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Culture and Arts

Culture Watch

In this issue:

Film Jo Freeman reviews Battle in Seattle, the docudrama about the 1999 WTO protests

If you like protest — personally, politically or just academically — you'll love Battle in Seattle.

 It's the story of the WTO (World Trade Organization) protests which thoroughly disrupted the tolerant, liberal, City of Seattle in 1999.  As one protest organizer says to his fellow prisoners when they are all in jail: Before today no one knew what the WTO was.  Now they still don't know, but at least they know it's bad.
This movie is a docudrama, not a documentary; it blends fact and fiction.  Clearly the chief characters are fictional, but it's hard to tell how much of the story line is fiction. The chief characters are four protest leaders — two of whom fall for each other (got to have a love story) — a police officer and his wife, and a female TV journalist who gives up her news neutrality to side with the protestors.

Cast members include Charlize Theron (longtime partner of actor and first-time director Stuart Townsend), Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta and Connie Nielsen.

Featured are the Mayor (probably not fictional) who thinks he has a deal with the protest leaders to "be gentle on my city".  But he didn't factor in the anarchists, whose concept of non-violence doesn't exclude property damage.  When they start trashing the central city the handcuffs come off the cops and the Governor insists on calling in the National Guard. 
Then the battle really heats up.  As at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago (to which the movie refers) bashing the heads of a lot of innocent bystanders doesn't do much for the city's image.  One such victim is the police officer's wife, who is struck in the belly by a police officer when she tries to get home from her job in a department store, which was closed after the anarchists broke its windows.  She ends up in the hospital with a miscarriage.
There are plenty of good guys in this film, and only a few villains.  The former are real people, such as the representative from medecins sans frontiers who tries to talk to the WTO members about drugs and aids, but can't get an audience because the country representatives can't get to his talk.
The villains are abstractions: the US, the western world, trade policy, etc.  Some of these abstractions have faces, but they don't have major parts.
Also without a major part are the labor unions who were the bulk of the people actually in the streets.  But they were mostly marching, when not getting attacked by the police.  Organized labor was more important in the real event than in this recreation.
There are feats of derring do, most by the protestors, which make for exciting scenes.  They drop signs from construction cranes, vault over police barriers, and face down the cops.  They also get gassed a lot.
Whatever you thought of the real Battle in Seattle back in 1999, the 2008 celluloid version is great entertainment.

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©2008 Jo Freeman for

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