The Guardian

The Guardian October 29, 2003


Culture and Life

by Rob Gowland

Pianos and vox pops

Did you see where Benjamin Treuhaft, a piano tuner in the US, 
is being pursued by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets 
Control (OFAC) because in 1994 he went to Cuba and tuned pianos 
there  for US$1 each?

OFAC say Treuhaft violated the Trading With The Enemy Act and 
have been demanding that he cough up US$10,000 (they must figure 
he tuned an awful lot of pianos)! "More recently", he says, "OFAC 
sent me a Cease and Desist letter threatening US$1.3 million in 
fines and ten years in jail."

The US Government would like you to believe that all US citizens 
support the campaign against Cuba, but in fact lots of US people 
think the country's' anti-Cuba policy is for the birds. Treuhaft 
is one of them.

He is one of the organisers of a project with the catchy title 
Send A Piana To Havana. "We tuners collect used pianos for Cuba, 
visit the Island en masse to fix them, and help run our Newton 
Hunt Workshop/School Of Tuning And Instrument Repair at The 
National School Of Music in Havana."

To show how absurd the US policy is, while the Treasury is 
hounding Treuhaft for "trading with the enemy" in 1994, the 
following year he received permission from the US Commerce 
Department to ship to Cuba the hundreds of pianos donated by US 
citizens to Send A Piana To Havana!

So far the US tuners have delivered 210 pianos to "the 90 
conservatories that dot that musical Island". And they have 
another 30 "waiting to go".

But the US Government is well aware of the threat posed to 
American values and the democratic way of life by tuned pianos 
just over the water in Cuba. So this year OFAC refused to renew 
the US piano tuners' license to travel to Cuba to tune the pianos 
Americans donated.

"This makes no sense so I'm going anyway", said Treuhaft in a 
letter to the Cuba Desk of the US State Department earlier this 
month. And he went.

No doubt there will be further repercussions and efforts to stop 
Benjamin Treuhaft and his colleagues from continuing their simple 
humanitarian work. But every time US government officials try to 
stymie such actions and to silence the "perpetrators", they 
create more rebels against US policy  in the US itself.

* * *
Speaking of rebels
Rebels against Australia's slavish support of US aggression are to be seen aplenty in the new video from Sydney production unit Radical Vision, War is so 20th Century. Formed on the initiative of several CPA members in Sydney, Radical Vision comprises a fluid group of currently eight to ten CPA and CYA members, supporters and friends. They began by filming a local peace march early this year in the Sydney suburb of Auburn. Emboldened, they went on to film other peace marches and rallies in Sydney, covering events as diverse as the Books Not Bombs schoolkids' strike and the Palm Sunday march. The peace rallies and marches from roughly the first half of the year have now been edited down to a half hour film which was premiered at a function in the CPA headquarters immediately following the successful anti-Bush rally on October 19. The title, War is so 20th Century, was taken from a sign carried prominently by a school student in one sequence. For the film's emphasis is on the enthusiastic participation by young people in the rallies and marches and their sincere and strongly felt opposition to war. The informative commentary is by Darryl Mason, but he leaves plenty of space for the numerous "vox pops", in which participants in the marches and rallies speak directly to camera about why they are there. Fluent, sometimes witty, always passionate, these are the highlight of the film. Set to a funky soundtrack, the film has been skilfully and professionally edited by Peter Lamont, who has honed what must have been a very large amount of raw footage down to tight, dynamic and punchy half hour or so. Lamont and Andrew Lund, who worked on the music track, have given the film at times the pace and the feel of a music video, but one with substance. The reaction of the audience at the first showing was summed up by one young woman's comment: "It's so empowering!" Audience members generally agreed that we need to make copies available on tape and DVD as soon as possible. Enquiries from CPA Branches, peace groups and student organisations in other States and country NSW are invited. I had seen some of the raw footage from the first Auburn peace march and I thought the members of the unit, especially Peter Lamont, did a splendid job on a very tight budget to make a very watchable, enjoyable and politically positive film. Indeed, bringing out the positive aspect of the rallies and marches was one of the unit's aims in making the film. As unit member Edward Mason said at the screening, the mass media give scant coverage to these events and reserve what screen time they do give them for scenes of scuffles or abuse, especially ones involving the police. But as the film showed, the people in the rallies, especially the young people, are filled with optimism and high ideals, are not prepared to be silenced and are not afraid to stand up for what is right. The effect is uplifting, and for the jaded activist a good source for recharging your batteries. The unit filmed the anti-Bush rally on October 19 and the rally and march on October 22 in Sydney. These will appear in their next film. I for one can hardly wait.

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