Anna Broinowski goes on the road for a year with her aunt, Dr Helen Caldicott, the noted anti nuclear activist who has a 30 year track record of being alarmed. Her new book, The New Nuclear Danger, warns the world about America being the most dangerous rogue state, and she spruiks it across the US, from bookshops to tv shows. And as her tour ends, the Iraq crisis begins, and she takes aim at the American administration which, she shots angrily, set out to bomb and kill women and children across Iraq. Her anger is unabated after all these years, and as her niece points out, she doesn't make it easy for herself by being so strident.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
If being anti-nuclear war is being a dissident, all intelligent human beings are dissidents, and Helen Caldicott is just louder and more persistent. The cold war is not over, she claims; the nuclear warheads are all on hair trigger alert on both sides of the world. The US, a rogue state, is militarising space and developing new nukes. It's a military industrial administration, which believes war is good for business. That's why she wrote her latest book The New Nuclear Danger, and then spruiked it around a disinterested America. "I'm saying the same things as [Michael Moore] and he's funnier. So put my book out with his..." she urges one nonplussed bookshop.
Senator Edward Kennedy sees her as a passionate advocate; she is certainly determined, if nothing else. But she hasn't dented the US nuclear arsenal. She's back at Square One, says her niece, Anna Broinowski, in her narration accompanying this profile of her aunt and her actions. Broinowski accompanied Caldicott on her 2002 US jaunt to record this doco, and it's all the fresher for her presence.
Martin Sheen, another activist interviewed for the film, backs her up: the Bush administration is not interested in protest. I can't recall one that was, anywhere in the world, but Caldicott's point is that this one is the most dangerous. At one rally, she brandishes images of Iraqi women and children in her tirade against the invasion of Iraq, intimating that they were the targets of American aggression, in a shamelessly manipulative and fundamentally misleading argument, however well inetnioned.
If you are Caldicott follower, a left wing activist or just a left wing anti-American, you'll rejoice in the doco, which is launched into theatres on June 6, 2004 with an introduction by ABC TV interviewer Andrew Denton (who had interviewed Caldicott on His Enough Rope program - excerpt included) at Sydney's Valhalla cinema.
If you're one of the right wing think tank followers who Caldicott claims dominate the public debate, you will probably warm to interview subject Frank Gaffney, CEO of Centre for Security Policy, who believes that there should be open and public discourse on the subject, but that the discourse be informed - which he claims Caldicott is not.
"We've got to stop killing people," Caldicott tells a crowd at an alternative bookshop. She sees her work as saving the world - largely from men who make money out of making weapons. And she is busy raising money - a million a year, she hopes - from other men (and women) who have made money (presumably by other means) to support her campaign.
So the content of the film is predictable, but at least Broinowski poses some sobering questions about Caldicott's lecturing and hectoring manner, using the same terms as her opponents on the right. But Caldicott doesn't resile from being "shrill" - a term she hates and resents, but she is adamant she has to be forceful. "How else do you get them to drop their psychic dumbing?"
Being a family member, Broinowski gets a refreshing - and refreshingly sceptical - angle on her subject which makes the film more approachable than if it had been made by another filmmaker. It also posits, with revealing accuracy, that it is anger that drives Caldicott - anger being the Caldicott family dynamic. Now that's ironic.
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HELEN'S WAR (PG)
CAST: Featuring Dr Helen Caldicott
NARRATION: Anna Broinowski
PRODUCER: Sonja Armstrong, Anne Pick
DIRECTOR: Anna Broinowski
SCRIPT: Anna Broinowski
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kathryn Milliss, Dennis Beauchamp, Steve Broadhurst
EDITOR: Steve Weslak, Ruth Cullen
MUSIC: Guy Zerafa
PRODUCTION DESIGN: N/a
RUNNING TIME: 52 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Sonja Armstrong Productions
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 6, 2004