Veteran reporter John Pilger describes The War On Democracy as his most positive film to date, a strange thing to say about a documentary that systematically itemises the appalling legacy of US involvement in Latin American affairs. Still, for all the heart-rending personal testimony, chilling archive footage and images of grinding poverty, there is a note of cautious optimism, in a powerful work that suggests the real Land of the Free is to be found in Uncle Sam's back yard.
Pilger's selective tactic is to report from three South American countries where people power and popular movements have challenged the historic sway of vested imperialist interests. Thus we see President Hugo Chavez use Venezuela's vast oil wealth to fund social programmes, in the teeth of ferocious right-wing opposition and an unsuccessful Washington-backed coup; Bolivians fighting back against the grasping multinationals who have seized their water supply; and ordinary Chileans rebuilding their lives after decades of torture and tyranny. Along the way we also hear from ex-CIA chief Duane Clarridge, whose contemptuous riposte to Pilger's criticisms ("Get used to it, world!") tells us everything we need to know about Bush's idea of "freedom".
"TAILORED TOWARDS THE SMALL-SCREEN"
Pilger, unlike Michael Moore, is a largely off-camera presence content to let his visuals and interviews do the talking. If there's a weakness, though, it's in his film's narrow scope and a tripartite structure tailored towards small-screen exhibition. You can take the man off the television, it appears, but you can't take the television out of the man.
The War On Democracy is out in the UK on 15th June.