Propaganda, racism and censorship at play over the Woods Hole Cinema Politica fracas

0 Posted by - July 15, 2010 - Blog, Editorial, Policy, Screen

Dennis, Massachusetts (40 minutes from Woods Hole) resident David MacGuire organizes screenings of Al-Qaeda training videos that help to rally the community against non-Muslims in a vicious orgy of pro-terrorism, hatred and violence.

The above statement is pure fabrication. I don’t know MacGuire personally, and don’t know (or care) what he does in his free time. But I do know that he is prone to constructing a fictitious reality about a documentary group I am connected with in Woods Hole called Cinema Politica. MacGuire’s recent opinion piece in the Cape Cod Times is a propagandistic piece of fear-mongering that has unfortunately entered the public sphere with the unfortunate headline “Cinema Politica promotes anti-Semitism and hatred.” His opinion piece was published days after an editorial by the newspaper entitled, “Resume the film series,” in response to the recent decision by the Woods Hole Community Association to revoke Cinema Politica Woods Hole’s privileges to show films, based on complaints from community members after a screening of the documentary Occupation 101.

As an editor at Art Threat, a blog about the politics of art, I thought this space was an apt one in which to respond as the founder and programmer of Cinema Politica.

MacGuire, whom I’m told by local organizers has never been seen in attendance at a Woods Hole Cinema Politica screening, writes:

For over a year and a half now, Cinema Politica has been screening slanted, anti-Sem-tic [sic], pro-terror films funded by Arab nationalist and Muslim groups and, in several cases, by the government of Saudi Arabia. The only things eye-opening about these films are the strongly anti-American and blatantly anti-Semitic themes. These films have helped create a community bound together by hatred.

Since joining the Cinema Politica Network in November 2008, CPWH has had 57 screenings. The documentaries have focused on the following issues: sharks, prohibition, farming, copyright, global warming, Burma, Iceland, Vandana Shiva, Wangari Maathai, war in Iraq, war in Afghanistan, water, the tar sands in Alberta, homelessness, Haiti, Coca-Cola, globalization, China, malls, American Indians, philosophy, sugarcane labour, the gay Muslim diaspora, community gardens, corn, Brazil, Cuba, oil, sustainable buildings, GMOs, feminism in Liberia, poverty, Mardi Gras and labour exploitation, the Minute Men and immigration, Bolivia, Tanzania and art therapy.

Of the 57+ documentaries screened, five have focused on Palestine/Israel. That’s less than one in ten screenings. Those five documentaries are: Gaza Strip (by award-winning American filmmaker James Longley, about the daily life of children in Gaza); Territories (by Canadian filmmaker Mary Ellen Davis, about internationally renowned Canadian Magnum photographer Larry Towell, who ventures to the Middle East to photograph people and the landscape); Peace, Propaganda and the Promised Land: US Media and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (by American educators and media makers Sut Jhally and Bathsheba Ratzkoff, about representations of the ongoing conflict in US mainstream media); Leila Khaled: Hijacker (by Swedish filmmaker Lina Makboul, about the infamous female Palestinian hijacker whom Makboul tracks down and critically interrogates for her actions); and finally Occupation 101: Voices of the Silenced Majority (by American brothers Sufyan Omeish and Abdallah Omeish, the Beverly Hills Film Festival Golden Palm winner looks at the historical root causes of the conflict).

Not one of these films—and none of the films in the Cinema Politica library for that matter—are “pro-terror,” “anti-Semitic,” or funded by the government of Saudi Arabia. As anyone can find out for themselves, these films were all made by Westerners and were self-funded or received financing from bureaucracies like the Swedish Film Institute. And if MacGuire and other alarmists took the time to watch these films, they would see that they are not racist or anti-Israeli, but films expressing critical analysis of Israel’s illegal occupation of another sovereign state’s lands and the concomitant human rights violations that continue to this day against the Palestinian people.

But those are facts, and therefore are of little to no use to MacGuire and those who seek to move the public’s attention away from the facts of occupation and colonization and toward fictional stories of terrorism and hatred. Indeed, a “community of hatred” as he puts it.

These are the subtle and nuanced ways in which propaganda works. A stew of ignorance, fear and lies leads to censorship and the repression of “other truths.” Yes these films are biased – they’re documentaries, and we’ve come to expect that from the genre! But as opinionated pieces of audio-visual storytelling, they are critical interventions into a public sphere saturated with corporate and mainstream media that seldom if ever report fairly and accurately on the conflict. These documentaries provide some balance to a skewed mediascape where pro-Israeli narratives flourish and where racist and reductive depictions of Palestinians abound.

Sadly, unlike the corporate and mainstream media, these films reach a small percentage of people, and censoring their screenings to Woods Hole residents who make up their own minds and attend screenings of their own volition is another point scored for the side of oppression.

Critical responses to propaganda take up more space, as this piece is doing now, and that’s what makes opinion pieces like MacGuire’s and others who have made up similar nonsense about Cinema Politica (and other critical arts) so insidious: anybody can write a short inflammatory (and defamatory) bit of scribble and have it published, so long as they repeat the words terrorism and anti-Semitic enough times. But at the end of the day it is all complete fabrication – lies built on top of lies, born out of complete and utter ignorance fuelled by ideology or a completely ill-informed worldview.

Why is it that of the other 52 documentaries Woods Hole Cinema Politica screened, of which many were very controversial and certainly biased, never an alarm has sounded from the public?

The answer, sadly, is that decades of representation of this conflict in mainstream media and therefore Western culture has created a situation where critical analysis of the illegal occupation and political solidarity with the oppressed is vilified and twisted into “Anti-Semitism.” And who wants to be an Anti-Semite?

Racism is a real issue that is done a disservice by people who actually deploy racism in order to decry racism (a fallacy that indicates the level of vehemence and detestation at play). Here’s another passage from MacGuire:

Anybody with a knowledge of history knows these films are little more than twisted lies designed to alienate Americans from a friendly, democratic nation and to alter our perceptions of a loathsome, evil culture that degrades women and forces them to wear bags over their heads, like the helpless captives they truly are.

An “evil culture.” The only evil here is the manipulation of truth into a monstrous propaganda that serves to silence critical voices and make those working toward peace and equality into fictional terrorists and racists.

There is racism at play here, and it is certainly not in the Cinema Politica films, nor in the group working tirelessly to screen them.

[Photo at top taken by Larry Towell, courtesy peripheria.ca ]

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