Sunday, February 19, 2006

Well-meaning idiots

Distressing news from the Berlin Film Fest, once a haven for "oppressed East European filmmakers who hailed the event as a mecca for freedom of speech," according to Daily Variety. Now, open expression is taking a backseat to cultural guilt.

Given the seriousness of this fest, almost every filmmaker here, whatever his movie was about, was asked by the press to comment on "the Danish question."

Many of these creative types were earnestly supportive of the irate Muslim population around the world. Even more surprising, few managed to mumble anything in defense of freedom of speech.

Take the remarks of Annette Oleson, a Danish director whose Panorama section film "1:1" deals with the ethnic tensions in a poor neighborhood of the Danish capital. Pic stars a 17-year-old Palestinian immigrant who had never acted before.

Her comments, in functional but not particularly nuanced English, suggested that the Danish paper was wrong to publish such material and should have been "more sensitive." The actor, too, who appeared onstage to have conjured up his outrage out of nowhere, also said he was offended.

And thus it went throughout scattered press events and latenight conversations. I must have missed whoever might have hazarded that there was at least as much cause to demonstrate against beheadings (and their televised images) as there was to protest the lampooning of sacred icons.

Even the accomplished and powerful "Road to Guantanamo" -- which gave a much-needed shot of adrenalin to the fest competition -- predictably depicted the Pakistani populace as gentle souls, and the entire U.S. military as dunderheads, if not outright thugs.

Director Michael Winterbottom may very well be right when it comes to those in charge of the prison at Guantanamo, but somehow the faces of all-smiling Pakistanis/Afghanis is at odds with the images we've been seeing on TV for the last two weeks.

As demonstrated during the Cold War, many artists seem to have a soft spot for ideological frameworks that subvert free speech. Ironic, ignorant and maddening.

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