Films on Afghan war, Guantanamo reviewed

This video from Canada is called GUANTANAMO’S CHILD: OMAR KHADR Trailer | Festival 2015.

By Joanne Laurier:

8 October 2015

This is the fourth in a series of articles devoted to the recent Toronto International Film Festival (September 10-20). The first part was posted September 26, the second part October 1 and the third part October 3.

The case of Omar Khadr

The “war on terror” is a lying, noxious phrase, endlessly invoked to justify the American ruling elite’s drive for global dominance. This week marks the 14th anniversary of the US military’s invasion of Afghanistan, an exercise in sociocide, which has led to the deaths of tens of thousands and the further laying waste of the already impoverished nation.

The tragic encounter of American imperialism with the Afghan people goes back to the late 1970s, when the Carter administration incited and fomented Islamic fundamentalists, including Osama bin Laden, as part of the strategy of undermining the Soviet Union. The criminality of US policy in Central Asia knows almost no bounds.

Michelle Shephard and Patrick Reed’s documentary, Guantanamo’s Child: Omar Khadr, concerns itself with the Canadian-born youth who was captured in Afghanistan by US forces in 2002 during an airstrike and assault that killed all the anti-American insurgents except the grievously wounded, 15-year-old Omar. He was sent to the Bagram Air Base, site of a notorious US prison in Afghanistan, and tortured, before he was transferred to the even more notorious Guantanamo Bay internment camp in Cuba.

Treated like a “terrorist”—for having fought as a soldier against an invading army—by the criminals in the American government and their junior partners in Canada, Omar, in 2005, became the only juvenile to be tried for war crimes.

In 2010, he pleaded not guilty to “murdering” US Sergeant First Class Christopher Speer during the 2002 firefight. Three months later, he changed his plea, his only means of obtaining release from the Guantanamo hellhole. Over the strenuous objections of the Harper government in Ottawa, Omar was repatriated to Canada in 2012. Since his release in May 2015, Khadr has resided with his lawyer Dennis Edney in Edmonton, Alberta.

As the Shephard-Reed film reveals, Omar Khadr is a remarkable young man, as is his feisty, Scottish-born attorney. Through extensive interviews, Guantanamo’s Child constructs a nightmarish picture of Omar’s ordeal at the hands of the American military.

Although the bright and soft-spoken Omar is forthright in declaring that he was fighting “for a cause: fighting invaders,” the filmmakers are far more defensive about his role. In fact, the initial portions of the documentary tend to take the “war on terror” and the accompanying propaganda campaign at face value, as though “everything changed” as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The implication is that the “Americans” may have overreacted, but they had every right to “defend” themselves.

Any objective examination of the post-9/11 measures by the Bush administration would conclude that the actions corresponded to a long-standing agenda, involving massive US intervention in the Middle East and Central Asia in pursuit of energy supplies and, more generally, American imperialist geopolitical objectives, and that the terrorist attacks merely provided a pretext.

Missing in Guantanamo’s Child is any reference to the history of the region. There is no indication that the bin Laden forces were financed and encouraged by the CIA. It should be noted that Shepard, who wrote a book in 2008 entitled Guantanamo’s Child: The Untold Story of Omar Khadr, is the national security reporter for the Toronto Star, one of Canada’s largest daily newspapers.

All in all, it seems fair to argue that documentary reflects the views of that section of the Canadian elite that is not happy with the country’s current relationship with Washington, with what it perceives as Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s subservience, and is taking the opportunity to “stick it” to the US over the Khadr case.

In any case, whatever the serious weaknesses of Guantanamo’s Child, the majority of the film is devoted to allowing Omar to speak openly about his past and present condition—unusual in the pro-war media propaganda world. He has an insightful, mature and cautious voice.

Omar Khadr was born in Toronto in 1986, but spent much of his childhood in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The film briefly discusses his family and his early life.

As Guantanamo’s Child reveals, after his 2002 capture, the teenager suffered extensive psychological and physical abuse. In one striking scene, a repentant Damien Corsetti, a former US interrogator at Bagram, who was nicknamed “The Monster” for using techniques such as the “Human Mop” (forcing prisoners to wipe up their urine on the floor with their own bodies), movingly talks about how Omar’s youth and bravery humanized him. This contrasts to the self-justifying remarks made by a former CSIS (Canadian Security Intelligence Service) official, who features prominently in the film.

Also interviewed are the well-spoken Moazzam Begg and Ruhal Ahmed, both British citizens who bear witness to the horrors perpetrated in American prisons—Moazzam having been incarcerated with Omar at Bagram and Ruhal with him at Guantanamo. In addition, Omar’s mother and sister make critical, but unsurprisingly disoriented, remarks about the invaders.

The film also shows Omar’s amazing fortitude. Despite his age, and imprisonment for more than a decade, he never cowers before his tormentors and their false accusations. He also defied the incredible odds against being released from Guantanamo.

During the 2002 firefight, the Americans inflicted serious wounds on Omar, including two holes in his chest, that would eventually destroy one eye and greatly impair the other. Were it not for the intrepid efforts of Edney—his lawyer who was initially not allowed access to Omar for four years—he would still be locked away as an “enemy combatant” in the internment camp.

These two remarkable individuals and their bond drive the movie, but as well highlight the documentary’s major internal contradiction: Omar himself is prima facie evidence of the inhuman, illegal nature of the war. Unfortunately, the filmmakers never follow the political logic of the story of their protagonist and the forces who calumniated and tried to destroy him.

Thank You for Bombing

From Austria comes Thank You For Bombing, directed by Barbara Eder (Inside America, 2010), which provides an unflattering portrait of contemporary journalists on assignment in war zones.

The fiction film comprises a triptych of stories related to the war in Afghanistan. The first concerns an Austrian reporter, Ewald (Erwin Steinhauser), forced by his boss to go to Afghanistan. Clearly suffering from a post-traumatic nervous disorder that has rendered him incontinent, Ewald sees a man at the airport who may or may not have been involved in the murder of his cameraman during the war in Bosnia. Neither his unsympathetic editor nor his sympathetic wife are inclined to believe a man plagued by horrible wartime memories.

The next two segments are indictments of the unrelenting careerism and opportunism of war correspondents. In the first, American reporter Lana (Manon Kahle) will stop at nothing to obtain an interview with two US soldiers in Afghanistan who allegedly have burned copies of the Koran. The episode is based on the incident that memorably set off massive protests in 2012. Lana bribes and cajoles anyone and everyone to obtain what will be a major “scoop.”

The two soldiers, more like caged wild animals, are being held in an isolated bunker by the American military. Lana buys her way into their presence. But after the interview, they turn the tables on her. She allows herself to submit to gross humiliations and a near-rape to get the story. Although a revealing sequence, the encounter between Lana and the two offending soldiers takes on a gratuitous character at a certain point. It does, however, depict a demoralized, dehumanized American army.

In the movie’s final chapter, Cal (Raphael von Bargen), once a respected journalist, is tired of waiting for the bombs to begin falling. He even tries to stage young Afghan boys throwing rocks at American soldiers. A heavy drinker, he gets fired. On a drive in the middle of nowhere, a tragic accident takes the life of his driver, which has little impact on the callous reporter.

Eder’s Thank You for Bombing is rightfully contemptuous of the media, but says little or nothing about the war itself. It is critical of ambitious journalists who use and abuse the native population, going so far as to be grateful for the dropping of American bombs that will devastate the country, thus giving them new headlines. Although an angry protest (one assumes against the war), the movie suffers from a lack of serious context.

During the question-and-answer period after the film’s public screening in Toronto, director Eder explained that the work was based on real incidents that she fictionalized to safeguard the identities of the journalists.

African wildlife films at Rotterdam festival

This video is the trailer of the film Africa’s Trees of Life – Sausage Tree.

The organisers of the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam in the Netherlands write about it:

With a new perspective and fresh approach to wildlife filmmaking this film tells the story of the predators and animals that live in Nsefu along Zambia’s Luangwa River. A mother leopard finds the perfect place to ambush her prey. She shares her territory with a pride of lions and their nine cubs. Powerful lionesses hunt down a warthog and a buffalo and introduce the two-month-old cubs to their first solid meal. In the river, hippo bulls fight to protect their part of the river, and hundreds of crocodiles feed on the body of the loser.

The anchor of the film is an iconic tree – the Sausage Tree – easily recognizable within the vast landscape of the South Luangwa Valley. The harsh reality brought on by the winter drought plays out in the shade of the sausage tree which throws a life line to the hippos, giraffes, elephants, antelopes and baboons of the area. Large fruits and crimson flowers keep the herbivores well fed when all other vegetation is withered and dry.

With specialized low light cameras we follow a hippo on its secretive night mission to find the nutritious fallen fruits. Then he pays it forward by dispersing the sausage tree’s seeds in his dung. Cameras in the tree capture the macro insect life that revolves around the flowers. Bees collect pollen and nectar and, at the same time, fertilize the flowers. The same cameras placed on the branches film birds, baboons, vervet monkeys and squirrels drinking the abundant nectar. Below them, puku, impalas and bushbuck eat the fallen flowers.

This video is the film Zakouma.

The Rotterdam festival organisers write about it:

Between the Sahara desert and lush forests in the center of the continent of Africa, there is an intermediate band, made of savanna, thorny scrub, forest gallery and rocky outcrops.

In this region, six months in the year, not a drop of water falls, and animals persist in seeking the last ponds. The other half of the year, this desert place becomes a quagmire and all animals are in a flooded landscape by torrential rains. Few nature places are unspoiled in this region. But there is a real jewel in the heart of the Sahel: Zakouma National Park in Chad!

Films about plants at Rotterdam festival

This 30 April 2014 video is the trailer of the film Baobabs between land and sea.

At the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, there are not only films about animals, but films about plants as well. Like Baobabs between land and sea.

The festival organisers write about this film:

By their sheer size and original shapes, baobabs are among the most remarkable trees on the planet. Relatively unknown, in Madagascar these giants are currently threatened by deforestation. To study them, in the heart of their forests, Cyrille and Wilfrid travel by pirogue, exploring 400 km of wild and isolated coastline in the south-west of Madagascar.

The film chronicles the expedition. It reveals discoveries, meetings, scientific results of the two explorers, baobabs and landscapes that had mostly never been filmed or even photographed! This truly amazing film has its world première at WFFR.

There is also the film The Fir Tree, inspired by a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.

The festival organisers write about it:

As a cone the little fir tree is kidnapped by a mouse and it must take root and grow up far away from its family. The tree is hopeful and has big ambitions. It wants to grow so high that it reaches the sky and becomes a very successful tree.

Through the ‘eyes’ of the tree we see the world passing by. It is impatient and only looks forward to growing up as fast as possible. The tree tries to resist all troubles but one day in December everything changes when a little boy falls in love with the fir tree.

This video is the trailer of the film Once Upon a Tree.

The festival organisers write about it:

Sitting in her favourite oak tree, 11-year old Filine encounters little wonders in the natural world around her. She sees the beauty and dramas of the life in and around a tree most people are not aware of. Then, as trees fall down in the forest, Filine starts to fear that one day she will lose the special oak tree. The rebellious girl makes a plan to stop the tree chopping in the forest. But what if nothing changes anymore?

This video is the film Plants Behaving Badly: Murder and Mayhem; also at the festival. It says about itself:

Two groups of plants exhibit such intriguing behavior that a century and a half ago they attracted the attention of Charles Darwin, and these same plants still fascinate scientists today. Plants Behaving Badly reveals a world of deceit and treachery worthy of any fictional thriller.

Darwin’s book on ‘On The Origin Of Species’ shook the scientific world. Yet it was his next book, devoted entirely to orchids that filled in the gaps and clarified his revolutionary ideas. Orchids have an ethereal beauty, whether growing hundreds of feet up in a misty rainforest or along the verges of busy suburban roads. But their exotic flowers are shaped for just one purpose – to seduce pollinators.

Murder and Mayhem examines unusual traits that some species have evolved, beginning with a look at carnivorous varieties. In Borneo, a type of pitcher plant survives by utilizing a symbiotic relationship with ants.

The festival organisers write about it:

When carnivorous plants were first discovered they caused uproar in the scientific world. The greatest botanist of the 18th century, Carl Linnaeus pronounced the idea that they ate insects blasphemous, that it went against the way God had ordered the world.

More than a century later another great naturalist, Charles Darwin, would prove him wrong. Darwin worked on many kinds of carnivorous plants and what he discovered both astounded and frightened him. Here were plants that behaved like animals! Today we are still finding new surprises in the world of carnivorous plants.

The film travels from the swamps of the southern US, to remote, isolated mountains rising above the rainforests of South America, and from Borneo to South Africa searching out the latest astounding discoveries.

‘James Whistler painting’ at Dutch museum a real Whistler

Symphony in White, girl in muslin dress, by James Whistler

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Singer Museum: work from depot is “absolutely a Whistler”

Today, 12:09

Painstaking research has shown that a controversial work in the Singer Museum is by the 19th century impressionist James Whistler. The work “Symphony in White, Girl in muslin dress” has been for decades in the depot of the museum in Laren because there was doubt about its authenticity.

The Singer Museum presented the unsigned painting from about 1870 as a highlight in the nineteen fifties. But twenty years later, a visiting Whistler expert said he doubted whether it was painted by the artist himself.

The work was written down to “a few thousand guilders,” said the museum director De Lorm. The painting disappeared in the depot, with the vague caption ‘environment of Whistler’.


When De Lorm took office seven years ago as director, the painting aroused his curiosity. He had it subjected to studies with the most modern techniques, and the results were compared with a signed Whistler from the Rijksmuseum.

Infrared photography showing the original sketch

From the painting under the top layer, the pigments of the paint and a list by Whistler himself investigators and the museum director could conclude that the work is “absolutely by Whistler”.

The work will be, along with the Whistler from the Rijksmuseum and other works by the painter, from next week on exhibited in Laren.

Sketch compared to finished painting

Sea also here.

Amphibian, reptile films at Rotterdam festival

This video says about itself:

Adapting Anolis

Short wildlife film documenting the adaptations of Cuba’s Anolis lizards that have allowed them to dominate Cuba‘s jungles.

At the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, there are not only films about birds and mammals, but also the film Adapting Anolis.

The festival organisers write about it:

Cuba’s rainforests are famous for housing the Anolis lizard. There are over 60 different species of Anolis lizard living in Cuba ranging in size from minute to mighty. These lizards have managed to dominate Cuba’s jungle and Adapting Anolis explores the adaptions that have allowed these lizards to become so successful.

There is also the film Pyrenees Island, about a newly discovered amphibian species.

The festival organisers write about it:

In 1990, the discovery of a mysterious frog motivated a Spanish ecologist to begin research on this little amphibian. After three years of extensive studies, Jordi Serra Cobo finally described this new species and named it Rana pyrenaica. Starting in the footsteps of the rare Pyrenean frog, the film invites us into the chaotic world of high mountain torrents.

In this turbulent environment, strange rare beings live alongside the frog. All of them have a complex evolutionary history. All of them are now threatened with extinction. The story tells us not only about the magic of the Pyrenean frog the naturalist discovered, but it also has a lot to teach us about ourselves and the uncertain future that awaits us.

And there is also this Dutch film about frogs at the festival.

Mammal films at Rotterdam festival

This video is called The Arctic Giant. It is the trailer of a film about bowhead whales.

At the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, there will not only be films about birds, but also films about mammals. Like The Arctic Giant.

This video is called Dolphins Spy in the Pod 2014 Season 1 Episode 2.

The festival organisers write about this film:

Using revolutionary wildlife film-making techniques, 13 Spy Camera Creatures including ‘Spy Dolphin’, ‘Spy Nautilus’ and ‘Spy Turtle’ infiltrate the secret underwater world of dolphins. Swimming right alongside some of the most captivating animals on the planet, these new spies reveal spectacular moments from inside the pod.

In this extraordinary undersea voyage into the dolphin’s world, much of the behaviour has never been seen before. Seen through the camera eyes of the different Spy Creatures, this is dolphins up close and irresistible.

This video is the trailer of the film Wild Taiga. It shows wolves, brown bears, and other mammals in Finland and Belarus. Also birds, like pygmy owls.

This video is called Hunt for the Russian Tiger trailer.

The festival organisers write about this film:

Over five years of loneliness and danger one man waited to see a glimpse of Siberian tigers. Their intimate private lives had never been filmed before. Now biologist Chris Morgan reveals an amazing story of endurance in Russia’s wilderness as the first cameraman to record the tigers’ family life. This is the story of a man in search of one of the rarest of big cats.

This video is called Broken Tail trailer. The festival organisers write about this film:

Colin Stafford-Johnson spent almost 600 days filming Broken Tail and his family. Broken Tail was the most flamboyant tiger cub he’d ever seen in Ranthambhore, one of India’s premier wild tiger reserves.

Impossibly cute, he gamboled and posed for Colin’s camera through the first years of his life. But then without warning, Broken Tail abandoned his sanctuary and went on the run – surviving in hills, farmland & scrub until eventually he was killed by a train almost 200 kilometres from home. He was barely three years old.

Why did this young tiger leave Ranthambhore National Park, supposedly one of India’s best-protected tiger reserves? How could he possibly have survived in rural India for perhaps a year? What does his death reveal of the fate of the world’s last tigers? On a spectacular journey across Rajasthan, Colin travels by horseback retracing Broken Tail’s last journey, gathering clues as to his route and his behaviour, asking why he abandoned the park and above all – leading the search for the truth behind the future of the last wild tigers in India.

The story of a charismatic Irish cameraman on the trail of a lost tiger makes Broken Tail a compelling, poignant and important film.

This video is called BLOOD LIONS, OFFICIAL TRAILER 2015.

The festival organisers write about this film:

Breeding lions for slaughter in South Africa is big business. Over 1000 captive-bred, hand-reared lions were killed in the country last year, fueling a multimillion-dollar international industry.

Blood Lions follows acclaimed environmental journalist and safari operator Ian Michler, and Rick Swazey, an American hunter, on their journey to uncover the realities about predator breeding and canned lion hunting.

Michler investigates the breeding farms where lions are hand-reared to be sold to the hunting industry. We witness the results of battery farming that provide stark contrast to lives of wild lions.

Aggressive farmers resent Michler’s questions, but the highly profitable commercialisation of lions is plain to see – cub petting, volunteer recruitment, lion walking, hunting, and the new lion bone trade are all on the increase. It is a story that blows the lid off all the conservation claims made by the breeders and hunters in attempting to justify what they do.

This video is the film, also shown in Rotterdam, Pride. It says about itself:

13 September 2013

Pride looks into the cultural relationship between residents of Gujarat, India and the last remaining population of Asiatic lions in the world. With fewer than 50 lions living in the wild at the turn of the 20th century, rural communities started working with the government to create a haven for this top predator and are successfully securing this animal’s place in the ecosystem. Produced by Roshan Patel.

This video is called BBC Natural World | The Real Jungle Book Bear.

The festival organisers write about this film:

We all know him, we all love him: Baloo – Mowgli’s constant companion from The Jungle Book. Writer Rudyard Kipling and even more the Walt Disney movie made this clumsy fellow world famous.

The role models for Baloo are the Sloth Bears of India – surprisingly little is known about this secretive species. These in our days mostly nocturnal animals have never been portrayed in a natural history program before.

Over a period of three years Oliver Goetzl and Ivo Nörenberg not only were lucky enough to film these elusive creatures at daytime but got also behavior that was even not known to scientists so far – e.g. the mouth feeding of cubs by their mothers. Jungle Book Bear, a BBC film, is narrated by David Attenborough.

This video is called Pandas: The Journey Home Trailer.

The festival organisers write about this film:

This 3D family film will let you fall in love with this iconic, delightful creature and better understand the desperate plight of pandas in the wild. The filmmakers of National Geographic’s Pandas: The Journey Home were granted unprecedented access to the Wolong Panda Center in China to bring to light the extraordinary efforts of the Chinese to secure the panda’s future in the wild.

The film follows the center’s pandas at a significant milestone in their history. After decades of its captive breeding program, the center has hit its target number of 300 giant pandas and must now tackle the challenge of reintroducing breeding populations to the wild. The filmmakers were allowed to film the release of pandas bred in captivity and to follow a group of wild pandas in their mountain habitat.

Meet all of the pandas at the center as they get ready for their new lives, and learn about their fascinating habits as you chuckle at their hijinks. It turns out pandas are as much fun as they are cute, and they love getting the best of their keepers! Experience the dedication of the scientists who work tirelessly on behalf of this amazing animal. And follow one panda in particular, Tao Tao, as he is released into the bamboo forest to begin his adventure living in the wild.

This video is the film A Wild Dogs Tale.

The festival organisers write about this film:

In the heart of Botswana’s Okavango Delta an extraordinary lone African wild dog named Solo is creating a new pack for herself out of an unlikely alliance of hyenas and jackals. She sees this incredible team of predators as not just her hunting partners, but also as her family. She is even taking the lead in raising the offspring of her jackal companions by hunting and bringing back food for them, and by fighting off all threats. A Wild Dog’s Tale follows this true story, featuring amazing animal behaviour never seen before. This National Geographic film is truly amazing.

This video is called The Bat Man of Mexico: Trailer – Natural World – BBC Two

The festival organisers write about this film:

In this BBC film David Attenborough narrates the story of Rodrigo Medellin, Mexico’s very own ‘Bat Man’. Since he first kept vampire bats in his bathroom as a child, Rodrigo has dedicated his life to saving them.

Now Mexico’s most famous export product, tequila, is at stake. Rodrigo’s beloved lesser long-nosed bat is crucial to the liquor – pollinating the plants the drink is made from. To save both, Rodrigo must track the bats’ epic migration across Mexico – braving hurricanes, snakes, Mayan tombs and seas of cockroaches. The threats are very real not only for Rodrigo and the bats, but also for anyone with a taste for tequila.

Films about sparrows and hoopoes at Rotterdam festival

This video, recorded in the USA, says about itself:

Planet Sparrow, New York Segment

4 April 2014

Sparrows in New York City, part of the international documentary about the life of [house] sparrows, directed & produced by Kurt Mayer for ORF, Arte & NDR.

At the Wildlife Film Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, there will be more films about birds. Including Planet Sparrow.

The festival organisers write about it:

A sparrow in the Souk in Cairo: bushy and tousled, he flits between crowded stalls to build his nest and attract a mate. He‘s one of the five heroes of Planet Sparrow. Small and grey-brown, sparrows may seem dull, but this first impression is deceptive; they’re extremely clever. The camera pursues these artists of flight through narrow alleys, revealing their spectacular aerial manoeuvres.

In New York, orphaned sparrow chicks are adopted by new sparrow parents. Sparrows play Russian roulette in Moscow, flying beneath the cars on the busiest roads to save winter energy. In Beijing they’re captured and then released to bring good luck. In Paris, centuries of living with humans have taught them to form teams that steal and share the food of café diners. Planet Sparrow is a documentary about these flying survival artists, their neighbours and adversaries, all filmed from the perspective of the birds!

This video, recorded in Austria, is the film Return of the Hoopoe.

There will be also the film Return of the Hoopoe at the Rotterdam festival.

The organisers write about it:

Across Europe hoopoes are struggling. But amidst the orchards and vineyards of the Wagram region near Vienna they are thriving. This documentary shows how the small bird with the spectacular crown feathers made a comeback in the heart of Europe and how it is dealing with its neighbours: Aesculapian snakes, foxes and falcons.

It is also the story of one man’s dream that came true: Manfred Eckenfellner is the Hoopoe Whisperer, and because of his passion the birds found their way back to the Wagram. Even cultivated landscapes like Wagram’s vineyards offer countless opportunities for wild animals to find new niches. Kestrels use castle towers to breed and bee-eaters live in the same layers of loess vintners grow their grapes on.