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CBC: Why We Fight

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The producers list for “Why We Fight,” the Peabody-winning documentary on the United States military-industrial complex, runs to more than a dozen organizations, from the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. to the United Kingdom’s BBC, Estonia’s ETV and numerous European broadcasters. Conspicuously absent are any U.S. names (although the Sundance Institute did provide completion funding for the film, which cost about $1.2 million to make).
The film takes as its starting point the 1961 farewell speech by two-term Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower, in which he tried to balance the need to defend the country with the “grave implications” attendant in the creation of a standing military-industrial apparatus and the “potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power.” But “Why We Fight” writer and director Eugene Jarecki said a serious examination of Eisenhower and the aftermath of his speech proved “too radical” for potential American funders for his film, noting that, aside from Sundance, “I could not raise a dollar in the U.S.”
The Peabody judges called the film, which also won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2005 Sundance Film Festival, “masterful simply as filmmaking” and “disturbing as connect-the-dot reportage.” Through interviews with policymakers, including Sen. John McCain and former CIA Director Chalmers Johnson, behind-the-scenes think tank experts, Eisenhower’s descendants and less well-known soldiers on the front lines, it traces a history of American interventionism worldwide through Vietnam to the war in Iraq.
Mr. Jarecki came across the Eisenhower speech while making his 2002 film “The Trials of Henry Kissinger,” in which the diplomat was subjected to a trial-by-documentary for crimes against humanity. In “Why We Fight”—which takes its name from a series of World War II documentaries by Frank Capra-Mr. Jarecki wanted not to examine a single person but to “look much more deeply at the system.” President Eisenhower, he said, was “expressing love for the system, expressing hope for the system by looking critically at it,” an approach Mr. Jarecki finds “refreshing at a time when we seem unable to take any criticism” as a country.
“Connect the dots,” Mr. Jarecki noted, “has become a phrase all too often associated with conspiracy theorists,” but he prefers to think of it as old-fashioned detective work, or the skills of a doctor who listens to a list of symptoms and deciphers the cause. Despite a lack of inclination toward transparency on the part of policymakers, he said, “The dots are there for us to connect.”
Many critics see in the film an indictment of the Bush administration. Mr. Jarecki said he didn’t conceive of the film as partisan, noting both Republican and Democratic elected officials are vulnerable to the need for vast sums of corporate money to get elected-exposing a flaw, unforeseen by the framers of the Constitution, in that document’s elaborate system of checks and balances. Calling it a “large political social crisis,” he said his goal was to “let viewers take the information and go where they wanted.”
That Mr. Jarecki was coming off another well-received, if controversial, documentary, makes his challenges in financing “Why We Fight” all the more surprising. He sees them as a reflection on the “collapse of standards” in U.S. media today, and an indication of the extent to which mainstream media outlets have themselves become beholden to corporate interests and thus unwilling to examine the system in which they function.
Documentary makers have been called on to fill that void, he said, bringing more attention to their work and personal fulfillment for filmmakers, but also bringing increased scrutiny of their methods.
Mr. Jarecki, who is 37, said his next project is “top-secret.” But he allowed that it will be a follow-up to Vice President Al Gore’s global-warming film “An Inconvenient Truth.” It is not scheduled to appear until sometime in early 2009.

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