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Media: The Listener 29-March-2006

As Disarm opens in New Zealand this month, the following editorial by Producer Mary Wareham is running in one of the country's most widely-read weekly magazines.

The Listener, April 1-7, 2006: Vol. 20, No. 3438

“The war on civilians” by Mary Wareham

When I left New Zealand a decade ago, I had no idea that one day I’d make a documentary film (Disarm) or receive the esteemed title of “filmmaker”. I don’t have any qualifications in filmmaking, but I did have an overwhelming desire to record on film some of the best and worst elements of conflict in this new, uncertain century. Through the prism of landmines and the method of film, I decided I could talk about the broader issues of the means and methods of warfare and its disproportionate impact on civilian populations.

I’ve been working with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) for the past decade and in that time we’ve been lauded for our achievements, including with a Nobel Peace Prize. The track record is undeniably impressive: an international treaty prohibiting antipersonnel mines that 154 governments have signed; over a billion dollars’ worth of funding has gone toward removing mines from the ground; the death toll to mines has plummeted in seriously affected countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Mozambique.

Yet, we’re not even halfway there. Some of the most powerful nations remain outside the treaty and step further away from it daily, as Disarm demonstrates, with the footage I sneakily shot of a Bush administration policy announcement on the issue. Rebel groups are making mines out of sardine cans and bamboo, but Disarm also reveals thousands of mines stacked to the ceiling in army warehouses in Belarus, a fraction of the estimated 250 million mines that lay in stockpiles around the world. Worst of all, this weapon is still being used, not so much by governments, as by rebel groups or non-state armed actors. Such as groups in Burma, Colombia and Uganda that are impervious to international humanitarian law and treaties.

But how to translate these concerns into a film that people would want to watch? I brought in Brian Liu as my partner to make the film. A talented photographer with credits including Rolling Stone and the New York Times, what Brian was lacking in his knowledge of filmmaking he more than made up with his energy, professionalism and creativity. We both agreed we didn’t want to make an “advocacy” film that hits you over the head with the message to ban landmines. Enough already. People know this weapon is bad. Most agree it should never be used. Instead we sought to use the mines issue to delve into the everyday lives of the people living daily with conflict and its effects.

We deployed innovative techniques, such as attaching tiny cameras to deminers to film them at work. We scored the film with music contributed by talented artists such as Fugazi, the Flaming Lips and Thievery Corporation. We interviewed more people about using mines than about banning the weapon, as it is so rare that one hears their side and rationale for keeping the weapon.

For me, the most compelling piece of footage in our documentary film is something we didn’t even shoot ourselves. It was given to us by a backpack medical team that smuggled it out of Burma. The footage shows a wounded civilian being carried in a makeshift hammock-stretcher through the jungle. He has stepped on a landmine. According to the medic, the Burma Army came through his village, “looted the rice barn, set fire, and planted the mine right in the middle of the trail”. The victim is obviously delirious with pain, but his legs are amputated right there in a jungle clearing in front of an assembly of curious locals.

The date this footage was shot? January 8, 2004. That’s the reason why I made Disarm. The scourge of landmines is ongoing, and the cause of eliminating them must stay with us.

(c) The Listener.

Disarm screens in the World Cinema Showcase.
The New Zealand Campaign Against Landmines: www.calm.org.nz