Yes, The Fourth World War is deliberately inflammatory and often a little bit unfocused in approach, but it’s also one of the most courageously outspoken and creatively made documentaries I’ve seen in a while.
As I’ve said before, I don’t think it incumbent of the documentary form to present an unbiased point of view. Indeed, I’m hard pressed to think of a good documentary that isn’t fueled by the need — be it aesthetic or political — to present its creator’s side of the issue at hand. Even the cinema verite works of D.A. Pennebaker and his co-directors clearly put forth a point of view, if only in the choices made as to what to include and what to leave out — which is, in itself, a kind of commentary. And that’s largely the case with the bulk of War, a film that makes most of its case by allowing the people involved to speak for themselves, while driving home what they’re saying with carefully chosen imagery.
War brings together scenes and people from various places in the world, all having one thing in common: They are involved in one way or another with repression and with war, even when those things don’t necessarily go by that name. Scenes from Mexico, Argentina, Palestine and Korea sit here side by side — all brought forcefully home by being tied to 9/11 and the current U.S. war (here presented as the war on Iraq rather than the war with Iraq, as the U.S. news media has dubbed it). The results are not for those who want to remain insulated from the idea that we are a part of what the film calls the “global conflict.” No, this is a movie that wants to get down into the thick of things, attempting to rally the viewer into a sense of outrage, and to create the desire to do something about what is happening while it is still possible.
At the film’s heart is the idea of achieving global empathy in the face of what might best be called global capitalism. However, War takes perhaps too long to reveal this; and while withholding its aim does afford the documentary a certain dramatic tension that would otherwise be lacking, it also leaves the viewer a bit out at sea. This is all fine, but it tends to make War a little distracting by about halfway through, since it becomes too easy to drift away from the footage to wonder where the whole thing is heading (though that does become clear at film’s end).
In some ways, this makes the often incredibly powerful scenes almost abstract, which is somewhat self-defeating. That said, War is strong, vibrant filmmaking all the while. Even when you feel it wandering, it attains levels of what could be called tongue-tied eloquence — that something important is trying to be said by someone who can’t quite find the right words to express it. That’s not necessarily a failing, since it makes the viewer implicit in the search for that correct phrasing as the film progresses.
Directors Jacqueline Soohen and Richard Rowley evidence a bold visual sense throughout, recognizing the power of their images and the fact that they have a full set of cinematic tools at hand to present them forcefully. By film’s end, you agree with the phrase, “You shall no longer be you, now you are us,” because the pair have made you so much a part of the events on the screen.
The Fourth World War is not perfect, no. In addition to the cited flaws, it’s clearly propagandistic in approach; thus, it probably depends on where your political sympathies lie as to your ultimate reaction to it. As a result, this documentary is either apt to enrage the viewer for the reasons its filmmakers intended, or to do so by presenting a diametrically opposing view to that of its audience. That said, I very much doubt it will leave anyone who sees it indifferent — and that’s a pretty worthwhile accomplishment in itself.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke
The Fine Arts Theatre will run two shows only of The Fourth World War, on Thursday, May 27 at 7 and 9 p.m.