by Ben Conner
Approaching the 5th Annual Ellensburg Film Festival’s midpoint, I was treated to a screening of Randy Lobb and Brooks Bergreen’s Waging Peace. A documentary detailing Canada’s involvement in suppressing the Taliban in Afghanistan. The filmmakers try to distinguish themselves from every other post-9/11 war documentary by declaring, “this isn’t Iraq, and these aren’t Americans.” I’ll let the film’s audience discern the legitimacy of this claim for themselves, but I personally found that which was left unsaid by the mercifully sparse narration to be most compelling. For example, Waging Peace provided an in-depth look into the opium trade as a perpetrator of Taliban involvement in Afghanistan. Moreover, the film seems to denounce the media’s typical portrayal of war as a pseudo Apocalypse Now by instead showing the tediousness and monotony of the featured Canadian troop. The audience’s approval of this approach was evidenced by scattered murmurs throughout the screening. We were forced to observe the war for what it really is: a long, arduous journey to freedom for the currently occupied “Talibanistan.”
While this particular war is going on, modern media seems to be having one of their own, with popcorn flicks and infotainment on one side and thought-provoking, truth-seeking gems on the other. I’m happy to say that Waging Peace was certainly a member of the latter group. While the film did well to document Canadian soldiers as heroes, they made their disdain for America’s military habits obvious. They quickly differentiate between engaging in peace-keeping efforts, “fighting wars,” and were clear in asserting that the United States “fights wars.” This bold stance prompted some discussion amongst some of the audience members. Vanessa Williams, director of the preceding short film Hart, praised the film for its honesty, but “wasn’t sure” about its accusations against America’s military operations. She said, “I just feel like there’s more to it.” I, too, felt the film’s very obvious bias as the film continued to reiterate subtle jabs at Americans by saying “[Canadian troops] aren’t here on a pretext” and also expressing Canadians’ characteristic compassion and moral relativism. Powerful images of soldiers using their knives to sharpen local kids’ pencils or gently calming frustrated locals serve to support these claims visually, for which I commend the filmmakers.
As the documentary’s narrative wound down rather inconclusively, considering the Canadian troops never do eradicate the Taliban from Afghanistan, of course, the tone of the film becomes less explanatory and more hopeful. Ellensburg resident, Susan Colwell, noted that the film “obviously came from a desire to get to the heart of things” and added that she was “just really pleased and encouraged” by the film’s final message. The soldiers being documented expressed their optimism for finding the Taliban and freeing the people of Afghanistan from the threat and fear that they currently face. They seemed to genuinely care about the people they were fighting for, which was truly a heartwarming experience to see. The audience appeared satisfied with the film as they left with a general mood of contemplation and serious interest. I, on the other hand, left with a feeling of gratitude towards stimulating films such as Waging Peace, which don’t shy away from provocation but instead embrace diversity of opinion and aim to promote discourse about subjects that affect us all. Films that are characteristic of independent festivals such as this.