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An internal arms race 

Based on an interactive installation and the US police respectively, two documentaries at Bergen International Film Festival deal with the ever-expanding weapons industry. 


The Norwegian-produced Shooting Ourselves is directed by Christine Cynn, who previously collaborated with documentary filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer on the films The Globalization Tapes og T. Shooting Ourselves she has directed alone, but her basic concept has just as certain similarities T, as they both have as a starting point the fact that they are contributing to reconstructing self-experienced events into a kind of movie scenes.

Shooting Ourselves
Directed by Christine Cynn

Don't Resist
Directed and photo: Craig Atkinson

But there the stage settings in T was initiated by Oppenheimer as a means of making the film itself, Cynn in his BIFF current film has been based on an already existing art installation – or a "physical multiplayer game", which is also referred to as. The interactive, political theater Location Rooms takes place in a warehouse in Berlin, where the theater group Rimini Protokoll has allowed a group of people with different connections to armed conflicts to recreate scenes from their lives in 13 different rooms. Shooting Ourselves is both a filming of and a film about this installation, as it follows the participants during the process of recreating their experiences, as well as containing some of the scenes they are filming as part of this project.

People with different ties to armed conflicts recreate scenes from their lives in 13 different rooms.

20 individuals. When you watch the movie, this is not necessarily as confusing as I suspect it sounds, even though it never makes you hero wise to what Location Rooms is for something. In any case, the most important thing seems to be the diverse and at times outrageous stories the participants have to tell. The selected 20 are from many different countries, and have a past as (or still are) among others sniper, child soldier, weapons factory worker, arms dealer, computer hacker, military helicopter pilot and lawyer representing civilian victims of drone attacks – the latter by the same man who participated in Tonje Hessen Scheis documentary Drone.

Through these individuals, the relatively peculiar film attempts to shed light on the weapons industry from all possible sides – at least that's how its project has been described. However, I do not feel that it brings so much new to the square when it comes to the weapons industry itself, but that the film's strength lies rather in communicating the stories and views of people who have very different experiences with war or other weapons deals.

Cynn also uses the warehouse itself as a form of visual, poetic frame, which helps to lift these stories to a more general level. But it should nevertheless be objected that the participants' individual contribution is stronger than the film as a whole, then Shooting Ourselves to a greater extent could have freed itself from the project it portrays, which it also does not fully let us understand.

Police upgrading. Well as much insight into the weapons industry – at least the American one – gets Don't Resist, which also appears at the Bergen International Film Festival. This film, which won the award for Best Documentary at the Tribeca Festival in New York, starts with showing US police meeting with protesters during the riots following the assassination of Michael Brown in Ferguson a couple of years ago. Then, debuting director Craig Atkinson presents a rather fragmentary series of scenes, which nevertheless draw a clear and poignant picture of how this type of killing and other civilian abuse is linked to a completely insane militarization of US police.

Atkinson's documentary approach is observant, but there is still no doubt about the filmmaker's stance on his theme – from the point of view of rebel police high on adrenaline giving each other a kind of "high five" with their shields on the way from the aforementioned meeting with protesters in Ferguson. Even more disturbing are the scenes where author and speaker Dave Grossman talks to a gathering of presumptively responsive policemen. Grossman, "America's number one trainer" for police as well as military, appears with his aggressive masculinity almost like a variant of Tom Cruise's parodic check guru in the feature film Magnolia. But where Cruise's character proclaims to be governed by the male genital organs, the police's clear right to confront violence with "superior" and "rightful" violence is the guiding principle of the popular, non-fictional speaker.

A film that clearly and effectively tells us that the US is in the process of becoming a military state.

Control and monitoring. Grossman is far from the only one who wants police arming, in the statutory absence of military forces even on American soil. Following the attack on September 11, 2001, huge resources have been allocated to equip the police, who are in addition offered widely used and even unused military equipment without charge. This obviously does not save on the gunpowder, for example it emerges in a scene from a Senate hearing that a police district with only one full-time employee has acquired as much as to armored, military vehicles.

The film also hints at how easily these "demilitarized" weapons can get astray, and warns about how new technology – from static analysis tools to fully automatic drones – allows police to mass surveillance and mapping of the population, unless clear limits are set for this through legislation.

Don't Resist is fairly consistent in its "fly on the wall" aesthetic, and director Atkinson – who, like Christine Cynn, photographs herself – occasionally comes impressively close to the situations and people portrayed. The film also contains a few interviews, as well as quite a few text posters with unpleasant facts about escalating militarization. All in all, this formulates a message that is difficult to misunderstand, and consequently one could have omitted the depressing background music that further emphasizes the seriousness of the situation. But this is no significant objection to a movie that clearly and effectively tells us that the US is in the process of becoming a military state, which one should then certainly oppose.

Do Not Resist and Shooting Ourselves appear in U.S. theaters in September and October, respectively.

Aleksander Huser
Aleksander Huser
Huser is a regular film critic in Ny Tid.

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