'America and Me' David Bradbury’s new doco looks at US’s permanent wars — and Australia’s role

Renowned filmmaker David Bradbury (twice Academy Award nominated) is in Parramatta for his latest documentary, America & Me, which chronicles his time in the US during the 2016 presidential election campaign. 

America & Me screens at the Riverside Theatre on Monday April 30 at 7pm, followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker. There will be another screeing on Thursday, May 3, Gaelic Club in Surry Hills.

The film documents Bradbury’s observations over three months in the US during the lead up to the surprise election of Donald Trump. He chronicles what was happening on the streets of the US; 40 years after Ronald Reagan introduced the economic theories of Milton Friedman and the infamous Chicago Boys to the world.

Bradbury interviews veterans of the US’s failed wars to maintain Empire, speaks with the homeless to find out what life is like on the streets, speaks to a nun who was violated by the military junta in Guatemala under the CIA directions, goes to the US/Mexican border where Trump plans to build the Wall, films out front of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, where deadly drone attacks are ordered up every “Killer Tuesday” by the US President — and ends up at the Standing Rock protest camp on Election Day.

He spoke to Green Left Weekly’s Zebedee Parkes about his latest film and his impressions of an empire in decline.  You can visit www.frontlinefilms.com.au for more information of the film and Bradbury’s work.

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What led you to make America & Me?

I went to the US in August 2015 trying to get some work as a filmmaker, because all doors that pay and feed the family were closed in Australia. ABC and SBS are basically dumbing down and going for ratings. They are appealing for an audience that has more superficial trivia in their heads than interest in what’s happening in the real world. I haven’t had anything on the ABC for a few years.

I thought with everyone overdosing on Netflix drama, that maybe they were also making documentaries. But that proved to be of no avail either.

I could deduce that was going to be the case of the death of the activist documentary — but I couldn’t turn my eyes from seeing all these homeless people in every city we visited: San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, New York and Washington.

This nation claimed it could export its model of democracy and freedom to other countries in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and it couldn’t feed or clothe its own people.

I decided I would make a film about that and I went to a conference of veterans of America’s failed wars in San Francisco early in the piece.

So you travelled across the US interviewing people. Can you talk a bit about that?

I met about 30 homeless people over the course of the documentary. I just went where the wind blew, spent the first couple of weeks in San Diego, made weekend trips up to LA, and went to the national conference of Veterans for Peace.

I interviewed veterans who I met on the streets who were suffering from the effects of PTSD.

I spoke to a Black American who had spent 33 of his 56 years in jail — because his crime was being Black in America, where the incarceration of Black American males is six times that of white American males.

I went to Standing Rock [in North Dakota where Indigenous peoples are leading resisting against an oil pipeline]. That was quite a turning point in the film for me, seeing all these brave non-Indigenous and Native American people that had come from all over America to support the Indigenous struggle against the fossil fuel pipeline from the Canadian border down to North Carolina, where it is going to be shipped overseas for profit.

I put into the film parts of my own Central and South American films I made in the ’80s in Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatamala and Chile.  

Chile was where neoliberalism was fiirst trialled, because they had a very sympathetic fascist police state willing to silence opposition to the policies forced upon the poor and trade unionists.

So I made Chile: Hasta Cuando? It was nominated for an Academy Award and I put part of that into America & Me. North Americans claim that America is theirs, but South Americans and Central Americans aptly see themselves as Americanos.

What sense did you get of the strength of social movements in the US?

I was there over the New Year and Christmas period and I went to eight cities and found a great spirit of resistance from American activists that have taken up the challenge of a Trump administration. They are much more organised than activists here in Australia.

They are going into Congress and doing sit-ins in national offices. I took part in one myself to protest US support for Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Another action was in support of Muslim political prisoners that are still locked away in Guantanamo without trail or charge.

I took part in a demo out the front of a UAE office where they presented a letter to the ambassador asking why there are eight detention centres in the UAE.

There is a former Australian general, Michael Hindmarsh, who is training up Saudi and UAE special forces to be more effective soldiers and killers. He’s doing that in the UAE. He doesn’t get charged with treason for going out and stoking the fires of conflict in the Middle East.

People don’t know about that in Australia — but they do know about that in the US and they are working actively against that.

What is the main message of America & Me

America & Me exposes that America is going to fight perpetual war until the cows come home. They are committed to doing it simply because their economy and society and the wealth of the 1% is based upon perpetual war. That’s the take-home message from the film I want people to take home. That’s what it is about.

It is about [ex-president Dwight] Eisenhower and his closing days in the White House when he tried to warn fellow Americans about the threat of making wars forever. Such wars are to basically defend its territorial and political space, and to keep the war machine churning.

How do you see the film relating to politics in Australia?

There’s a sequence in it about US war games that happen every two years at bases up in Darwin and Pine Gap. What I picked up on my two trips to the States is that America is fighting its wars a lot more by drone and Americans let them get away with it as long as it is not American boys and girls that are being killed in these far flung places.

It uses Pine Gap to intercept phone calls of so-called terrorists. I visited drone bases in the States. They clock on at 9am in the morning and clock off at 5pm in the afternoon and they process all the data from the intercepts made from around the world. They pass the information up the chain of command and then order drone attacks on those poor buggers who might happen to have been a taxi driver who has picked up a Taliban terrorist.

So you’ve got the taxi driver and because school is closed, he has his kids on board the taxi and they get blasted and the kids die and the innocent taxi driver dies. It is not reported back in America because it didn’t involve American soldiers being killed and it is just another statistic of war.

That’s the way America is now fighting its wars and we in Australia are a part of that. America & Me points that out.

[Visit frontlinefilms.com.au for more information of the film and Bradbury’s work.]