Monthly Archives: April 2012

Stirring up mainstream media and politics

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I’ve just had a piece published by the bimonthly online Stir magazine, talking about the failings of mainstream media and conventional politics and what we can all do about both.

I like the look of what they’re doing a great deal at Stir – there are tonnes of long-form articles I read all the way through to the end, something I find I do rarely given the tyranny of the internet coupled with my addled brain. The April 2012 issue has plenty more again.

My piece looked at alternatives to the mainstream, drawing inspiration both from the Transition Network and the activist media makers visionOntv. I do volunteer work for visionOntv and learn plenty of new stuff in return, a relationship I find very valuable.

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Postcard from SW France

It’s days to go before the first round in the 2012 French presidential elections. In Montbrun Bocage, a rural backwater south of Toulouse in the Pyrenean foothills, the atmosphere is hardly crackling with excitement.

People here certainly know their politics but generally fail to find much passion for politicians. Given the bluntness of occasional votes for individuals – the essence of Western representative democracy – it’s hard to blame them.

Graffitied campaign posters are not the most scientific indicator of local votes though they reflect what’s happened here in the past. When France chose Nicolas Sarkozy last time around, Montbrun’s few hundred voters wound up on the losing side.

The villagers should have more luck in this year. More rigorous polls suggest Sarkozy will survive the first round on Sunday and lose the second two weeks later to his Socialist challenger François Hollande.

Sarkozy’s poster in Montbrun has dollar signs scribbled over his eyes. His campaign slogan of “La France Forte” is cheekily switched to “Morte”, transforming a strong France into a dead one with a single letter. The addition of: “Don’t vote, that suits me fine” completes the picture. Hollande’s is untouched.

Marine Le Pen, the National Front candidate, has a felt-tip Hitler moustache and a blacked out suggestion of the Führer’s slicked-down hair. Though she won’t score much in Montbrun, national polling puts her projected share in the mid teens. Running her close will be Jean-Luc Mélenchon, his poster untouched. François Bayrou, sporting a clown nose on his picture, is slightly behind them both.

A straw poll of exactly two women voters, one 35-years old and the other close to double that, wouldn’t stand up to conventional pollsters’ rules. But so what? It certainly shows the sort of frustrations typical of voters all over the world. The idea that whatever voters chose, nothing much changes. The power of corporations to dodge taxes and flit from one country to another for the cheapest workers is one major problem. Another is the ever-present fear of countries getting skewered by global financial speculators.

Neither woman supports the main candidates, the younger one’s main issue being how best to register her protest. How do you say the whole system sucks, that whoever gets in won’t alter the threats to France and its euro-zone partners? Should you not turn up at all, leave your ballot unmarked or write “screw you” across the lot of them?

Whoever wins faces immediate pressure from the financial markets, a dynamite stick both Hollande and Sarkozy have juggled in campaigning. Each jabs at the other’s competence to meet the threat yet neither nails the fundamental question of why we’re all at the mercy of bankers and markets.

Which is why Montbrun tends to go its own way in politics.

The local mairie recently backed the school director in her refusal to put pupils’ names to an intrusive national database. An association runs the local weekly market, including a volunteer-run café whose proceeds funds other activities in the village. Regular documentary screenings and debate bring in views from around the world and a chance to talk about putting their lessons into practice here. People grow vegetables and swap seeds that don’t meet absurd EU rules, they trade work, buy wholesale food collectively, barter and generally dodge the system any way they can to live their lives.

As a native Scotsman resident here since 2005, I have no vote in national elections. I’m totally not bothered. Given what’s at stake and what influence even the natives have, I prefer the promise of acting truly locally while looking and thinking globally.

A campaign poster for French President Nicolas Sarkozy has an additional few flourishes added by a local graffiti artist in a rural village in SW France.

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Spreading the word – media training for London Transition Initiatives

A DVD of In Transition 2.0, the latest film to describe what’s up around the world of transition, recently dropped through my letterbox. What a great piece of work. It recounts what people are doing to try to meet the twin challenge of climate change and peak oil, working from within their communities.

One of the things I liked most, in addition to all the inspiring stories, was the promotional schematic on the back of the box. Sixteen stories, 7 countries and no flights taken – what a great way to make a documentary. Wisdom from far-off parts of the world came alive in my living room thanks to the wonders of modern communications technologies. That no flights were taken was the 17th inspiring story as far as I was concerned.

My response to all that is to do more reporting on those sorts of stories myself and to help teach others to do the same. That’s the idea behind plans for a video training weekend, or weekends, for Transition Initiatives in or around London. You can read more about it here in a blog post here.

If the idea of video training is for you, register your interest and possibie availabilities in a comment below or email me via patrickchalmers [at] orange.fr

That way maybe your work and your stories can feature in the next transition film.

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No holiday in Cambodia but rather catharsis

I watched the extraordinarily moving documentary Brother Number One last night, one I’d meant to catch when covering the recent Human Rights Watch Film Festival in London.

It tells the story of a New Zealander who was captured, tortured and executed by the Khmer Rouge. The film’s great success is to use one person’s tale, a foreigner’s what’s more, to guide the audience into the bigger picture of how the Cambodian regime’s survivors and their families are trying to heal their traumas.

The Khmer Rouge and its followers killed nearly 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979 according to the Human Rights Watch publicity accompanying the film. In 1978, Kerry Hamill and two friends disappeared without trace while sailing from Australia to Southeast Asia. Via Kerry’s youngest brother Rob we learn how a Khmer Rouge cell attacked their boat, killing the Canadian Stuart Glass and arresting Kerry and the Englishman John Dewhirst.

Film-maker Annie Goldson skilfully skirts the potential trap of giving too Western a slant on what is Cambodia’s story. The risk she took paid off thanks to Rob’s resplendent qualities as a human being, ones that transcend all country and ethnicity.

In Rob’s agonised journey to the Khmer Rouge Tribunal he shows great sensitivity towards the Cambodians who survived the dictators’ reign or lost countless family members to their crazed ideology. In court testimony he addresses directly the Tuol Sleng (S-21) prison camp interogator – Kang Kek Iew or Duch – who oversaw his brother’s killing. We hear many Cambodian victims’ stories along the way.

Rob is brutally honest in showing his own grief as he retraces his brother’s last days, collecting snippets of memory from those who’d seen him in prison. He deciphers on camera the impish coded messages Kerry left to his family in the final “confession” preceding his certain execution.

I have wondered before about the true worth of international trials processes for murderous tyrants and the balance to be struck between revenge and justice. This film left me with a deeper understanding of how trials are vital not just as attempts to right wrongs but also as vehicles for victims to explore, express and honour their grief for slain and tortured family members.

The many victims of the 2003 Iraq invasion deserve just such a process though I fear they’ll never get one. Nor will the families of Cambodian civilians killed by the US war-making that helped the Khmer Rouge rise to power.

War crimes tribunals are as yet limited only to the captured tyrants of geopolitical minnows such as Cambodia. Potential candidates from the world’s more powerful states, such as US ex-president George W. Bush and British ex-prime minister Tony Blair, have only their own consciences to wrestle with for now. More’s the pity.

Thankfully this film was not about such men but rather a rare moment for the victims. It is a fantastic piece of work I highly recommend you find time to watch. Bring tissues.

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