Renowned documentary filmmaker John Pilger has selected 26 globally significant documentary films for a film festival that seeks to reveal what is often hidden behind the headlines. Screening at both the MCA in Sydney and Riverside Theatres in Parramatta, The Power of the Documentary: Breaking the Silence film festival brings together works both old and new, but all of which remind us of the impact that visual story-telling can have.
Seeking to highlight the power that this medium has, the films on show include both rare screenings of Pilger’s own work, as well as the best of international documentary filmmakers. For Pilger, documentaries have a particular impact that other forms of non-iction do not.
“The documentary film can bring together numerous forms: the immediacy of journalism, historiography, even music and literature. That gives it a particular power to make sense of things,” said Pilger.
Historical events explored throughout the festival include the Vietnam War, the power of multinationals and the consequences of the nuclear arms race between the great powers. Through an extended engagement with a particular topic, films such as those shown are able to surpass the clichés of the news cycle, an aim that Pilger saw as crucial for this festival.
“These are documentaries that make sense of historical and cultural changes which, left to the day to day media, are distorted or seem beyond our understanding,” noted Pilger.
Indeed, in returning to the classics of the medium, including Pilger’s own The Quiet Mutiny, which chronicles an insurrection within the US army during the Vietnam War, and Alec Morgan’s Lousy Little Sixpence, which exposed the crimes of the Australian government in engendering the Stolen Generation, there has always been a tension between what is reported as fact, and the historical sequence of events. Disagreeing that we live in a time of particular distortion, when compared with other period, Pilger takes issue with the claim that the present is a ‘post truth’ world.
“The very expression [post truth] is a modern cliché that puts us off the scent of what is true and what is not true and disguises the media’s enduring role in denying us certain facts and perspectives: in other words, truth.”
While present technologies may have enabled a greater volume of expression, the control that a small number of platforms have over broadcasting information is to Pilger a threat to the opportunities of the digital age.
“The issue is: are we making the most of this ‘chance of freedom’, as it has been called? Allowing ourselves, especially our personal lives, to be consumed by American multinationals such as Facebook and Twitter is a false freedom,” argued Pilger.
To further delve into these present and enduring issues, screenings will involve addresses and Q&As with selected directors, continuing the conversation after the credits roll.
To view the full program at both venues, and to buy tickets, head over to thepowerofthedocumentary.com.au