BY DANIEL JARAMILLO
The widespread availability of feature length documentaries on platforms such as Youtube and Netflix has resulted in a resurgence of the genre on both the silver screen and broadcast television. One such upcoming film is This Coming War On China by the award winning journalist and filmmaker, John Pilger.
Pilger is an iconic Australian journalist. Growing up in the Sydney suburb of Bondi, he launched his first newspaper while still in high school. After completing a four-year cadetship with the Australian Consolidated Press he left for Europe where he joined Reuters, and then the Daily Mirror.
During his role as chief foreign correspondent for the Daily Mirror he covered the Vietnam War. This was an era, where for the first time, images were broadcast straight into the lounge rooms of ordinary people across the globe. It’s clear his experience during this evolution of journalism has influenced his proficiency as a documentary storyteller.
Pilger played a part in other iconic moments throughout history. He marched after the assassination of Martin Luther King and he witnessed the assassination of Robert Kennedy 1968. His coverage in Cambodia in the aftermath of Pol Pot’s reign was a world exclusive. It’s a long list.
This year, Pilger is about to release his 60th film for cinema and television.
This Coming War On China examines the potential war between China and the U.S.A. It examines U.S. power struggle in the region, highlighted by the 400 American military bases with warships, missiles and bombers surrounding China. Confrontation between the two countries has continued since the Cold War, although the film seems ever more relevant after President Trump was elected as President.
The film reveals a secret strategy, known as Project 4.1, designed by the U.S military to use the people on the Marshall Islands as nuclear guinea pigs. In 1954 the U.S. used the Marshall Islands to test hydrogen bombs equivalent to Hiroshima’s every day for 12 years, poisoning the environment with no concern for the local people. Pilger gives an opportunity for the victims and their families to tell their story.
China’s rise as the world’s biggest trading nation is an economical threat to the U.S and America ceases to be the global powerhouse of the 21st century. The film challenges the reporting of this subject by western media.
Pilger takes viewers to mainland China where he interviews Liljia Zhang, a Beijing journalist, who is outspoken about her own country’s internal affairs but about the way westerners stereotype China and the Chinese people. Growing up during the brutal Cultural Revolution, and then later moving to the U.S, she said, “Many Americans imagine that Chinese people live a miserable, repressed life with no freedom whatsoever. The idea of the yellow peril has never left them… They have no idea there are some 500 million people being lifted out of poverty.”
Pilger also interviews Eric Li, a venture capitalist and social scientist from Shanghai, who reflects on the differences between China and the U.S. Mr. Li said, “I make the joke: in America you can change political parties, but you can’t change the policies. In China you cannot change the party, but you can change policies. The political changes that have taken place in China in the past 66 years have been wider and broader and greater than probably any other major country in living memory.”
The Coming War on China’s overall message is America’s power is coming to an end and the rest of the world is turning its attention to the east. China was known as the country of extreme poverty but it’s now becoming known as a powerhouse in its own right. It’s a country that supplies commodities to nearly all of the world’s traders and manufactures.
Pilger spoke to the audience of a Q&A after a screen of the film at the Dendy cinema in Newtown. He explained the film is also important for Australia due to our being a part of the geographical and political region. “We know very little about the issue because our saturated media and universities refuse to speak about it,” he continued. “In less than a generation China has become the world’s second greatest economic power and that is unacceptable to the U.S.”
As much as China is expanding in other regions around the world Pilger made a good point when he said, “there is no evidence to suggest that China wishes to be like the U.S.”
Despite it’s importance and relevance The Coming War on China almost wasn’t made due to a lack of finance. Eventually, partial funding from Screen NSW was secured, alongside a successful crowd funding initiative.
Screen NSW and our national broadcasters, ABC and SBS, are supporters of independent documentary filmmakers and will continue their commitment this year. The 2018 Documentary Feature Fund commissions feature length documentaries for world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival, followed by broadcast on ABC.
“We’re really excited to open submissions for the second year of this initiative and look forward to seeing many strong ideas from New South Wales’ best film making
talent,” said Head of ABC Arts, Mandy Chang.
Thanks to funds and initiatives like this, Australian filmmakers will continue to have opportunities to explore controversial and important topics. The ability to showcase documentary films on national television is incredibly valuable as it allows for a much wider audience to be exposed to otherwise unheard stories.
This Coming War On China will be broadcast on SBS on April 16 at 8:30pm.
Submission to Screen NSW and ABC’s Documentary Feature Fund can be made until 11:59pm April 30.