Saturday, May 14, 2005

UK film at Cannes says terror fears exaggerated

A British documentary arguing U.S. neo-conservatives have exaggerated the terror threat is set to rock the Cannes Film Festival on Saturday, the way "Fahrenheit 9/11" stirred emotions here a year ago.

"The Power of Nightmares" re-injected politics into the festival that seemed eager to steer clear of controversy this year after American Michael Moore won top honors in 2004 for his film deriding President Bush's response to terror.

At a screening late on Friday ahead of its gala on Saturday, "The Power of Nightmares" by filmmaker and senior BBC producer Adam Curtis kept an audience of journalists and film buyers glued to their seats and taking notes for a full 2-1/2 hours.

The film, a non-competition entry, argues that the fear of terrorism has come to pervade politics in the United States and Britain even though much of that angst is based on carefully nurtured illusions.

It says Bush and U.S. neo-conservatives, as well as British Prime Minister Tony Blair, are exaggerating the terror threat in a manner similar to the way earlier generations of leaders inflated the danger of communism and the Soviet Union.

It also draws especially controversial symmetries between the history of the U.S. movement that led to the neo-cons and the roots of the ideas that led to radical Islamism -- two conservative movements that have shaped geopolitics since 1945.

Curtis's film portrays neo-cons Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and Donald Rumsfeld as counterparts to Osama bin Laden and his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri in the two respective movements.

"During the Cold War conservatives exaggerated the threat of the Soviet Union," the narrator says. "In reality it was collapsing from within. Now they're doing the same with Islamic extremists because it fits the American vision of an epic battle."

ILLUSORY FEAR OF TERROR

In his film, Curtis argues that Bush and Blair have used what he says is the largely illusory fear of terror and hidden webs of organized evil following the September 11, 2001, attacks to reinforce their authority and rally their nations.

In Bush's government, those underlings who put forth the darkest scenarios of the phantom threat have the most influence, says Curtis, who also devotes segments of his film to criticize unquestioning media and zealous security agencies.
He says al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has a far less powerful organization than feared. But he is careful to avoid suggestions that terror attacks won't happen again. Included are experts who dismiss fears of a "dirty bomb" as exaggerated.

"It was an attempt at historical explanation for September 11," Curtis said, describing his film in the Guardian newspaper recently. "Up to this point, nobody had done a proper history of the ideas and groups that have created our modern world."

But Curtis said there were worlds of difference between his film and Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," which won the "Golden Palm" and gave the festival a charged political atmosphere that prompted this year's return to a more conservative program.

"Moore is a political agitprop filmmaker," he said. "I am not. You'd be hard pushed to tell my politics from watching it."

"The Power of Nightmares" was a three-part documentary aired in Britain and won a British film and television industry award (Bafta) this year.

You can watch the documentary here.

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