In the past month I have seen a slew of excellent documentaries that I would highly recommend. Just a couple of days ago my husband and I went to see Where to Invade Next, Michael Moore’s latest film. I like Moore’s films despite the gimmicks he uses. In this smart film, he decides to “invade” various countries around the globe in order to steal or lay claim to some of the great ideas they have come up with and bring them back to America where we can implement them. Clearly, he is cherry-picking the best ideas and not addressing some of the bad issues these countries have. But why not take the good and leave the rest behind? I think Moore’s main goal is to educate the American public about solutions to problems we have. We are so insular that we are often ignorant of what some of the options are. For example:
Iceland, where women demanded equal rights to men back in the 70s and got it! They were the first country to have a democratically elected woman as head of state. When banks were failing spectacularly in 2008, the one bank in Iceland that was led and dominated by women did not fail. By law, boards of companies in Iceland must have at least 40% women (and no more than 60% women—they don’t want to make it unfair for men either). They have made real progress in creating equality.
In France, school children have an enviable 3-4 course hot meal at lunch every school day. Lunchtime is understood to be a learning experience too. It is also an equalizer—all French children learn about good food, not just the wealthy ones. The French see it as a right, not a privilege.
German and Italian employees are treated respectfully by their employers. They are paid fairly, get lots of paid vacation, and have a say in the management of the company which the employers understand is necessary to ensuring productivity, harmony and success. The employers do not resent it in the least. And, their productivity is similar to Americans even though we‘re lucky to get 2 weeks paid vacation compared to their 6-8 weeks paid vacation.
Finland used to have a poor educational system, but Finns decided they needed to change that and now they are number one in the world – compared to the U.S. which is 29th. Their children spend less time in school, have almost no homework and they learn much more. It’s amazing! They turned around their schools, why can’t we? And it wasn’t through more testing…
Then there is Slovenia where a university education is free—for everyone! They understand that a well-educated populace is essential to the success and well-being of their society. There are even Americans who have chosen to go to school there and take advantage of this opportunity. Do they speak Slovene? No, but so many of the classes are taught in English that it isn’t a problem.
Or how about Norway where the maximum prison sentence is 21 years, even for murder. Their goal is to rehabilitate, not punish unduly (though the inmates are still punished—they’ve lost their freedom for a set amount of time). How does Norwegian society benefit from this? Well the recidivism is only 20% there compared to 80% here in the good ole U.S. of A. Do we want to create more criminals or reduce criminal behavior? Moore asks where they got this idea and the gentleman he is interviewing points out that it is in our Constitution that we call for no “cruel and unusual punishment.” Huh?
The film is a real eye-opener. I would like to point out that we have only one presidential candidate who has suggested we import some of these very ideas and implement them here—Bernie Sanders. Under the present system we are unlikely to ever get any of the above benefits. We have to demand them. One relatively easy way to start on that path is to vote or caucus for Bernie Sanders. I will be doing my part on March 26th. I hope you will too.
But that isn’t the only documentary I’ve seen and been moved by. I am lucky enough to live in a town which has some amazing people who put on a yearly event called the Bellingham Human Rights Film Festival. All the documentaries are free and they are shown at different venues around town (and a few in the county) to make them accessible to as many people as possible. The hardest part is choosing which ones to go to. I ended up going to the following films:
Dirty Gold War shows the glamorous side of gold and jewelry on the one hand and then the exploitive ways in which gold is mined. No surprise if you are already familiar with the diamond trade and “blood diamonds” coming out of Africa. The gold industry treats the actual workers terribly while simultaneously destroying the environment of these indigenous people so that the land can never be used for anything else. Not to mention that this activity then contributes to climate change. And this is all to get to a metal that 99.9% of the time has no practical use. It’s not edible. Neither can anything necessary be made of it. It is primarily used for decoration of one kind or another. My one complaint with this movie is now that I know this, now what? Besides not buying gold, what should I do? They showed one man who deals only with ethically mined gold, but that is such a small percentage of what is sold as to be barely worth mentioning. Still, I think it was time well-spent watching the film.
The Hand that Feeds tells the story of immigrant workers (some undocumented) at a New York City bakery who ask management to pay them what they are actually owed in wages, to be able to call in sick without retaliation, and to be treated with dignity among other rather reasonable demands. This film shows the odyssey these employees embark upon as they risk their livelihoods. They start out very tentative and become empowered through their actions. The film shows the value of unions (values which Americans, sadly, have seemed to have forgotten.)
The Hunting Ground is an incredibly powerful movie that discusses how prevalent rape is on American college campuses. This was not news to me; however, what was shocking was to learn how complicit the colleges are in covering up the rapes and treating the victims as the problem that must be controlled while letting the perpetrators off scot-free. It is truly sickening. In addition, you see the journey of two young women who were victims as they travel across the country, exposing the extent of the problem even as they do what they can to support other victims, and put pressure on and litigate against the Universities. I would recommend this film to everyone, but especially anyone with a child—son or daughter—who they expect to go to college.
I had seen the film Paper Tigers earlier so I did not need to see it again, but I have been urging people, especially parents and educators, to see it. It tells the story of an alternative high school in Walla Walla, WA which serves highly traumatized kids. The principal completely changes the school from a lock-down mentality to one that understands that these kids have been damaged by circumstances beyond their control which predisposes them to abuse alcohol, drugs, to become pregnant, and to have physical ailments, even including cancer, among other problems. Instead of reacting with more punishments when the kids act out or fail, the teachers and support staff respond with love, understanding, and more support. It shows what can be done to help these kids and set them up for something closer to a normal life. It is very inspiring.
True Cost traces the impact “Fast Fashion” has on the individuals who work to create today’s clothing and the resulting environmental costs. I did not realize that after the energy sector, textiles create the most waste and contribute the most to climate change. Americans consume 400% more clothing today than we used to just 20 years ago! Every year, on average, each American is responsible for 82 lbs of textile waste. Then there are the workers who are the victims as clothing companies move from one country to the next always chasing the cheapest labor they can find and the countries which have the laxest safety laws. (Recall the 1,100 garment workers killed at a Bangladeshi garment factory just 3 years ago). All the inexpensive clothing we now have available to us comes at a terrible price.
If you live in Bellingham, many of these documentaries either are now, or soon will be, available through either the public library or at Western’s library (which regular library patrons can use). The Bellingham Human Rights Festival donates the copies of the movies they buy to the libraries to make them readily available. So please, do yourself a favor, learn something amazing today!