Stealing A Nation
R4 - Australia - DV1
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak and Jarrod Baker (26th November 2006).
The Film

The Chagos Archipelago - a tiny group of coral islands in the Indian Ocean - is the most isolated group of islands in the world. The largest island in this British territory, Diego Garcia, is home to the largest American military installation outside the USA; this installation includes a major airbase, and has been used as a base for attacks on targets in both Afghanistan and Iraq.
However from at least the 18th century until the early 1970s the Chagos Archipelago had a native population; as of the mid-20th century the Chagossians numbered about 2000 people. "Stealing a Nation" tells the story of how these people were expelled from their homes and their land in order to make room for the US military.
John Pilger uses a combination of archival footage and interviews (including with Chagossian survivors, their lawyers, British politicians and with academics) to methodically, convincingly and disturbingly spell out the tragic story of the Chagossian islanders. By getting access to source documents, Pilger demonstrates how UK foreign officials knowingly misrepresented the nature of the Chagossian population - claiming that they were merely transient workers, rather than permanent inhabitants - in order to wrest them away from the islands, so they could be leased to the US for strategic purposes. This administrative fiction was then used to justify a concerted campaign to encourage the Chagossians to leave - first by denying them trade goods, then by rounding up and gassing all of their pet dogs, then by denying any islander who left his or her home - for example to seek medical attention in Mauritius - the opportunity to return. Finally, any remaining Chagossians were rounded up and herded onto a cargo ship headed for Mauritius, where they were unceremoniously dumped on the docks before being placed in a derelict housing estate with no running water or sanitation.
Coming in at a lean 56 minutes, "Stealing a Nation" makes its case in a very straightforward manner - calmly laying out the facts, referring to source documents as appropriate, towards a simple and obvious conclusion. Viewers will find it difficult not to be shocked and saddened by the film - saddened by the fate of the Chagossians, and shocked at the callousness of those who not only carried out the theft of the Chagossian's homes, but those who have continued to compound their pain by attempting to block the islanders from continuing home, despite a British High Court decision in their favour.
"Stealing a Nation" is worthwhile viewing for anyone interested in the nature of world politics - and how power and strategic interests can trump mere human rights on the world stage, even for supposed Western democracies. You might have to overlook the film's clear roots as a piece for television - Pilger's pieces to camera are accompanied by exaggerated head movements and facials that come across as almost a parody of those of a 60 Minutes anchor - but if you can do that, watching the documentary is an hour well spent.

Video

DV1 has provided a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer for this release, which is a mix of archival footage and DV footage, the archival footage is as expected aged and dirty with many scratches and flaws, grain is predominant and overall image is washed out and faded. This is normal and not the fault of the transfer, the new interview and documentary footage was shot on DV and the result is sharp, colors are well saturated and skin tones are natural, I noticed some minor banding issues but otherwise this transfer is better than broadcast.

Audio

A single English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track is included, this is a mainly dialogue driven documentary and therefor there is no need for a 5.1 track, this stereo track does the job well in presenting the audio cleanly and without distortion.
This disc does not feature any optional subtitles.

Extras

First up is an exclusive video introduction by John Pilger which runs all but 40 seconds, in this intro he talks about how the files were discovered that led to the story breaking and also how the film's themes deal with how the world is run today.

John Pilger: A Profile is next and includes 4 pages of biography, career, contributions and awards notes.

Rounding out these extras is a Diego Garcia image gallery which includes 17 images taken from the documentary.

Overall

The Film: B+ Video: B+ Audio: A Extras: C- Overall: C+

 


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