Outrage Comes with the Territory for free thinkers

(This article originally appeared on the Ottawa Citizen’s website in conjunction with the Free Thinking Film Festival)

Film festival delights in its reputation for airing unorthodox documentaries


OTTAWA — It’s a film festival that seems designed for controversy: The Invisible Men, a documentary about gay Palestinians forced to flee their families and find refuge in Israel; Windfall, an expose of the harmful side effects of wind power; and Occupy Unmasked, a film that purports to reveal the sinister goal of the Occupy movement.

But outrage isn’t new to the Free Thinking Film Festival, which caused a national uproar last year when it showed the film Iranium, a critique of the Iranian government.

The screening – held at the Library and Archives Canada – was cancelled when the Iranian embassy objected and the library started receiving anonymous phone threats. However, it went ahead when Heritage Minister James Moore intervened.

Since then, the society has regularly shown movies that present viewpoints – frequently libertarian, often politically incorrect – that are markedly different from those in the mainstream media.

Thus the opening film of this year’s third annual festival, to be held Nov. 1 through Nov. 4, is Losing Our Sons, a 69-minute documentary, directed by A.R. Maezav, about an American tragedy. In 2009, American soldier Andy Long was shot dead outside a recruiting station in Little Rock, Ark., by a man named Carlos Bledsoe.

Bledsoe was “an all-American kid raised in a loving family,” the movie tells us, but during university he fell under the influence of radical Muslims. He eventually went to Yemen, where he may have been trained in terrorist techniques, and returned to the U.S. with an idea of personal jihad. He had changed his name to Abdulhakim Muhammad and carried with him a list of targets, including U.S. army bases and Jewish leaders.

Losing Our Sons argues that a lax American refugee policy is allowing radical Muslims into the country – many of them in Nashville – and that a politically correct culture refuses to recognize the threat. The fathers of the two men, former U.S. Marine Daris Long and businessman Melvin Bledsoe, talk about how they lost their sons to what they contend is an act of domestic terror.

Walking a fine line between expose and Islamophobia, Losing Our Sons accuses the American government of appeasement, as well as a fear of even uttering the words “violent Islamist extremism.” It veers into other accusations as well, including a personal attack against the religion writer of a Tennessee newspaper that regularly supports Muslim causes.

Losing Our Sons was produced by a group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance (“promoting peaceful coexistence in an ethnically diverse America”) that fights against what it calls “Islamic radicalization.” The film is a call to arms that casts aside the received opinions of liberalism – that religious tolerance is paramount – and demands, in the words of Long’s mother, that the country “wake up.”

The screening will be followed by a talk by Marc Lebuis, whose Montreal-based website Point de Bascule explores Islamist activities in Canada.

Another festival film – far different but almost as difficult to love – is The Red Chapel, a Borat-type comedy in which Danish film director Mads Brügger brings two comedians to North Korea to put on a show that is allegedly part of a cultural exchange. In fact, it is just an excuse to get cameras into the secret country, which Brügger terms the most brutal dictatorship in history.

It’s a strange expedition. The comedians are Simon Jul and Jacob Nos-sell, who were both born in Korea. Jul suffers from cerebral palsy, a condition that would have condemned him to death under the pitiless regime of Kim Jongil. However, his palsied Danish makes it possible for him to say whatever he wants without fear of being understood. “This is so ugly,” he says on a tour of Pyongyang, which Brügger translates to his Korean handlers as, “He’s saying this is a beautiful place.”

The Red Chapel is at its best in its documentary footage of empty streets, immense fascist architecture and hordes of terrorized citizens marching in unison or – in the case of a showcase school they visit – beaming with robotic bonhomie. The Danish variety show, on the other hand, is an absurd and unfunny collection of slapstick skits and fart jokes that is eventually edited by Korean officials to include political undertones.

The tension in the film involves the filmmakers trying to maintain the integrity of their charade as they fake dedication to the North Korean charade, a double twist that eventually detracts from the frightening realities at hand.

The festival also includes rarities such as the first part of Atlas Shrugged, the film version of Ayn Rand’s novel that had a brief release in the U.S., as well as several book releases, including Pierre Des-rochers’s The Locavore’s Dilemma, a critique of the 100-mile diet and organic food.

For more information, visit www. freethinkingfilmfest.ca Tickets range from $12 for individual films ($8 for students) to $75 for a four-day pass ($50 for students).

They are on sale at Compact Music (785 Bank St., 190 Bank St.), Collected Works (1242 Wellington Ave.), and Ottawa Festivals (47 William St.). They will also be on sale at the door and online.

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