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Documenting Dissent

Flick Chick

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In these fearful times, opposition to the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has been less subversive than protests against the Vietnam War. The distinctions are strikingly clear in Sir! No Sir! by David Zeiger, who examines the vibrant peace movement launched four decades ago by disaffected GIs. His 86-minute documentary, which won a top prize at Burlington's recent Vermont International Film Festival, is also showing at the Fall Screen Weekend from November 4 through 6 in White River Junction.

"We're interested in current affairs, and in work that touches on ecology and cultural, ethical or moral questions," explains Kris Garnjost, marketing director of White River Indie Films. In hopes of revitalizing the municipality's downtown, the nonprofit organization has begun sponsoring a cinematic showcase twice each year, in the spring and autumn.

"We present a mix of independents that are thought-provoking or have an emotional impact," Garnjost says.

He can count on finding both attributes in Sir! No Sir! The California-based Zeiger begins by focusing on the coffee houses that sprang up around military bases all over America in the 1960s. These venues provided a forum for soldiers to acknowledge their disillusionment about the conflict in Southeast Asia.

From 1968 to 1972 a coffeehouse called the Oleo Strut -- named for the shock absorber in helicopter landing gear -- was located near Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas. Dissidents who gathered there published an underground newspaper, coordinated marches, and staged boycotts of a local clothing store that promoted jingoism.

John Douglas, now a Charlotte resident, shot many of these antiwar activities on behalf of a filmmaking collective called Newsreel. His footage illustrates part of Zeiger's narrative.

The documentary also traces how discontent spread as battlefield casualties mounted. Within a few years, the Nixon administration was prosecuting domestic resisters and dealing with the lethal "fragging" of officers on the frontlines. Bob Hope's USO tours were eclipsed by an entertainment blitz for those who dared to question the quagmire: FTA -- Fuck the Army or, in polite company, Free the Army -- starred Jane Fonda and Donald Sutherland.

Zeiger explodes the myth that hippie demonstrators yelled and spit at returning vets -- disinformation still frequently cited by people who equate criticizing the Iraq war with disrespecting the troops.

The courage to speak out is also integral to Sergio Morkin's Oscar, another award-winning VIFF doc that will unspool at the Fall Screen Weekend. It profiles an Argentinean cab driver who critiques capitalism by transforming Buenos Aires billboards into a unique form of collage art.

The longhaired Oscar Brahim is an anarchic soul with aesthetic inclinations in a society that doesn't appreciate or reward his considerable talent. So, what else is new? He also has a wife and several kids to support. No matter what hardships come along, the guy just can't betray his principles, remaining a foolish but endearingly heroic Don Quixote.

Two VIFF selections that captivated Burlington audiences won't be included in White River Junction's 19-film lineup:

Vito After is Maria Pusateri's seamless look at the post-9/11 troubles of an NYPD detective who happens to be her brother-in-law. Along with fellow cops and firefighters, he never questioned the dangerous rescue efforts or months of sifting through toxic rubble for evidence of the human toll. Serious health problems now plague many of these public servants. Pusateri observes universal truths through the struggle of one individual, and accomplishes this task with sensitivity and, surprisingly, a few good laughs.

There's no comic relief in State of Fear, by Pamela Yates, Paco de Onis and Peter Kinoy. This grim but potent expose charts a recent chapter of Peruvian history, between 1980 and 1992, during which almost 70,000 civilians were killed or "disappeared." The populace was caught between Maoist guerrillas -- called Sendero Luminoso or Shining Path -- and the country's equally brutal army. Life got even worse during the corrupt reign of Alberto Fujimori, who used the threat of terrorism as an excuse to decimate human rights. Fear was the most powerful weapon in his arsenal. Sound familiar?

"Fear is the foundation of most governments," John Adams wrote in 1779. Our second president must have been one savvy dude.

For details about White River Indie Films' Fall Screen Weekend, visit http://www.wrif.org or call 738-5550.

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