Wednesday, October 1, 2014

My Log 443 Oct 1 2014: Cinema Politica in dangerous territory: it produces a book, full of good and bad stuff, about documentary film activism

English: Hall Building and McConnell Library B...
Hall Building and McConnell Library Building,  Concordia University, Montreal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Screening Truth to Power: a reader on Documentary Activism, edited by Svetla Turnin and Ezra Winton, published by Cinema Politica, Montreal, 2014. Pps 208.

What to write about this book? The question has been gnawing away at me for some months, and I still haven’t come to a decent conclusion. At first I thought I would content myself with a few mild criticisms of its title, which is actually the slogan of the remarkable documentary network created, organized and run by the two authors in Concordia University, Montreal.  To me, the title has about it a whiff of smugness, even  a touch of self-satisfaction, and maybe even of delusion. I have heard the title or variations of it for some years. I worked for some time in the Challenge for Change programme at the National Film Board, many of whose members gave themselves the inaccurate conceit that they were screening truth to power. As someone said to me years later, “The programme  was based on the idea that if only the government knew what was going on out there, they would do something about it” --- a slight inaccuracy, to be kind.  Not quite screening truth to power.
However, I decided not to pursue that line because of my great enthusiasm for the work done by Svetla and Ezra, the immense success Cinema Politica has achieved, and the great inspiration given by their weekly series of documentaries that have drawn consistently large crowds for ten years, meanwhile  spreading their message to more than 90 affiliates in Canada and other countries around the world.  I know this admiration isn’t an adequate reason not to offer criticism, but why knock them when they are doing such great work?
Then I thought well, I will read the introduction written by Ezra and Svetla under the title Encounters with Documentary Activism, a special branch of documentary-making that seems to be so established that they even dared to playfully invent a word for it: doctivism. But here again I ran up against another obsession of mine which, like my scepticism of their title, arises from my experience: I have a deep, deep scunner on academic language, and to my great surprise (for I know Ezra to be a down-to-earth kind of guy) their introduction was peppered with academic circumlocutions of the kind that I believe any text on any subject can well do without. Determined, in spite of all this, to be friendly, I thought over their enthusiasm for documentary activism which suggests that it is not really enough to make documentaries, and that only the film-maker determined to change the world should be classified as really serious. Since my view is rather that any film-maker who believes he can change the world is somewhat deluded, or has a messianic misunderstanding of his or her place in the universe, I have to feel that the emphasis on activism is a little overcooked, just like their slogan and title.
I looked through the book, came upon a closing essay that looked as if it might give me something to hang a piece on: but, whoa there boy! This author, Darrell Varga, described as the Canada Research Chair in Contemporary Film and Media Studies at some university or other known to the editors of this book as NSCAD, so evidently a place familiar to everyone that they didn’t feel the need to spell it out, this man has been severely bitten by the academic language bug.  His opening explanatory paragraph was so convolute that I should have given up right there. But, gamely, I pressed on to para two where I read that, quoting the recently deceased British sociologist Stuart Hall, whom I remember from the 1960s as a brilliant speaker, but not one who ever made a joke (like almost all the intellectual leaders of the Left), that it was clear that “the usefulness of theory is not in providing us with a determinist script but with the tools to understand the forces of power, language and ideology under which struggle is written, and that this process takes place on what he (Hall) called a ‘determinacy without guaranteed closures.’ ”
Hold on a minute or two while I try to get hold of that. A page or two further on I read Varga’s description of a photographer whose “images are of the places where the limits of expression are calculated, aided by the privatization of information as data-commodity for the financialization of what, in another view, could be seen as the public commons of online media.” Wow, really? And this guy is a teacher?  I’m not saying it means nothing: just that I am not on the wavelength, I guess.
Okay, I give up. I can report, however that not all contributors write as if they had a shovel up their arse. There is a very interesting piece by a Palestinian-Swedish filmmaker Lina  Makboul about a film she made on the career of Leila Khaled, who will be remembered as the hi-jacker of a TWA plane in 1969, an action carried out for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and who remains a great hero to the Palestinian people.
I was pleased to see from Sharon Walsh, an internationally-known documentarist, a penetrating analysis of the assumptions of Participatory Video (PV, as it is called by the insiders), which, she says, really originated with the Challenge for Change programme at the NFB in the early days of the hand-held video. The video-makers believed that by putting the instrument into the hands of challenged people, allowing them to speaking for themselves, was a step towards a changed society. “There is an implicit naivety in much PV philosophy,” writes Walsh “…... It implicitly implies that once the decision-makers realize, for example that farmers are being forced off their land and into precarious conditions for the development of carbon credits, or for mineral extraction, these practises will stop. The liberal ideology that each one is entitled to a set of rights and must just go and take them is a dangerous, yet convenient lie.” This is good stuff. I remember cupboards full of videos at the NFB made by inexpert citizens that no one would ever want to watch again. But the video-makers of that time did produce a slick, persuasive quarterly journal they distributed around the world describing their new  video revolution. This attracted many people from abroad to sit at their feet, and I recall many who were disappointed at a reality that fell short of the promise.
Thomas Waugh and Liz Miller, film teachers at Concordia, in their piece use more straightforward language to discuss ways of seeing films. They come out solidly for screening documentaries to actual people, gathered in actual halls. “Previous generations of makers and activists have sometimes been sidetracked by the fantasy of theatrical exhibition or broadcast or cable, but Cinema Politica is showing in the digital age that audiences in the flesh, filling targeted non-commercial spaces, that is, bottoms in seats (and hearts and brains) are still the bottom line.” (It is an odd expression: I would suppose bottoms in seats more or less have to be the bottom line, whatever that means.)
Winton and Turnin produce in their piece the idea of the four Ps: producers, publics, programming, and the politics of presence, none of which, they write in a slight touch of the obvious, Cinema Politica could do without.  They also quote the late Peter Wintonick as saying that documentary makers should take “the poverty oath” in order to retain an uncompromised point of view, and independence from systems under critical scrutiny. This strikes me as a strange idea: how about the guy with four kids and a wife who wants to make honest documentaries, but needs something to keep his family alive? Is he disqualified because he makes enough to live on? I guess this comes as one of the tenets of doctivism, which could be the subject of a more complete analysis in another book, hopefully one shorn of academic language.
There are some interesting lists of films compiled by various film-makers and theorists at the request of the editors, but it remains that in addition to celebrating the ten years of Cinema Politica activity, this book tends rather to the sort of navel-gazing that is so  common, and so tedious, among academics.
I thought perhaps in this piece, finally, I might join the various contributors by putting in my own five cents worth to the discussion. I have had the experience of working in the media in many of the forms that were extant in my years of activity --- I know nothing about all these new technologies, and doubt that I could handle them --- but I have some basis for judging the efficacy of the documentary film, compared with a TV programme, a book, or a newspaper or journal article.  In twenty-five years as a daily journalist I could never deny that the newspapers had a lot of influence on society, but the individual journalists, no matter how prominent they might be, had little if any influence on anything or anybody. 
When I finally got to making films (in my forties by this time) I tended to regard films as a weapon to be used in  improving society. Of course, I soon found that to have a messianic attitude was wrong, misplaced, counter-productive even. At first I was contemptuous of those who strove for technical excellence, but pretty soon I realised technical excellence was part of your weapon in the struggle for ideas: you got your message over better if the film was good, than if it was amateurish or just flung together somehow.
I have always been mystified as to the results of anything that appears on TV. What impact is it having? There is hardly any way of knowing. You work over your programme for months, it comes on, and then overnight it disappears, more often than not it is not even noticed by any of the critics, and even if it is, not often usefully.
The first films I made were about the native people and their lives. Everything I had learned through my twenty-five years of journalism was confirmed: the establishment, anyone with money, anyone with power, couldn’t have cared less about the native people. No matter how often you told them in what terrible conditions they lived, these people would shrug and walk away. Nothing to do with them.
By taking my first, rather crude, amateurish film around church halls I began to realize that this was a more effective way than the TV screen to get a message across. I figured then, if four people out of a hundred came up to me afterwards and said how much they appreciated it, often saying how they never realised that native people were in such conditions, if that happened, you had a huge success. It is possible to get thorough to people, a few people, with a film, and I agree with Waugh and Miller that they need to be in an audience and to have shifted themselves to get there. You might even change the lives of people, occasionally I have  heard from  people who tossed up their jobs because of a film they had seen, and embarked on a different life-path.
But honestly, I have always felt that the medium of information that has the most influence is the book. I think the basic reason is the tremendous commitment a reader gives to the author, hours and hours of his or her time just as the author has given weeks and months and even years of his time to get the story to them. Books rest in libraries, sometimes in book shops, for many years, and can always been accessed by interested people. In other words, the medium with the smallest circulation paradoxically enough, has the biggest influence.
That’s my five cents worth: forget messianic ideas that you personally can change anything, you have to be content if you can reach a few people with whatever your message is. That some people should have made a life’s work out of analysing this simple thing, this question of a film, its audience, and its maker, is surely surprising enough (I guess they have not taken the vow of poverty, these academics !). And it is certainly testified to by this book.
On the whole I would say forget these analysts and theorists: just go ahead and do your thing. If what you produce is any good your piece will find an audience. Cinema Politica will be standing ready to help you do so. And you never know: you may change someone’s view of the world.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Link of the Day: Sept 27 2014: Saudi Arabia, US ally, No 1 in the decapitation business

English: Execution by decapitation
English: Execution by decapitation (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The main partner of the US as it tries to spread its version of democracy through the Middle East is Saudi Arabia,which would surely rank in the view of most Westerners as the most horrific regime on earth. James Petras, in a salutary piece on the Internet, describes how in August Saudi Arabia decapitated fourteen prisoners, much ahead in the decapitation business of ISIS, whose decapitations of two US journalists was used by Obama as the excuse to launch war against Syria and Iraq.   Read Petras’s whole article here.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Link of the Day, Sept 25 2014: Russell Tribunal finds evidence of incitement to genocide, crimes against humanity in Gaza

The Russell Tribunal on Palestine’s Emergency Session on Israel’s Operation Protective Edge held yesterday in Brussels has found evidence of war crimes, crimes against humanity, crimes of murder, extermination and persecution and also incitement to genocide. Read the findings here.

Friday, September 19, 2014

My Log 442 Sept 18 2014: A remarkable account of Mao Tse Tung and his extraordinary life, written by his personal doctor, which reminds us of the traumas the Chinese people have lived through

English: Photo of Mao Zedong visiting with a f...
English: Photo of Mao Zedong visiting with a family, from Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
President Nixon meets with China's Communist P...
President Nixon meets with China's Communist Party Leader, Mao Tse-Tung, 02/29/1972 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Pictured here is former Chinese Chairman Mao Z...
Pictured here is former Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong announcing the founding of the People's Republic of China on October 1 1949. Italiano: Immagine di Mao Tse-tung che proclama la nascita della Repubblica Popolare Cinese l'1 ottobre 1949 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished reading an immense book, 638 pages, on The Private Life of Chairman Mao, written by a man who was his private doctor for 22 years, Dr Li Zhisui. The book was published in 1994, and has since gained a reputation as one of the most detailed and fascinating accounts ever written about the private life of one of that rare breed of man who is considered great, or a leader of men, during his lifetime and sometimes beyond.
That Mao must be considered to have been a great man, I suppose, is incontestable, for, coming from a peasant background, he clawed his way to the top position in the government of the world’s most impoverished and largest nation, and set about its transformation in a more thoroughgoing way than perhaps anyone had ever attempted anywhere before. In that, he was certainly a man with remarkable gifts of leadership, just as, I suppose were Napoleon, Stalin, Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, Hitler, and Julius Caesar. One  of the conquerors. And, inevitably, one might as well add, one of the tyrants. I remember thinking one day as I lined up in Tiananmin Square to go in to take a look at Mao’s body, preserved somehow or other and put on exhibition for ever, that the greater tyrant a man may have been, apparently the greater is his attraction for the masses, who long after he is gone, will line up for hours just to catch a glimpse of what is left of him.
He certainly looked more like a wax figure than a real person, and the book opens with a grisly account of the problem of preserving him for display, for a mere two weeks as first demanded, and then, by decision of the politbureau, the decision-making body of the Communist government, for ever. The doctors, conscious of the disasters that had befallen similar efforts made in the past to preserve Lenin and Stalin --- Lenin’s nose and ears had rotted off and been replaced by wax, and Stalin’s moustache had fallen off ---- frankly believed it could not be done, especially since their Chinese knowledge of embalming techniques were far below those of the Soviet Union.  At first they had dealt with the demand for two weeks by pumping his body full of formaldehyde, and the only thing they could think to do for the longer preservation was to double the dose. That had left Mao’s body so grossly swollen that he was almost unrecognizable, so before he could be displayed they had tried to at least reduce his face to more or less normal size by squeezing the formaldehyde down into his lower body, which remained  so huge that his clothes had to be cut down the back to ensure he did not burst out of them.  Dr. Li records that for insurance, they had begun to prepare a wax version of Mao’s body, and certainly when I saw him he looked more like a wax model than a real person. A  grisly tale all round.
Dr Li was a young man from a family of doctors, an elite Chinese family which in the past had had some minor connection with the party opposing the Communists in the battle for control of China --- a connection that haunted him throughout his working life in the tumultuous events he lived through in China. He was working in Australia when he was offered a job back in China in 1950, and in 1954, although he dreamed of becoming a top surgeon, he was appointed medical director of  the health clinic in Zhongnanhai, the place in Beijing where most of the top leaders lived and worked. This made him personal physician to Chairman Mao, whom at first he adulated and was happy to serve. After 22 years at the centre of the byzantine school of back-stabbing, rumour-mongering and medieval-type manoeuvring for power which he found the central leadership to be always engaged in, his admiration for the leader had evaporated.
His account of the amazing manoeuvring that went on between the various factions, all of whom acknowledged Mao as the supreme leader who could dispose of any of them on a whim, is really something unusual to read about the modern world. A friend of mine who is vastly knowledgable about the history of China does not think their behaviour was so extraordinary, but merely very Chinese, since emperors of China in the past had been gotten rid of by their subordinates and even their sons, in struggles for power in which no holds were barred.
The Communist government did succeed in getting the country working, and establishing a massive bureaucracy to keep it moving. But Chairman Mao, who Dr. Li says never understood economics, was always restless, and he wanted to keep the party under him restless. He would embark on amazing schemes, force them on the party, and had the ruthlessness and the means to impose his schemes on the nation.
Reading the book, the revelation of his ruthless attitude towards politics and towards the people under him did not surprise me. I had read Vol. V of his selected writings in which he coolly --- coldly might be a more appropriate word --- outlined his theory of politics, which acknowledged that maybe three per cent of the people at the top were entirely with him, perhaps ten per cent were supporters whose loyalty might be questionable (and who therefore had to be unmasked, and gotten rid of), the vast majority were indifferent, and ten per cent at the bottom were out and out opponents, and also had to be gotten rid of.
The troubles described in such detail and with such eloquence in this book really began in 1957 when he decided the time had come to unmask the ten per cent of lukewarm supporters. So, he launched his programme, “let 100 flowers bloom, 100 schools of thought contend,” and invited everyone to express honestly their opinion of the work of the Communist government so far.  People seized the opportunity to say what they really thought, and gave expression in big character posters which appeared everywhere. Eventually, Mao decided he had heard enough, cracked down on any further expressions of negative opinions, and expelled those who had been negative to twenty-five years of working in the nether regions as peasants.  I remember, years later, meeting an 80-year-old woman writer, Ding Ling, on a tour of Canada, who had not long before emerged from her twenty-five year exile among the peasants. She was a woman of remarkable calm, apparently exhibiting not a trace of bitterness, although perhaps this was just another Chinese characteristic which westerners like me had difficulty in comprehending.
Anyway, Mao’s ultimate objective --- apart from maintaining his own unchallenged power --- was to keep his subordinates on the hop, and to establish the once-despised nation of China on the world stage as a genuine power. So, he next launched what was called The Great Leap Forward, in which the aim was for China to overtake the United Kingdom in production and standard of living. To that end he encouraged everyone to establish a backyard furnace in which they could make their own steel, in this way overcoming the figures for UK steel production.  According to Dr. Li, everyone in the country jettisoned their knives and forks, plates and other household goods into backyard furnaces which were fuelled by their wooden furniture, broken up and burned, leaving them with nowhere to sleep except on their baked-mud floors.  While tending to this useless occupation --- useless because the furnaces might have produced ingots of steel, but these ingots were found to be useless for any purpose their creators could think of  --- all the able-bodied peasants who should have been tending their crops were just allowing their crops to wither on the vine, untended. Local bureaucrats, pressured to produce more and more, declared impossible yields ---- at first maybe 10,000 pounds of wheat per mu, a mu being .16 of an acre --- and later 20,000, 30,000 and so on, totally impossible yields that were announced but never actually produced. A vast famine spread throughout the land, but Mao and his functionaries and subordinates, lounging in their own specially guarded enclaves, were isolated from the worst effects of the famine, and scarcely acknowledged it.  During this time Dr. Li was sent by Mao into the countryside to work with the peasants, but with orders to report to the leader about what he was seeing, and he discovered agonizingly terrible poverty had seized hold of the peasantry, resulting at first in thousands, then hundreds of thousands and eventually millions of deaths.
A few brave functionaries did not toe the party line as required; they told the truth about what was happening, but they were immediately dismissed from their posts and banished to sinecure jobs  in the hinterland.
So long as the Glorious Leader’s position was never challenged all was well.
Meantime, ideological debate raged among the comrades, with Mao’s estranged wife, Jiang Quin, a former actress, and by this time a dangerously deranged personality, putting in her bid for power, gathering ultra-leftist followers, and denouncing everyone  to whom she took a dislike, or who seemed to be standing in her way on her quest for power.
While all this was going on, Mao himself was plunging increasingly into an almost non-stop orgy of pleasure, surrounding himself with adoring young women, some of whom became figures of authority because of their relationship with the Leader, and whose arrogance could not safely be challenged even by other top leaders of the party.  Verily, Dr Li reveals a truly Byzantine world, tinged with madness, it seems to me, although one thing about Mao that remained functional as his body declined, was his brain.  He seemed to be able to keep enough of a hold on commonsense to enable him to bring some of this madness to a halt when he felt it had gone far enough.
The days of the Cultural Revolution are described in agonizing detail. Trying to look at it objectively, one can say that probably no other great leader in history had ever before attempted to cleanse his court by calling out the people to destroy its members, as Mao did during the Cultural Revolution. If it had not resulted in so much injustice, so much terror, so much appalling cruelty, one might have been able to praise it as an unprecedented act of political bravery.
The other leaders come and go through the book: Liu Shaoqi, a veteran Communist, was appointed head of the nation when Mao decided to relinquish that post and confine himself to being Leader of the Party. But Liu proved to be too independent, and became the convenient scapegoat for Mao in the search for those responsible for every mistake. He was hounded out of office, fell ill (and was denied treatment) and died in disgrace.  Then Lin Biao,  head of the Army, was named as Mao’s likely successor, and formed an alliance with Jiang Quin, but when Mao decided to cut him down, he tried to organize a coup, and when that failed, took off for the Soviet Union with his wife in a plane that was inadequately supplied with fuel, and crashed on the way, killing everyone on board.
Others, like Zhou Enlai, a smooth diplomat, and the favourite Chinese Communist leader in the West, was in and out of favour, but was never anything but a follower of Mao, and a subservient follower at that, according to Dr. Li. Similarly Deng Xiaoping, an independent-minded second-level official, was in, out, in again, out again, of favour.  He was not named by Mao as his successor, but soon after Mao died he returned to power and became the unchallenged ruler of the country --- although without any formal post --- for some twelve years. He it was who set China on its new course that has produced such spectacular results.
Mao chose a mild-mannered, reasonable man, Hua Guofeng to be his successor, and within a month or so of the old man’s death he combined with other survivors to arrest Jiang Quin and her clique who became known as the Gang Of Four, and commit them to life imprisonment, they having been seized just before they were ready to seize power in a coup d’etat.
The final  days of Mao’s life are described agonizingly by Dr. Li. At one point 24 nurses, working in shifts of eight, and five full-time doctors, were assigned to his care. None of them wanted to take decisions alone for fear that if things went wrong for their patient, they could be accused of killing him. The so-called Doctor’s Plot which had obsessed Stalin as he was dying hovered over all these people as a grave warning of what might happen. At one point the doctors agreed on a course of treatment and presented it to the young woman who was the only one who had direct access to Mao in these last days of his life. But --- she had been a railway employee when Mao met her some years before --- she announced their proposed treatments were worthless, and she had decided he would need to be fed glucose. The doctors were horrified, because they feared that Mao, who at that point could not swallow, would be choked to death when trying to take the glucose.
A high functionary named Wang Dongxing, who had been in and out of Mao’s favour, had been Dr. Li’s most significant protector through most of this experience, and he was a major influence in the arrest of the Gang of Four. Through his influence Dr. Li managed to survive, and finally was allowed to go off to a job as leader of a Beijing hospital. Eventually he took his ailing wife to the United States, where his children already lived,  for treatment. He stayed there after his wife’s death, and he wrote his book  “….for everyone who cherishes freedom. I want it to serve as a reminder of the terrible human consequences of Mao’s dictatorship and of how good and talented people living under his regime were forced to violate their consciences and sacrifice their ideals in order to survive.”
I went to China in 1978 as part of a National Film Board crew which made three films. Even so short a time after the death of Mao and arrest of the Gang of Four, the wheat-fields of the North China Plain were alive with healthy crops, a measure, perhaps, of the remarkable recuperative abilities of this great and ancient and still-multiplying people.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Log 441 Sept 17 2014: Excellent series of films on Al Jazeera called Rebel Architecture. Insightful episode shows how Israeli architects have put their work at the service of a nasty occupation

English: Israel's "Security Fence", ...
English: Israel's "Security Fence", "West Bank Barrier", is a solid wall along 5% of it's length. 10 meters high and reinforced concrete. Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left)...
Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld (left), escorts Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (center) into the Pentagon at the conclusion of a full honor arrival ceremony for Sharon at the Pentagon on March 19, 2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Israel: Judea and Samaria District according t...
Israel: Judea and Samaria District according to official Israeli regulations. Unlike other administrative districts of Israel, this district is not entirely territorial - it includes only the Israeli settlements in the West Bank (excluding East Jerusalem which was annexed to Israeli Jerusalem district). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Modi'in Illit, Israeli settlement in ...
English: Modi'in Illit, Israeli settlement in West Bank. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Piece of File:Westbankjan06.jpg which...
A detailed map of Israeli settlements on the West Bank, January 2006. Produced by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs - public UN source. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have said it before and I will say it again: the TV channel Al Jazeera is screening some of the best documentaries to be seen on television today.
I have just been catching up on their series called Rebel Architecture and this week I streamed from the Al Jazeera website an especially brilliant episode, that I had previously missed, dealing with the architecture performed in the West Bank by Israeli architects.
A young Israeli architect, Eyal Weizman approached the stuff built on the West Bank to accommodate the flood of Israeli settlers  as the “architecture of Occupation”, whose objective, he said, is to “strangulate the villages and towns on the West Bank and to make their environment unliveable.”
He added: “This architecture is being used by architects as a weapon. Everything built is a tactic used in the architecture of occupation.”
He showed how, when the Israelis built houses on the outskirts of Arab towns, they, in effect, created a wall within the city, and in 1996 they began to build apartheid roads to serve only the Jewish occupants and join up the various settlements. “These are the roads of apartheid, right here,” he said.
Most of the Israeli settlements were built on the hilltops, as measures of self-protection, and also to enable them to dominate the surrounding countryside. Everything, down to the smallest detail, was designed to bring to the Palestinians the message that they were under control. Road blocks were established, special highways were built, and, even where access was allowed through turnstiles, those turnstiles were so narrow as to ensure that, in turning, the Arabs passing through them would be rubbed by the arms of the turnstiles, in case they might be carrying something. He described this as “a cruel and degrading reduction of Palestinians to make them feel they are nothing, except their bodies.”
“We see apartheid in action here,” Weizman  said. The architecture was designed to hide the presence of the Israeli army,” which he described as a sort of “slow violence” and an architecture of “destruction.”
The film showed what happened in 2002 when Ariel Sharon, then Prime Minister of Israel, decided to enter the Jenin  refugee camp with bulldozers. They smashed  whole streets through, destroying houses in their way, creating new spaces broad enough to allow tanks to enter the camp. “It was the first time the bulldozer was integrated into the battlefield” he said.  When the recipe was repeated in Nablus it became obvious these were regarded as laboratories for a new type of urban warfare.
Subsequently, the Israelis turned the uses made of private and public spaces upside down: the streets, normally the public spaces, were designed to be empty, and the warfare was carried into the homes, normally the private spaces. The method used to enter the homes was, not through the doors, but by driving holes through the walls, a brutal  invasion of the Arab towns that Weizman  described as “an invasion lasting for eight years.”
The film must have been made before the recent horrifying attack on Gaza, but it analysed  the Israeli tactic, invented in the 2008 Gaza attack, to pretend they were conducting “a humanitarian war,” which he described as “the saddest and most horrifying new kind of warfare that pretended to be legal and has gone completely wrong.” He had found that between the Israeli “warning shot”, designed to give the inhabitants time to leave, and the actual bombing, not enough time was given for everyone to leave, and one family he had met lost seven members when the bomb hit their house  just as they were leaving. The traces left of this house challenged, he said the Israeli claim to have conducted “a humanitarian war” in Gaza, and what he said about 2008 surely could be multiplied many times in relation to the most recent onslaught.
“I love this land,” said the young architect, standing on a hilltop looking out over the landscape, “and care deeply about both of the peoples living here, but I would have loved to practise my architecture free of the constraints imposed by this slow process of killing the Palestinian communities."
On the Web site, the producer of the film, Ana Naomi de Sousa, described Weizman’s  work as being at the “intersection of architecture, with politics, violence, conflict and human rights.”
Other episodes in this six-part series deal with Vietnam, where efforts are being made, again by a young architect struggling against prevailing attitudes, to improve the quality of life of poor people living along the Mekong delta through the innovative use of materials and site planning,  and the other episodes give examples of similar work from Spain, Pakistan, Brazil and Nigeria.

This is documentary film work that puts itself at the service of the people who are its subjects, a rather rare assumption in television, especially in the Western world.