Robert Greenwald: Afghanistan's sharpest shooter

September 13, 2009

This month, Green Left Weekly is hosting free preview screenings of Rethink Afghanistan, a new film about the US-led war in Afghanistan. Mat Ward spoke to its director, Robert Greenwald, who has made more than 50 films, including Iraq For Sale, Wal-Mart and Outfoxed.

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Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid says in his book Taliban that Afghanistan is the ultimate strategic prize in the Middle East. It is useful to the US in offering a route from the oil - and gas-rich former Soviet states to the Arabian Sea, bypassing Iran. Is this the main reason the US is in Afghanistan?

The official stated reason the United States is in Afghanistan is to fight Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. However, we are always discovering new information about the inconsistencies and details of our occupation.

Today, we found out that we've set up another military base in Afghanistan to launch drones. We will never know the full story about the motivation or reasons for this war, or anything driven by the military industrial complex, but it is our responsibility to always find out as much as we can to reveal more of the truth.

Adam Curtis's film The Power of Nightmares says politicians have realised that they can no longer sell voters idealistic dreams; they now have to sell them the idea that they are protecting them from nightmares. To what extent is this true for the war in Afghanistan?

The war in Afghanistan is totally based taking advantage of public fear and stirring those sentiments.

Fear is a very powerful tool in affecting public opinion and policy, and today's media especially makes exceptional use of it.

Your film Outfoxed addressed Rupert Murdoch's war on journalism. Murdoch's News Corporation owns seven of the 12 capital city and daily newspapers in Australia. A survey this year showed that, despite the lack of terrorism incidents in Australia, our perception of the likelihood of a terrorist attack is higher than comparable Western countries. The Australian government exploits this fear in sending more troops to Afghanistan. What would your message to the Australian people be?

My advice to the Australian people would be to always use your eyes, ears, and common sense to understand the truth and reality of the situation.

Yes, there will always be criminals, people who can bring you harm. But we cannot and do not live our lives constantly worrying about these particular people, just as we do not live our lives constantly worrying about disasters or being struck by lightning.

In the same way, we have to rely on our common sense and not let all of our attention and thoughts be monopolised by these criminal terrorists.

The US war budget is about as big as that of the rest of the world put together. Noam Chomsky recently said: "It's like the old joke, if you have a hammer, everything you see is a nail." Is the US likely to ever stop using that hammer?

What we are trying to do at Brave New Films is inform people so they can think critically about the reasons and motives behind the US military policies. It is unlikely the US will ever fully stop utilising its military to push its policies around the world, but it is our responsibility to always question these actions.

By taking a good look at who our military affects, who profits from these campaigns, and the true cost of war (in terms of money, international reputation, and lives), we can at least try to be critical and wary of "using the hammer".

You encouraged people to copy your film Iraq For Sale and distribute it among friends. You have released Rethink Afghanistan for free online. These films can't be cheap to make. How do you expect to break even?

The most important part of what we do is inform people about these issues, and that is worth any cost.

However, we do receive a lot of financial support. We get a lot of our funding through our "Producers Program". We have a very large list of folks who sign up on an email list to receive updates, and they help fund a lot of our projects through small direct online contributions.

We also work with different organisations, depending on the specific issue we're tackling.

Additionally, we do a lot of work with foundations. Funding is always a challenge and we spend lots of time working to fundraise for our work. Additionally, we would love the help and support from our friends from all over the world!

You encourage ordinary people to make films and send them in to your film company, Brave New Films. What sort of feedback have you had?

We have had a great response from all our viewers and supporters, and we have an endless amount of suggestions coming in about issues we should cover. We try to keep our eyes and ears open for all of these ideas, as this dialogue is what keeps our material relevant and critical.

[See our online calendar for GLW screenings of Rethink Afghanistan. The film will be released in full on DVD in October. See]

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