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Issue #1738      July 6, 2016

“Shadow World” exposes global weapons industry

A new film about the world arms trade merges two artistic styles and creates a political cinematic masterpiece. Shadow World is inspired by a book written by a former ANC member of Parliament and South African author Andrew Feinstein. His earlier provocative study, After the Party, is an analysis of the struggles and corruption within the post-Mandela ANC and considered one of the most important recent books from South Africa. Now he continues his probing into another little known world – the global arms trade.

In order to bring this timely book to a wider market, the talents of an experimental Belgian filmmaker by the name of Johan Grimonprez were enlisted. He is known for his two previous acclaimed cinematic exercises – Dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y – about aeroplane hijackings, and Double Take which is a clever study of Alfred Hitchcock and the Cold War period. Feinstein noted “we didn’t want a conventional film, but something inspired by the book rather than based on it. We wanted a director who would understand the systemic nature of the trade. Johan became obsessed by it and now probably knows more about it than I do. Now it enables us to speak to a far wider range of audience by going to a non-mainstream director. The result is beautiful and important.”

The book is a shocking exposé based on 10 years of research and covers the entire span of time since global arms trading began. Obviously only part of the book could be used for the film as Grimonprez stated his biggest challenge was “converting a large book into a cinematic treatment ... It’s a subject that wants to remain in the shadows.” Facts revealed in the film are devastating while presented in a creative artistic style. This tension between art v politics was addressed by the director in the Q&A, explaining, “Both are very necessary, because without the poetry and emotions, how far do you get? Because that is why we do it. It’s crucial, and also a challenge, to tell this story in an artful way so you feel and get moved by it.”

The powerful narration was supplied by famed Uruguayan writer, Eduardo Galeano who passed away during the making of the film. He reads his poetry from the heart which adds a profound meaning to the beautiful production which ironically is about one of the most ugly subjects in the world.

When asked what change can this film make, the director mused, “There are two sisters, anger and courage.” People will watch this and know the system is broken. “Like the Iraqi journalist Muntazar al Zaidi who threw his shoes in the direction of President Bush Jr’s head during a press conference, he explains in the film that it was not just a shoe, but this shoe had a mouth. It created a voice, and this is what the film hopefully does, give a voice to the anger and the hope.”

Feinstein adds, “Whether you drank the Kool Aid or not, the system is broken. Many problems are in the richest country in the world. Ideally the solution is we need systemic change, the only real change. But there are motions that create incremental change. Today there are bombings in Yemen with weapons made in the US. Why aren’t we out in the street protesting this?”

Bitter Lake, a stunning film by British documentarist, Adam Curtis, addresses some of the similar subjects as Shadow World, especially the Saudi connection. Referring to one of the main themes in both films, director Grimonprez says, “one of our villains is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the US, which we trace from the ‘80s up to today and how he was implicated in corruption schemes within the global arms trade involving Saudi Arabia but also Great Britain, and how this ultimately also affects foreign policy. The tragic situation in Yemen today is very much a result of this weapons trade.” He adds, “of course Shadow World portrays not only the Saudi situation, but how the corruption in the arms trade is pervasive worldwide, and how, eg Great Britain, Israel, South Africa, the Gulf Cooperation Council Nations, etc are all very much implicated as well.”

It’s not surprising that Danny Glover, who is known for his strong support of films about social justice, is the executive producer on the film which will be released by ITVS in the fall. Asked what can we do to impact this horrific reality, the writer Feinstein offered, “Many things. Don’t pay taxes to fund Lockheed Martin. Take a stand as active citizens. Don’t vote for candidates who want this to continue. As I stand here the former Senator of New York has received more money from the military industrial complex than any other candidate in all the parties. Get into existing campaigns to fight this.”

Check out this profoundly effective and haunting work of art about one of the most important and secret subjects in international relations. And you can learn more about the film at

People’s World

Next article – Dingo

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