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You gotta fight for your rights

by The Concordian November 1, 2011
You gotta fight for your rights
Having been there during the G20, images of Toronto becoming a war zone—burning cop cars foregrounded by throngs of protestors clashing with riot gear-clad police—are burned into my mind. It was a dark time for the city, and it raised serious questions: when is it truly necessary to take a stand? What is the threshold at which citizens should cast aside peaceful protest and engage an overly forceful state? This week at Cinema Politica, two films do their best to represent these questions on screen, for better and worse.
Tales from the G20 is an arresting look at the protests surrounding last year’s G20 summit in Toronto and the police action that accompanied them. Apart from a few brief interviews with figures within the protests—field medics, a homeless man forced out of the downtown core, a student—the film operates like a slice-of-life documentary.
But the events it covers are larger than life, and the surreal images of riot police marching with synchronized intimidation tactics are just a small part of the disturbing footage captured by co-producer Justin Saunders.
Saunders’ film does not ostensibly take a position on the strikes, though his angle of coverage is certainly one-sided. It’s an important choice that prevents it from being undermined by a lack of facts, statistics and expert opinion. It’s far too edited and political to be thought of as only observational, but by avoiding making demands for change, it avoids the quagmire that Franklin Lopez’s END:CIV does.
Where Tales from the G20 tackles the specific, END:CIV tries to represent the larger, global questions at hand. And though it’s thought-provoking, it comes off as an extended rant.
The film is based on Endgame, a book by well-known fringe author Derrick Jensen, that suggests the very foundation of our world—cities and civilization—should be deconstructed before that way of life destroys the planet.
A film based on such an extreme concept certainly needs to draw a roadmap of how this happens, with concrete justification. What does the process of going from the apex of civilization
to a hunter-gatherer existence look like? For my money, this happens with an incomprehensible
amount of violence and destruction. What makes Jensen, our narrator here, and his compatriots think we can go back without destroying ourselves? Are they truly willing to give up medicine, modern shelter and institutional education and return to a life that is nasty, brutish and short?
Taking the elimination of civilization as a necessary tenet of change is just one example of Jensen’s reductive absolutism. He boils down huge swaths of people into useful little groups like ‘fascists’ and ‘psychopaths,’ and treats extraordinarily complex issues as if there’s a clear solution you’d see were you as smart as him. This undermines his position, because it’s hard not to disregard this type of snide arrogance.
And it’s a shame: he offers some much needed articulation for the fringe, helping it play its role as a counterbalance to make up for an increasingly soft and shapeless left. It’s important for someone to voice the radical, because that’s often where the ideas that cause meaningful change originate. But arguing with an air of superiority makes it easy to dismiss the entire part of
that spectrum as delusional.
Ultimately, both films suffer from a lack of reliable sources. But it’s asking quite a bit to have anti-government positions substantiated by experts. There are too few radical leftists who carry the kind of institutional weight we’re used to seeing in a documentary, not to mention this weight runs somewhat counter to the films’ position.
But they suffer nonetheless. A film like END:CIV that is built on interviews with regular strangers works to a point, but it’s hard to be convinced when it’s not backed by statistics or historical evidence.
Tales from the G20 doesn’t suffer nearly as much from this, however, because it does not claim to be anything but an account—one-sidedness aside—of the event. If nothing else, it provides some strikingly clear images of unacceptable police behavior to bolster the rapidly growing hard evidence of an affinity for violence within certain police circles.
The best part of these films is that they force you to consider a tough question. Exploitation and repression occur every day in this and other countries. When do you decide that you’ve had enough? What’s your threshold? 

Tales from the G20 and END:CIV are showing at Cinema Politica on Nov. 7 at 7 p.m. in H-110. For more information, go to www.cinemapolitica.org/concordia.

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