Australia / Canada / Denmark / Finland / Italy / Japan / New Zealand / USSR / Sweden / Norway, 1986 (MIFF 1987)
Director: Peter Watkins
I don't think we can ever say that we are informed rather that we are formed.
Interviewee in The Journey
Peter Watkins new film The Journey, the highlight of the International Forum at this year's Berlin Film Festival, has been reviewed overseas as a film which pioneers new directions in political filmmaking. The Journey is 14 1/2 hours in length and will be shown in three sessions. It is concerned with the extent of public knowledge of the true dimensions of the nuclear arms race, and its economic and human cost. It was made by gathering footage and interviewing "families, couples, discussion groups and collectives" in 13 countries (including Australia), and was largely funded over its four years of production by donations raised by support groups set up by Watkins himself in 15 countries across the globe.
As work evolved on this film Watkins decided to move away from the graphic doco-dramatisation of a fictionalised nuclear attack (by now very much an overworked genre witness The Day After and Threads). He set out to make "not a disaster film that might scare one into passivity but an in-depth film one that calls for action". The processes invoked by The Journey are both catalytic and gently educative: a series of widening encounters and multiple mappings. The film confronts its audience and its interviewees with images, facts and statistics. We as audience are confronted by the interviewees themselves, and their reactions. The interviewees are not members of bureaucratic or professional elites. Many are people living alongside or near establishments of the nuclear industry.
Some of them have been employed by these establishments because these have been growth industries in their regions. Most have left their jobs.
The result is a resonant, intelligent and multi-voiced film pervaded with the beauty of the natural world and its people. It weaves back and forth between a variety of exemplary situations across the globe, asking its audience to accept a different rhythm of film viewing, and a different mental space for absorbing information while slowly constructing an alternative picture of the world. The interviews conducted in the film are open-ended and lead into other issues: racism; the effect of war and of arms production in depleting the human economies in both first and third world countries; education, the media and knowledge; the multiple forms of colonisation that centralised power can create; the position of women; resistance.
At a point about two hours into The Journey, once it has established its own procedures and rhythms, the film turns its attention to the situation of the contemporary media, particularly television's representation of international relations by examining intermittently Canadian and American television's handling of the Reagan-Mulroney "Shamrock Summit" in Montreal in March 1985. Contrasting with the interviews and with a range of alternative footage also included in the film (including footage gathered by the white train monitoring groups in the US), the intermittent appearance of the television material constitutes a sustained demonstration of the ever-widenmg gap between the media's account of the significance of particular world events, and the total world situation. The gap is produced, as Watkins suggests, by the media's effective suppression of a host of highly pertinent comparative statistics, by the way in which governments and the media co-operate in staging media events, and "by the way in which film time and space is divided into a rigid structure and clamped down over the sublet we are watching". It is this rigid time and space that The Journey attempts to avoid.
The circumstances of the production of The Journey are as unusual as the film itself. After attempts by Watkins to raise money for the film via television networks in Britain were broken off in 1982, he mounted an international appeal for support for the film. In 1983, the Swedish Peace and Arbritration Society, based in Stockholm, agreed to become central co-ordinating producers for the film, and by that time Watkins had established support groups in many countries across the globe. Eventually a small number of government funded film organisations also gave support. The National Film Board of Canada provided facilities for the editing of the film and covered laboratory costs for a period of nearly two years; Sovinfilm in Moscow arranged for a camera crew and the finance for the Leningrad interview; the Australian Film Commission invested $25 000 in the film. In Australia support groups in Melbourne and Gippsland raised $75 000 (including $10000 from the People for Nuclear Disarmament Victoria) and made arrangements for the filming of the interviews in the La Trobe Valley. When arrangements for filming the interviews in Tahiti fell through as a result of French intervention, a Melbourne camera crew funded by the Australian support group flew to Tahiti and worked with Watkins filming interviews there. The credits for The Journey, including listing of the support groups, fill two pages of a medium size newspaper.