This Friday sees the release of documentary Burma VJ, a harrowing account of the 2007 bloodshed where military action against protesters saw hundreds of peaceful monks slaughtered.
Journalism is outlawed in Burma, so the footage, shot by guerilla video journalists (the VJ of the title), was taken and smuggled out of the country with the very real risk of death looming large.
Join us for a look at other documentaries that were dangerous, in a variety of ways, for the filmmakers to complete;
Deliver Us From Evil (2006)
The Film: Traces the career of US Catholic Priest Oliver O’Grady who abused potentially hundreds of young children between the 1970s and 1990s, when he was deported back to his native Ireland.
The shocking revelations include the fact that the Catholic Church not only knew about Father O’Grady’s child abuse, but actively covered up the scandal by moving him to different parishes around Northern California.
The Risk: Attacking the foundations of Catholicism, up to and including the Pope, the filmmakers risked the might of the world’s fifth largest economy, backlash from pro-Church organizations and censorship.
The Result: Although the film shed light on the nefarious practices of the Church, much of the organization is immune from prosecution, with Pope Benedict XVI being pardoned by President Geroge W. Bush at the Vatican’s request.
Next: Dark Days[page-break]
The Film: British filmmaker Marc Singer explores the lives of New York’s homeless, and the community who live in the tunnels of the city’s subway system.
Hiring many of the homeless as his crew, Singer reveals the conditions in which the homeless live, how they have adapted to life underground, and their struggles to survive daily life.
The Risk: Singer was going to live amongst a sub-section of society that most people believe to be comprised almost entirely of drug addicts, criminals and the mentally ill. He could have been walking straight in Escape From New York, basically.
As it was, he met a group of people struggling to build a community from the things that they find. He was moved by their dignity.
The Result: When AMTRAK, the national rail company, served eviction notices to those living in the underground, Singer campaigned on their behalf, and managed to get the Department of Housing to offer them apartments.
The film was finally completed in 2000 and won rave reviews and many awards. Singer emerged uninjured, but he had to squint a bit at first, what with all the daylight that’s around.
Next: An Inconvenient Truth[page-break]
An Inconvenient Truth(2006)
The Film: Presented as a slide show by former ‘next President of the United States’ Al Gore, An Inconvenient Truth exposes the exact effect that industry and humanity at large is having on the global environment.
Shocking and eye-opening, the film presents truths that world governments and big business have worked hard to bury – that if we don’t change our way, the world may be beyond rescue.
The Risk: His reputation - the ire of multi-national corporations and right-wing press, Gore’s inconvenient truths could have seen him buried as a joke in the public eye.
The Result: Although they tried, calling the film everything from nonsense to leftist propaganda, Gore’s film opened doors for the green movement like no other voice has before or since.
Far from being ridiculed, educators here in the UK are thinking of making it compulsory viewing for school children in the National Curriculum, going as far as suggesting the purchase of a DVD for each child.
Next: Taxi To The Dark Side[page-break]
Taxi To The Dark Side(2007)
The Film: Focusing on the murder in custody of an Afghan taxi driver named Dilawar, who was beaten to death by American soldiers while being held in extrajudicial detention at the Bagram Air Base.
It also goes on to examine America's policy on interrogation, specifically the CIA's use of torture, the attempts by Congress to uphold the Geneva Convention, and the use of torture techniques in popular culture.
The Risk: Er… Torture. As the film shows, the CIA can torture your ass to hell and back, and nobody is going to bat so much as an eyelash.
The Result: The film won the Oscar for Best feature Documentary, though it was buried by distributors who found the content controversial and bad for American morale. Director Gibney is suing the distributor.
Next: The Atomic Cafe[page-break]
The Atomic Cafe(1982)
The Film: Cleverly edited footage taken from newsreels, government-produced films, military training films, advertisements, television and radio programs in the ‘40s, ‘50s and early ‘60s about nuclear warfare.
Presented in a darkly humourous tone, the film reveals the shocking disinformation given to the public and armed forces about the safety of radiation and how to survive an atomic blast (duck and cover!).
The Risk: Realising that Governments lie to us – what else isn’t safe? Huh? Thinking? Reading? Is reading safe? Oh God!
The Result: Kevin Rafferty, one of the filmmakers, was befriended by a young man looking for advice on documentary making. Rafferty offered to help the young man by acting as cinematographer on his first film.
The film? Roger & Me. Yup that’s right, The Atomic Café is responsible, by proxy, for giving the world Michael Moore. Judge the pros and cons of this for yourself.
Next: This Film Is Not Yet Rated[page-break]
This Film Is Not Yet Rated (2006)
The Film: An examination into the politics, practices and membership of the MPAA, the self-appointed non-government body who decide what media is suitable for consumption by the American public.
The film examines the censors who make up the board, and their propensity for disregarding extreme violence, while enforcing a vendetta against scenes of a sexual nature.
The Risk: Censorship, of course. The very people they are calling out could bury the film.
It’s like publicly condemning referees then wondering why you keep getting sent off.
The Result: The independent media and film critics applauded the film enthusiastically, while industry press among exhibitors, distributors and censors called the film one-sided and distorted.
After an initial rating of NC-17 (the most severe rating admissible) for graphic sex, Director Kirby Dick recut the film. It was eventually released unrated, a move very few films are brave enough to attempt.
Next: Super Size Me[page-break]
Super Size Me (2004)
The Film: Morgan Spurlock engages in a 30-day challenge to only eat food from McDonalds, stipulating he must eat every meal on the menu at least once, and must always super-size if asked.
With doctors monitoring his health, he also talks to various schools, corporations and politicians about the state of public health in the hopes of answering the question; why is America so fat?
The Risk: His own health.
The Result: Within 6 weeks of the film’s premiere at Sundance, McDonalds had removed the supersize option from their menus and were beginning to introduce ‘healthful’ options, such as salads.
Spurlock ended up gaining 11.1kgs, inflicting serious damage to his heart and liver, and causing depression and sexual dysfunction. It took him 15 months to lose the weight and detox his system fully.
Next: Who Killed The Electric Car?[page-break]
Who Killed The Electric Car?(2006)
The Film: A trial of the automotive industry, and their attempts to sabotage electric vehicles. The film also examines the role of oil companies, government and public opinion in the death of the electric car.
Focusing on the General Motors EV1, a car that was offered for lease in California, before being repossessed and crushed en mass, despite a dedicated following willing to buy the vehicles they loved.
The Risk: This goes to the very top. We see evidence that many of the Governement’s top officials were, or have previously been, on the boards of multi-national oil corporations, and it doesn’t end there.
Bush himself was involved, and when you’re telling the world that a lot of very powerful people are involved in a conspiracy to keep themselves rich, you may end up with your brakes cut.
The Result: Well received by critics and festivals, the film may not have had the impact it expected to, with many companies and governments pressing ahead with Hydrogen and Bio-Diesel rather than EVs.
With the change in administration and the shaking up of the US Government’s lobbyist system, perhaps Obama and his team can make changes free from the constant hassle of big oil and auto industries.
Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism(2004)
The Film: Criticising Murdoch and his Fox News Channel, the filmmaker posits that the channel is used to promote the right-wing views of it’s owner, and is not the fair and balanced news source it claims to be.
Backed by evidence from former employees of Fox News, the film calls into question their tactics and politics on a range of subjects, from Iraq, to the Bush administration.
The Risk: Media backlash and censorship – Murdoch’s vast media empire could crush you where you stand.
The Result: Advertisments in Murdoch-owned newspapers in Australia were cut down to simply the title “Outfoxed” without the tagline “Rupert Murdoch’s War On Journalism.”
This was apparently because the newspapers deemed the ads ‘offensive’. No artwork was approved, the only other info on the ad was the name of the cinema it would be playing at.
Next: Grizzly Man[page-break]
Grizzly Man (2005)
The Film: Timothy Treadwell is a well-meaning nature-nut who spends every summer in Alaska hanging out with a pack of bears.
The film highlights the beauty of the creatures, and the need for their conservation, albeit it by properly funded and professionally trained means.
The Risk: His life – he was hanging out with bears, how well can it end?
The Result: In an ironic tragedy nobody saw coming, Treadwell was killed by the very bears he sought to protect.
Experts say that a more vicious breed of bear had moved in to the area and it was this bear that was responsible for his death.
He was killed in his tent along with his girlfriend, the whole episode captured on the camcorder he had used to gather footage of his interaction with the majestic beasts. Director Werner Herzog declined to broadcast this footage.
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