the table in Norma Rae, but one of this week's G20 hot topics is workers rights. But as Barbara Kopple's 1976 documentary reminds us, it wasn't that long ago that even in the so-called civilized world, workers were abused, bullied, and threatened just because they decided to get organized.