Documentaries That Changed The World
R4 - Australia - DV1
Review written by and copyright: Tom Williams & Noor Razzak (6th October 2006).
The Film

In many ways, there is little to be said about John Pilger's three-disc documentary set, released as part of the "Documentaries that changed the world" set. It consists of four films, each delivered with a resolve to not only unearth his perception of western motive in world shaping events, but also to change the motive with which the western world enters the arena of global politics. Without compromise or apology, Pilger pushes his fiercely humanist perspective, never allowing policy or international consensus to ameliorate his condemnation of what he perceives as an imperialist strategy. While it is a shame that the films don't come with more special features to explain and describe Pilger's artistic process, the films themselves are strong enough to make this set a compelling purchase based only on content.
The four films featured are "The Quiet Mutiny" (1971), "Do You Remember Vietnam?" (1978) , "Year Zero: The Quiet Death of Cambodia" (1979) and "Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy" (1994). Each film has its place in this collection, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. "The Quiet Mutiny" is Pilger's expose of a rebellion emerging from within enlisted troops in the Vietnam war. It is Pilger's first film, and it shows when compared to the relatively more polished films that are also included in the set- yet the rougher, more raw nature of the film serves to carry its message all the more strongly. "The quiet mutiny of the greatest army in the world" is most striking because it comes from the mouths of the soldiers who are starting it- to see a "grunt", a young man involved in a war he directly admits to not understanding, is to understand Pilger's view. His view is one shared by many political commentators in years past and present- that more often than not, those waging a war are not the ones fighting it. "The Quiet Mutiny" is not merely striking because of the new view of Vietnam it showed, but also because its capacity to pave the way for Pilger and his views is entirely evident.
"The Quiet Mutiny" is followed immediately by "Do You Remember Vietnam", in which Pilger's exhilaration in exposure gives way to shame, coupled with the same vein of anger that drove him initially to spread the message that even those fighting the war did not support it. Pilger's aim is clear in this film: He wishes to prevent anyone from ever forgetting that the Vietnam war was filled with shameful, sad acts. Where "Mutiny" dealt with the guys on the front line, types we could identify with and therefore connect with, "Vietnam" is uncompromising in its perspective that all human beings deserve respect, whether we identify with them easily or not. Through an even British-Australian tone, the shame Pilger feels in not even knowing the number of Vietnamese casualties (especially next to the comparatively slight US casualties) is not only evident but striking. This film really marks the humanist focus of Pilger's films; condemning not particular political motivations but rather man's inhumanity.
"Year Zero" is Pilger's look at the brutal regime in Cambodia that ultimately brought about genocide while neighbouring countries (including Pilger's home, Australia) essentially looked on and did nothing. Pilger's opening salvo of words is the relation of Nixon's bombing of Cambodia- what he describes as a bombing "…back to the stone age". Pilger is full of rancour as he pulls no punches, condemning once again in an even, steady tone, the actions of the US military- particularly, focusing his scathing shame on the dehumanising terms used to describe the deaths of innocent people. Even the jungle that began consuming the major cities of Cambodia is practically welcomed next to the foreign policy that lead to deaths both instant and prolonged. Pilger's willingness to confront perceptions of western and eastern politics- and particularly, the fact that Vietnam saved thousands of lives- cements his goal of confronting our preconceived notions, especially when such notions may have been the result of a government's motivations.
The collection is finished with "Death of a Nation", which is perhaps the most compelling of all the documentaries if only because of its comparatively recent release. The atrocities of East Timor were never well publicised and consequently not well known. From the beginning, Pilger makes this clear; his quiet explanation of the difficulty of reporting from the region is hard to hear. Perhaps the hardest thing of all to hear is Pilger commenting that "genocide" might be a term overused in modern times- because it is the one word the world might be better off never having learnt. With "Death of a Nation", Pilger brings us the hardest things to hear, because suddenly the atrocities and the lack of aid and interaction we have condemned in the previous films are shown to be happening closer to our times. "Death of a Nation" brings us the chilling news that Pilger's documentaries, the shame we felt as horrors of previous wars were exposed and the losses the world has felt have not changed our tendency to stand back and do nothing as human lives are lost.
The greatest strength Pilger has in his films is his appeal to humanism. Where other filmmakers might get bogged down in which government was right, or whether a particular administration did their job, Pilger's final appeals to his viewers to do something- anything- to help the people he shows suffering are hard to ignore. Where politics are debateable, the right or wrong of helping people in need has never been. In these films, there is little need for anything other than the films themselves- and therefore the added introductions from Pilger are welcomed, as are the galleries, for all that they are also horrifying. It is at once interesting to hear the creator of these films speak up about his experience and intentions making them and yet also irrelevant- this collection of documentaries speaks for itself. These are truths that must be borne, even though the burden is heavy.

Video

All these documentaries are presented in their original broadcast ratios of 1.33:1 full screen. The earlier docos such as "The Quiet Mutiny", "Do You Remember Vietnam?" and "Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia" are all of a rather poor quality, the image is soft, grain is persistent and constant, print damage is evident, dirt and scratches. Telecine wobble is evident on at least two of the docos. Colors aren't as bright and lush as they should be, blacks are murky and shadow detail is virtually nil. On the plus side, despite these myriad of problems the films are still watchable...but only just. The last doco "Death of a Nation: The Timor Conspiracy" is slightly better in the sense that it's more recent than the last three and as a result isn't as damaged, the image is about as good as TV broadcast quality.

Audio

All the films in this DVD set include one audio track, the original English Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo. The audio tracks aren't as clean as one would like, there is evidence of hiss and background noise that does distract from the main dialogue on occasion, otherwise the main dialogue is clear which is all one could ask for in this case.
There are no optional subtitles available on these films.

Extras

DV1 has included only small collection of extras that includes introductions to each of the films plus a Pilger profile and some galleries. Below is a closer look at these supplements per disc.

DISC ONE: "The Quiet Mutiny" and "Do You Remember Vietnam?"

Since there are two films on this disc the extras are split between the two. The first lot of extras are for "The Quiet Mutiny" included is a video introduction to the film by Pilger himself. Running for 44 seconds, Pilger provides background on the film as it was his first major work. He comments on whether history is repeating itself today in Iraq.

Next up is a profile for Pilger which is 4 text pages about his career, the films he's made and the awards he has won.

A Vietnam gallery of image follows and includes 15 stills of grunts in the field taken while in Vietnam.

The second lot of extras are for "Do You Remember Vietnam?" which includes a video introduction to the film by Pilger that runs for 27 seconds. He comments on his intention to show Vietnam in a state of peace after 40 years of war.

The same 4 page profile is also included as well as a Vietnam gallery of 15 images of the people and places of Vietnam.

DISC TWO: "Year Zero: The Silent Death Of Cambodia"

This film also includes a video introduction by Pilger, running at 45 seconds, he proudly confesses that this was the first film that broke the story about Cambodia's silent death, it was also the first documentary to be shown commercial free on British television and helped not only raise awareness but money for the dying children of that country.

The same 4 page profile is also included as well as a Cambodia gallery of 15 images taken during the filming.

DISC THREE: "Death Of A Nation: The Timor Conspiracy"

The last film in the series also includes a video introduction that runs for 44 seconds, Pilger provides a brief history of Timor's struggles as well as the film we are about to watch.

The same 4 page profile is also included as well as a Timor gallery of 15 images of the people and places of Timor.

Overall

Films:
The Quiet Mutiny - A
Do You Remember Vietnam? - A
Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia - A
Death Of A Nation: The Timor Conspiracy - A+
Picture:
The Quiet Mutiny - D
Do You Remember Vietnam? - D+/C-
Year Zero: The Silent Death of Cambodia - C-
Death Of A Nation: The Timor Conspiracy - B-

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

 


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