Beginning Thursday, November 6th until Sunday the 9th, Amnesty International held their annual film festival on Human Rights in Canada. The listings were much of the usual fare for AI: Films on Tibet, Burma, Pinochet’s 1973 coup in Chile, the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, even a film on Israel’s secret nuclear weapons program. The festival had one other film scheduled to be the last one shown. That film had been broadcast on the CBC’s ‘Passionate Eye’ program (twice). It had won more awards than any other film on the list of films to be put on screen at the film festival. It has been shown across Europe, including the BBC. It was removed two days before the festival, and AI still hasn’t clarified why or who convinced them to do this. The film is “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, and citing a series of contradictory reasons, the film was banned from the festival by Amnesty International, after it had already been booked and listed in all of the AI programs.
A controversy immediately ensued, and it was Venezuelans who support the film who first noticed that the very people from Venezuela that the film exposed as human rights violators had launched a campaign against it globally, wherever people might see it. Don Wright, local region (BC Yukon) coordinator of AI, was interviewed on ‘Democracy Now’, a radio program in New York run on the station Pacifica. There, the arguments given were (quote): “…when we choose films we strive to choose films that are nonpartisan and nonpolitical to reflect the mandate of our organization.”  That is a rather bizarre statement, to say the least, for an organization dealing with human rights and coming from a film festival that included topics such as a successful coup in Chile and discussions of Israeli nuclear programs. Perhaps nuclear weapons in the Middle East and military coups in South America are non-political and failed coups in South America are? I guess I’m missing something here. And nonpartisan, well– I guess the Chinese government will be invited to talk on why it maintains sovereignty over Tibet next year, no doubt that we need balance here.
Another point that seems very disturbing, Don Wright also said: “I think I needed to clarify that the decision to include the film and then to not include the film was very much a local decision…”, which will be news to myself, Derrick O’Keefe and Peter Lypkie– who were all told directly by Don Wright that he would lose his job if he showed the film. Amnesty International Canada would fire someone for showing a movie? That sounds like a pretty dangerous film. Many people attending the festival were told that Amnesty Canada (in Ottawa) had ordered the film pulled. I doubt we’ll ever know which of these stories to believe. The first stories were that the film was not about human rights, and that to show this film– I remind you it’s been on the CBC and the BBC as well as elsewhere– would create further ruptures in Venezuela, possibly leading to more violence. If this sounds just a tad far fetched, it should. Censorship begets lying, which begets more lies to justify the censorship, and on and on.
A few others and I ran a petition and information campaign out front of the film festival every night the festival ran. AI’s supporters believe they are working to ensure an “end” to censorship, and they also don’t expect their organization to cave into outside pressures like this, especially from human rights violators. I am not exaggerating when I say that 90+ACU- were supportive and concerned, and 75+ACU- of the lineups– over 300 people so far– have signed in person the petition to demand that AI reinstate the film. Well, they didn’t do that– but you can still sign another petition online here:
…and then do what’s even more important: see the film for yourself and use your own mind. As a response to the banning, some good people got a generator and a TV and VCR down to the Pacific Cinematheque to show it out front of the theater. Not a single riot broke out in Caracas. A half an hour after the movie was supposed to be shown (8:25pm, to be exact) we put it on for viewing at the Dogwood Centre in East Vancouver. We filled all but three chairs and raised over a hundred dollars to keep presenting the movie, to make copies, and to make certain that everyone has the chance to see it, no matter what AI or violent, anti-government Venezuelans try to do.
The film documents, from the inside out by the Irish Film Board (IFB), the events of the two days of the coup. The IFB had been in the parliament buildings making a separate documentary when the coup attempt happened and they simply kept filming. The documentary first shows events of the months leading up to the coup to learn about the struggle over democracy in the country. Hugo Chavez, the elected president of the country, has embarked on a dual campaign of democracy and social justice by holding referendums, democratizing the Supreme Court, the national assembly and now mildly redistributing wealth in a country with massive oil reserves– yet a majority living in absolute poverty and illiteracy.
The ‘revolution’ (as it styles itself) has begun providing health care to the rural and traditionally neglected regions of Venezuela while simultaneously empowering people through vast education campaigns as to the rights and duties of the citizen under the hyper-democratic provisions of the new constitution (itself written by a democratically-elected assembly and then approve in a referendum by the entire population). This has earned this government the wrath of the traditional ruling elites who have much to lose if the population is able to emancipate itself. This culminated in the US helping work with the ‘opposition’ (traditional ruling elites) to foment a military coup last April 2002. The extraordinary events of the coup, including the mass uprising of the people against it, are all documented from the inside out.
The Venezuelan media are, in what AI called the “world’s first media coup” in their original description, shown to be more than mere supporters of the coup. They blacked out the pro-Chavez demonstrations by decree, asked the population to help overthrow the government; they were even thanked at great length individually during the brief time of the dictatorship! The one channel that the government controls, channel 8, had it’s signal cut during the coup. The coupistas even tried to use the media to say they still had power long after power and the military had been returned to civilian and constitutional rule.
You have the right to see it
As I and many awards agree, the film is nothing short of extraordinary as you see Venezuelans refusing to have their democracy stolen by the wealthy and formerly powerful few. But don’t take my word for it, I believe that you should make up your own mind. The film will be shown again November 28th at SFU Harbor Centre downtown (Fletcher Challenge Theater) at 6:30pm. You have the right to see this film and make up your mind yourself. After Amnesty International caved into the ominous pressures of those sympathetic to the coup, we need to see this movie more than ever. The only way to deal with this kind of censorship imposed from above on a group that seems to have lost it’s spine is to learn what they don’t want you to know, and to see what you are not supposed to see. The same people who plotted the first coup are still trying to unseat the president, so history is far from over.
If you want to get your hands on your own copy of the film, please contact me at [email protected] with a phone number and I will contact you when the cassettes are ready in the near future (to be sold at cost). Be a rebel: see the film that Amnesty censored.
Venezuelanalysis.com note: You can order copies of the documentary by contacting the producers through their website www.chavezthefilm.com