Socialist Worker

Sleepers are reawakening

by Martin Smith
Issue No. 1761

'FOR THE past ten to 15 years we've been asleep. I hope we are once again awakening.' These are the words of Gillo Pontecorvo, who at the age of 82 was one of the oldest protesters in Genoa.

But he is also better known as one of the greatest Marxist film directors, responsible for such classics as The Battle of Algiers, Burn! and Kapo. Pontecorvo was one of 35 of Italy's most talented film directors who came together at Genoa to make a documentary about the anti-capitalist protests against the G8 summit.

Pontecorvo's agenda was clear when he told reporters, 'It's our duty to roll up our sleeves and work with others on such an important occasion, when the quality of life of the future is being decided.' The producers of the documentary expect the film to be broadcast on TV across Europe next year. Pontecorvo is a fascinating character.

He joined the Italian Communist Party (PCI) in 1941 and became a commander in the resistance movement against fascism. Any illusions he had in Stalinism were destroyed when Russia invaded Hungary in 1956.

He left the PCI and became an independent socialist, and threw his lot in with the national independence movements that swept the world in the 1950s and 60s. He even ran money that had been collected for the FLN, the Algerian liberation movement, between France and Switzerland.

It was this movement which inspired his greatest film, The Battle of Algiers. The Algerian war for independence was one of the most hard fought. The film reconstructs the main political events in the city of Algiers between 1954 and 1957.

Shot in black and white, it feels like you are watching a documentary. The film, shows the brutality of French imperialism, with harrowing scenes of torture and execution.

Out of a population of nine million, over one million would die. However, it is in the final scenes of the film, during the uprising in Algiers, that Pontecorvo shows the power of mass action. He takes the camera into the crowd so that the audience feel they are involved.

The narrow streets filled with teargas, the tanks trundling down the street, and the voice of the radio commentator combined with the cries of the demonstrators make you believe you are witnessing the event. It was such a powerful film the French government banned it.

Every socialist should see it. Fortunately the film is widely available to buy on DVD and video. You can even rent it at your local Blockbuster. After The Battle of Algiers Pontecorvo made Burn! (Queimada!), a brilliant film about a slave rebellion in a Portuguese colony in the 18th century. It stars Marlon Brando. But then his films dried up.

Over the last 20 years Pontecorvo has failed to complete a film. In an interview he gave to the film magazine Sight and Sound he explained that his disillusion with the governments of the newly liberated nations left him demoralised. He added, 'Nothing inspires me any more!' He has spent those years making TV commercials and organising the Venice Film Festival.

The magnificent protest at Genoa has re-ignited the passions of one of the greatest film-makers. This is just a very small indicator of the power and depth of the anti-capitalist movement that is sweeping the world.

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Sat 11 Aug 2001, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1761
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