Archive for September 22nd, 2006|Daily archive page

Stealing a Nation

Diego Garcia

Went to a screening last night of John Pilger’s Stealing a Nation (2004) as part of the John Pilger Festival at The Barbican – a treat for U who’s a big admirer of Pilger’s work.

The film was typical Pilger – a well constructed exposition of the plight of the Chagos Islanders and an illustration of how the powerful treat the ordinary man. In the 60s the British turfed the population off the island of Diego Garcia in the Chagos Island group (south of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean) – a population dating back three or four generations to the 18th century – in order to enable the USA to build a strategic military base there. The islanders were dumped in the main town of Mauritius where they found it practically impossible to fit in and in effect a population of 2,000 pined, declined and gave in to what they call Sadness. For over two decades they have been fighting to expose the British callousness and cover-up and despite conclusive victories in the courts they are still being kept in sad exile.

After the screening we heard from Olivier Bancoult, who is leading the islanders’ struggle for justice, driven by his indefatigable mother and her generation of women, well represented in Stealing a Nation; the British lawyer featured in the film who is championing the case and the barrister, Maya Lester, a friend of my best friend; and the producer Chris Martin (not of Coldplay fame). Had a chat with Chris after the discussion about the impact of the decline of ITV on documentary making and the opportunities of interactive networked media to build up the audience and impact of this kind of campaigning film.

The need to be in touch with your native soil is critical for Happiness and you could really feel the pain of seperation in the film. The saddest thing is you can see how the British government can string this out for a few more years and watch the native Chagosians die off, putting significantly more distance between the islanders and their motherland.

 You can find out about this appalling story at the UK Chagos Support Association website.

Touched by Fire

Van Gogh self-portrait

Stephen Fry’s programme the other evening on BBC2 on bipolarity/manic depression (The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive) was astoundingly honest and brave – both on his part and pretty much all of the contributors.

There were some jolting moments – the revelation the mild mannered egg-head had been in prison, the notion of taking coke to calm down, his reaction to hearing he was way up there on the bipolar scale of the Cardiff research doctor – and there were moments of lightness – the picture of the art deco bar with the barmen in white jackets which he saw as a delicious nut house.

What was the heart of the programme was the question of whether the various suffers featured would erase the condition from their life if they could. All but one opted to keep it in their lives – as the ex-Royal Navy commander said – the suffering is worth it “when you’ve walked with angels”.

I’ve always been impressed by how people manage to live with such suffering and depression. I remember as a child listening to my old colleague Phillip Hodson in the dark on his LBC radio phone-in. Phillip would quickly establish what the Real Problem was (as opposed to what they started talking about) and it was humbling to hear how a woman managed to live day-to-day with extreme agrophobia or whatever the huge boulder the wretched caller was rolling up the hill day after day after day…

It’s truly a wonder so few of us take an early bow. But on the other hand, we have the miracle of birth and parenthood, the power of Love, and the Simple Pleasures of life to balance that out. Not to mention Jeeves & Wooster and Oscar Wilde.

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