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'Soldiers of Peace', (dir) Tim Wise

One Tree Films 2008, 85 mins

This upbeat documentary begins with the observation that, despite contrary perceptions, there is actually less armed conflict in the world today than ever before. The film contends that there is a wave of co-operative, nonviolent responses emerging throughout the world to the growing challenges posed by climate change, resource depletion, population growth and economic inequality.

The film surveys some of these initiatives, flitting across the globe from Kenya to Colombia, from the UK to Nigeria, and covering the whole scale of activity from local community projects to global alternative media outfits.

On seeing the list of credits on the DVD case, which include Richard Branson, Bob Geldof and Prince Hassan of Jordan, I didn’t hold out much hope for this film. But it is actually rather good. The high production values combined with a coherent and lively intellectual thread means that it’s a film that will work with almost any audience, e.g. as an entry point into alternative perspectives on geopolitics, or as a shot-in-the-arm (poke-in-the-eye?) for existing world-weary activists. It held my attention for all 85 minutes, and was consistently stimulating and lucid.

However, it’s not all good. For example, in emphasising the positive the film fails to look effectively at the systemic factors driving conflict nor does it touch on political alternatives. It’s painful to hear Richard Branson expounding on how business, guided in its investment decisions by the Global Peace Index, can solve our problems. And Bob Geldof continues to be an annoying talking head, despite saying at least one sensible thing (to my mind) in having a pop at the traditional peace movement with the observation that “too many woolly values get associated with the hard issue of peace”.

Another weakness is the absence of any historical background to practical nonviolence, though other recent films admirably fill this gap, such as A Force More Powerful (York Zimmerman, 2000).

Some of the material is exceptional and potent – the section on Brighton bomber Patrick Magee meeting the daughter of one of his victims stood out for me.

Other high points include the contributions from professor Paul Rogers, economist James Galbraith, and Hans Blix. All-in-all, definitely worth a watch, though I suspect most PN readers will inevitably be frustrated by its failure to follow arguments through to their more radical conclusions.

Topics: Peacemaking | Culture