The battle continues

January 30, 2009

Battle in Seattle

Written and directed by Stuart Townsend

with Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez and Andre Benjamin

available on DVD

Ten years ago the world awoke as thousands of protesters took on the World Trade Organisation's brutal anti-people policies in the streets of Seattle in November 1999.

It was an event that set the scene for the resistance that swept the world in subsequent years, following the institutions of corporate rule wherever they met.

Battle in Seattle encapsulates a small part of the resistance that has continued despite the odds being firmly being against change. The post-Seattle era has been marked by widespread oppression, rightwards-moving world powers and their "war on terror", which has attacked basic civil liberties and challenged many to join the struggle for a just future.

In Stuart Townsend's cinematic depiction of the 1999 protests, Hollywood form and social realism are brought together to provide an enjoyable, but hard-hitting and deeply emotional look into the personal struggles that capture the larger struggle for social justice.

In Battle in Seattle, Townsend has employed a high profile cast including Woody Harrelson, Charlize Theron, Michelle Rodriguez and Andre Benjamin of the band, Outkast — whose names alone are enough to guarantee an audience beyond the usual "activist crowd".

The film provides an insight into the protests against the World Trade Organisation through the eyes of several key participants on both sides of the barricades. The film is able to interweave key movement debates with an ongoing narrative that Seattle is a single step in a wider fight for global justice.

Importantly though, the film introduces several key debates surrounding protest tactics — the role of the media, charities, police and politicians — that are sure to incite debate from viewers.

The film explores the personal journeys of four protesters, while also crossing the barricades to explore the thought processes of a cop, a journalist and politicians. While the film is dramatised and features cinematic norms like romance and chase scenes, these have clearly been used to extend the films appeal without destroying the central message or its ability to take on real-world debates.

The film's seamless integration of protest film footage provides a brutal reality to the proceedings, with cops using brutal tactics usually confined to Third World dictatorships.

The film has opened the door to projects like and several books which aim to record the experiences of the many protesters involved in the historic actions.

Unfortunately, it looks as if Australian cinemas have denied Battle in Seattle, even a nominal art house release, forcing interested people into ordering copies from abroad.

But most importantly Battle of Seattle does not view itself as an end in itself but as a message that is reinforced well into the credits. The struggle begun by those brave protesters in Seattle a decade ago continues long after the cinema screen dims.

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