British Universities Film & Video Council

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Pilger’s War

2008. GB. DVD (Region 2 PAL). 94 minutes. Lions Gate Home Entertainment. Certificate 12. Price: £19.99.

About the Author: Mike Wayne teaches Film, Television and Media Studies at Brunel University. His publications include Dissident Voices: The Politics of Television and Cultural Change (1998), Political Film: the Dialectics of Third Cinema (2001), The Politics of European Cinema: Histories, Borders, Diasporas (2002), Understanding Film: Marxist Perspectives (2005), Television news, politics and young people: Generation disconnected? (2010, (with Julian Petley, Craig Murray and Lesley Henderson) and Marx’s Capital For Beginners (2011). He co-directed a feature length documentary about the Venezuelan revolution, Listen To Venezuela (

John Pilger has made more than 55 documentaries for television over a period of almost 40 years. They have taken viewers to people and places that are often far away, connecting them to British audiences, often via critical scrutiny of British foreign policy or that of its allies, especially the US and Israel.

The War on Democracy is Pilger’s first major documentary film to be released in cinemas. It has his trademark characteristics of lucid investigation coupled with an understanding of the broader dynamics. But it also has a bigger storytelling canvas than Pilger’s usual work.

(Image: Lions Gate)

It takes as its subject matter the foreign policy of the US state as it has been carried out in Latin America since the end of the Second World War. US foreign policy has in recent years come under a critical scrutiny not seen since the war in Vietnam. Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 (2006) focused specifically on the build up to and social interests served by the Bush administration’s drive to war in Iraq in 2003. Eugene Jarecki’s 2005 documentary Why We Fight took a broader historical look at the role of the US military industrial complex in the last 50 years while David Leaf and John Scheinfeld’s The US vs John Lennon (2006) revisits the Vietnam war period via the politicisation of the ex-Beatle.

These films in turn are part of a broader explosion in documentary filmmaking that have taken a critical look at corporate capitalism and consumerism. Think: Supersize Me (2004), The Corporation (2003), Walmart: The High Cost of Low Price (2005), Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room (2005), and Sicko (2007). These films have tackled the big issues of American life which television news, shackled by years of deeply ingrained journalistic conformity to power, has shied away from.

The War on Democracy however focuses on the effects of US foreign policy on the people who are the recipients of Washinton politicians’ attention. The crimes against humanity which this foreign policy has caused have gone either unreported by most Western media, celebrated as victories by the conservative press or criticised by the liberal media as the excesses of particular administrations.

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