FILMS WORTH WATCHING by Robert Alstead
Scene from The World According to Monsanto
Author and former Rolling Stone journalist Hunter S. Thompson
is often remembered as the drug-binged character from the film Fear
and Loathing in Las Vegas, tripping crazily through post-sixties
America. A new documentary, Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter
S. Thompson now reminds us just how astute and politically engaged
an observer he was, particularly before his literary output slowed
in the later decades of his life (1937-2005).
In 1970, Thompson ran a strong campaign for the sheriffs seat
in Aspen under an early environmental, freak party manifesto that
included installing a set of stocks on the courthouse lawn to
punish dishonest dope dealers in a proper, public fashion.
His acerbic reports as an election correspondent on the 1972 presidential
trail provide an unfiltered view of the socio-political upheavals
of the Nixon era. His take on Nixon our Barbie doll
president...he speaks to the werewolf within us is
Director Alex Gibney, who made the excellent Enron: The Smartest
Guys in the Room and recent Oscar winner Taxi to the Dark
Side, captures the wild-at-heart, but caring, spirit of the
man. Drawing on seemingly plentiful archival footage from personal
and television sources, Gibney traces Thompsons life all the
way from childhood through to his ashes being fired from a rocket
Thompsons wives and adult son Juan, along with his friends
and colleagues, reveal a deep appreciation and surprising latitude
for the writers excessiveness. Memorable interviewees include
George McGovern Thompsons favourite for the 1972 presidential
election Jimmy Carter, Rolling Stone publisher Jann
Wenner, artist Ralph Steadman and a surprise fan, Pat Buchanan.
Add Johnny Depp narrating extracts of Thompsons writings with
a sixties soundtrack and you have an entertaining portrait of one
of the most iconic characters of the flower power era.
In The World According to Monsanto (Vancity, August 1-7)
French director Marie-Monique Robin digs into the worlds largest
seed manufacturer. Framed as an investigative story, Robin peels
away the layers of this multi-headed monster, delving into its history
of environmental pollution and the suffering it has caused with
its products, such as PCBs and dioxins in the defoliant Agent Orange.
Most disturbing is the companys amazing success in getting
the first GMO products to the marketplace in spite of widespread
warnings from scientists working for national food regulatory bodies.
I have never seen a situation where one company could have
so much overwhelming influence at the highest levels of regulatory
decision making as the example of Monsanto with its GM food policy
with the government, says one insider.
This is borne out in accounts from scientists who found that, when
they published critical reports of GMOs, their work was rubbished
and they were fired from their jobs. Theres a telling piece
of footage of former vice-president George Bush Sr. where on a tour
of Monsantos labs he promises a smooth path past the regulators
for the companys brand new GMO products. Call me. Were
in the de-reg business, he says. The company comes off as
thoroughly deceitful, bullying and money grabbing, yet very effective
at pursuing its narrow interests.
Guy Maddins My Winnipeg is a surreal and very subjective
documentary about his prairie home. Using his trademark, scratchy
black-and-white film effects and image composites, the director
has created a highly poetic and heartfelt rendering of his snowy,
dreamy prairie home, populated by perpetually sleepwalking residents
and his omniscient mother. Next to this, a travelogue looks like
a dull, lifeless thing.
Also look out for James Marshs popular documentary Man on
Wire about high-wire walker Phillipe Petits daredevil scheme
to make an illegal walk across the twin towers in 1974 (from August
Robert Alstead made the Vancouver-set bicycle documentary You
Never Bike Alone, available on DVD at www.youneverbikealone.com