An interactive installation and the US police force form the basis for two documentaries at the Bergen International Film Festival. Both focus on the ever-expanding weapons industry.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser is a freelance Norwegian film critic and journalist. He holds an MA in Film Studies from the University of Oslo, as well as a Writer-Director Diploma from the London Film Academy.

Norwegian-produced Shooting Ourselves is directed by Christina Cynn, who previously collaborated with documentary maker Joshua Oppenheimer on the films The Globalisation Tapes and The Act of Killing. Cynn directed Shooting Ourselves alone, but at its essence are certain similarities with The Act of Killing. The starting point in both is that the participants reconstruct their own experiences into some sort of film scenes. However, where The Act of Killing staging were initiated by Oppenheimer as a way of creating the entire film, Cynn has, in her current BIFF-offering, based it on a pre-existing art installation – or «physical multi-player game», as it is also called. The interactive, political theatre Situation Rooms takes place in a Berlin warehouse where the theatre group Rimini Protocol allows a group of people with various connections with armed conflict are recreating their lives in 13 different rooms. Shooting Ourselves is both the recording of, and an a film about, this installation, as it follows the participants during the process of recreating their experiences, in addition to containing several scenes they filmed themselves as part of the project.

Shooting Ourselves trailer from Cargo Film & Releasing on Vimeo.

People with various connections with armed conflict are recreating their lives in 13 different rooms.

20 individuals. As you watch the film, this may not be as confusing as I suspect it sounds. Although the film never fully explains what the Situations Rooms are. What seems most important are the various, and at times, upsetting stories as told by the participants. The chosen 20 originate from various countries, and have in their respective pasts been (or still are) a sniper, child soldier, weapons factory worker, weapons trader, data hacker, military helicopter pilot, and a lawyer for civilian drone attack victims. The latter person also featured in Tonje Hessen Scheis’ documentary Drone.

This relatively strange film attempts, through these individuals, to shed light on the weapons industry from every possible angle. At least, that is how the project is described. To me, however, the film does not bring any new information on the weapons industry to the table; instead the strength of the film is how it presents and reflects on the stories and thoughts of these people who have, in vastly differing ways, experienced war or weapons. Cynn uses the warehouse itself as a visual, poetic framework, which helps elevate these reflections on to a more general plateau. It has to be added that the participants’ individual contribution is stronger than the totality of the film, as Shooting Ourselves could have, to a greater extent, freed itself further from the project it describes, which also it also does not really clarify to us, the audience.

Upgrading the Police. Do Not Resist, which also forms part of the Bergen International Film Festival, provides another detailed insight into the weapons industry – at least that in the USA. The film was awarded best documentary at New York’s Tribeca-festival and starts by showing US police meeting protestors during the demonstrations following the murder of Michael Brown in Ferguson a couple of years ago. Thereafter, rookie director Craig Atkinson presents some rather fragmented scenes, which nonetheless describe a clear and discouraging picture of how this type of murder and other civilian mistreatment are connected to an absolutely senseless militarising of the US police force. Atkins’ approach is observing, but there is no doubt about the film maker’s own stance here – from the riot police high on adrenalin «high-fiving» each other with their shields en route from the aforementioned meeting with the Ferguson protestors. Even more worrying is the scene where author and speaker Dave Grossman addresses an audience of presumably responsive police people. Grossman, «America’s number one trainer» of police as well as military, with his aggressive masculinity, appears to be a version of Tom Cruise seduction guru character in the film Magnolia. However, where Cruise’s character says that men should be guided by their sexual organs, the opinion of the popular, non-fictitious speaker seems to be the police’s obvious entitlement to meet violence with «supreme» and «rightful» force.

A film which clearly and efficiently tells how the USA is practically turning into a military state.

Control and surveillance. Grossman is not the only one who wants a police upgrade in the statutory absence of military forces, even on US soil. Following the 09.11 attack in 2001, enormous resources have been allocated to upgrading the police, which includes the offer of much free, second-hand and even brand new military equipment. There is no holding back. For instance, a scene from a senate hearing divulges that a police district with only one full-time employee, have acquired as much as two armoured military vehicles. The film also alludes to how easily these «demilitarised» weapons could go astray, and warns against how new technology – from statistical analysis tools to fully automated drones – are providing the police with the opportunity of massive population surveillance and surveying, unless clear legal boundaries are set out.

Do Not Resist is rather consistent in its «fly-on-the-wall» aesthetics. Director Atkinson – who like Christine Cynn does all her own photography – provides at times an impressively intimate depiction of the situations and its people. In addition, the film features a couple of interviews, and quite a few posters carrying uncomfortable facts about the escalating militarising. Together, this forms a message which is impossible to misunderstand, and of course, the gloomy background track which further emphasises the grim situation could have been omitted. This is not, however, a major objection to a film which clearly and efficiently explains how the USA is practically turning into a military state, something which definitely should be resisted.

Do Not Resist and Shooting Ourselves are screened in US cinemas in September and October respectively.


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