The Fourth World War

dir. Big Noise Films

Opens Sat Feb 28

Clinton Street Theater

It is possible to make striking, effective documentary films about political activism. Berlusconi's Mousetrap, or even freaking Bowling For Columbine, work the medium to their advantage, splicing scenes together to create succinct arguments and clear points of view, backed by filmed evidence. The Fourth World War manages to contradict itself in a number of ways, simultaneously suffering from too much subject matter and too little explanation, as well as apparently aiming for two different approaches. Informative and... artsy? The film misses both.

War's Nickelodeon-ish music video moments and the flat, passionless voices of the narrators (one of which is Michael Franti of Spearhead--quelle surprise) are the sorts of things your ethics teacher asked you to ignore and not snigger at before hitting the play button in high school. One might ask you to ignore them now, too. Although the presentation's form is shaky, War's real value comes in the footage itself. Pooled together from independent media sources and activist organizations around the world, it contains documentation from the "front lines" of political actions in Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Iraq, Korea, New York, and elsewhere. Incriminating moments of police brutality are captured, along with demonstrators standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the cameramen.

Unfortunately, there is little sense that the filmmakers had the time and/or resources to do much else with the footage other than present it in a somewhat jumbled package. For one thing, they pack in so much footage that no single focus is ever fleshed out. We are simply confronted with the thesis that we are in the throes of a worldwide conflict between the people and corporations, governments, and trade organizations/agreements. What follows is a chaotic, almost hallucinatory roller coaster through demonstrations around the globe, with the narrators piping in periodically with ghostlike airs of profundity.