Democracy is arguably the greatest political buzzword of our time and is invoked by political leaders, corporations and citizens alike– but what does it mean? Can it be defined, measured, safeguarded? Can it be sold, bought, and transplanted? Can it grow? Can it die? What does it mean to people who can’t even talk about it? What does it mean to people who don’t believe in it?
What does it mean to you?
In October 2007, ten one-hour films focused on contemporary democracy and its underlying values were broadcast in the world’s largest ever informational media event. More than 48 broadcasters on all continents participated, airing the films in over 181 countries.
In the years since WHY DEMOCRACY? launched, global politics has evolved rapidly. Corruption, globalization, rising violence, and democratic malaise have become increasingly prevalent. As these forces threaten to undermine established democratic structures around the world WHY DEMOCRACY? films are more relevant than ever. They serve an urgent reminder that citizens fundamental right to engage in politics is essential for democracy to flourish.
The WHY DEMOCRACY? project is designed to stimulate a discussion about democracy through ten, one-hour documentaries and several short films. Most of them are now available to be watched on our YouTube channel or via the links below.
This documentary explores the American military's use of torture by focusing on the unsolved murder of an Afghan taxi driver who, in 2002, was taken for questioning at Bagram Force Air Base. Five days later, the man was dead. The medical examiner claimed the driver died from excessive physical abuse. Taking this case as a jumping-off point, the film examines wider claims of torture that occurred at bases like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay during the Bush administration.
Wuhan is a city in central China about the size of London, and it is here that director Weijun Chen has conducted an experiment in democracy. A grade 3 class at Evergreen Primary School has their first encounter with democracy by holding an election to select a Class Monitor. Eight-year-olds compete against each other for the coveted position, abetted and egged on by teachers and doting parents. Elections in China take place only within the Communist Party, but recently millions of Chinese voted in their version of Pop Idol. The purpose of Weijun Chen’s experiment is to determine how, if democracy came to China, it would be received. Is democracy a universal value that fits human nature? Do elections inevitably lead to manipulation? Please Vote for Me is a portrait of a society and a town through a school, its children and its families
Pressed by the masses who gave him a massive mandate, the first indigenous president, ex-coca leaf farmer Evo Morales has nationalised the oil industry and passed laws on agrarian reform. All the election speeches, which resulted in his landslide victory, sounded quite revolutionary, as did the iconography. But a closer look reveals that corruption, nepotism and old-fashioned populism are at the core of this movement. The landowners and the indigenous movement are still wrestling for power and neither has claimed victory yet. Ultimately, the search for the revolution that Che Guevara tried to start in Bolivia is now in Morales’ hands.
With unprecedented access, this intimate documentary goes behind the scenes with Africa's first freely elected female head of state, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, president of Liberia. The film explores the challenges facing the new president and the extraordinary women surrounding her as they develop and implement policy to rebuild their ravaged country and prevent a descent back into civil war.
In the early decades of the twentieth century Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy of non-violent revolution or Satyagraha inspired a mass movement of millions of Indians to rise up against the British colonial state and successfully agitate for the establishment of a democratic and free India. In 007, the country is preparing to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of its existence as an independent nation. But what kind of a democracy does India have today? What does it actually mean to live in the world’s largest democracy? In road-movie style the film crew travels down the famous trail of Gandhi’s salt march, the remarkable mass campaign that galvanized ordinary Indians to join the non-violent struggle for democracy and freedom almost a century ago. Stopping at the same villages and cities, where Gandhi and his followers had raised their call for independence, the film documents the stories of ordinary citizens in India today. Although inspired by a historical event In Search of Gandhi is not a journey back in time. Instead, it is a search for the present and future of democracy in India.
Mikhail Morozov is a Russian patriot, good Christian and successful businessman. He owns Durakovo – the “Village of Fools” – 100 km southwest of Moscow. People come here from all over Russia to learn how to live and become true Russians. When they join the Village of Fools, the new residents abandon all their former rights and agree to obey Mikhail Morozov’s strict rules. he whole spectrum of state power – political, spiritual and administrative – gather in the village for semi-private meetings with Morozov. They discuss the future of Russia, their ambitions and their goals. For God, Tsar and Fatherland shows what drives Russian patriotism today and why they are against democracy.
In his 2005 State of the Union address President George W. Bush cites Egypt as the country that will pave the way for democracy in the Middle East. Three women, unable to sit by while their country is on the brink of drastic change, start a grassroots movement to educate and empower the public by raising awareness about the meaning of democracy. They name their campaign Shayfeen.com, which means to “we are watching you.” This film follows the highs and lows of the first year of the movement in Egypt. Insisting that only the people can make change happen, their goal is to educate the Egyptian public on what it takes to build the most basic pillars of democracy: demanding basic human rights, freedom of speech and the establishment of an independent judiciary. Egypt: We are Watching You shows the role ordinary citizens can play in shaping and securing their democracy.
What does it mean when the army appears to be the only force able to contain the opponents of democracy, the armed Islamists? The former President of Pakistan Musharraf agrees to explore this apparent contradiction over dinner at his official residence, the Army House. As the discussion moves in and out of the different worlds in Pakistan, a complex tapestry emerges, revealing a society unique yet universal. The filmmaker talks to diverse individuals, from labourers to intellectuals, from street vendors to religious right wing political party members, and from journalists to industrialists. What is their idea of democracy in Pakistan? What is their idea of President Musharraf’s vision of a modern Pakistan? Dinner With the President questions the role a military leader can play in guiding a state towards modern democracy.
In the fall of 2005, 40-year-old, self-employed Kazuhiko "Yama-san" Yamauchi's peaceful, humdrum life was turned upside-down. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) had suddenly chosen him as its official candidate to run for a vacant seat on the Kawasaki city council. Yama-san had zero experience in politics, no charisma, no supporters, no constituency, and no time to prepare for the impending election. The election was critical for the LDP. Adhering to the campaign tactic of "bowing to everybody, even to telephone poles," Yama-san visits local festivals, kindergarten sports events, senior gatherings, commuter train stations, and even bus stops to offer his hand to every one he sees. Can Yama-san win this heated race? Through its candid, cinema-verite style camerawork, this rare, detailed documentary of a Japanese election reveals the true nature of "democracy."
Bloody Cartoons is a documentary about how and why drawings in a Danish provincial paper could whirl a small country into a confrontation with Muslims all over the world. Journalist Karsten Kjær asks whether respect for Islam combined with the heated response to the cartoons is now leading us towards self-censorship. How tolerant should we be of the intolerant? And what limits should there be, to freedom of speech in a democracy?
One of the films in this series, Taxi to the Dark Side by Alex Gibney won the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2007. It explored the American military's use of torture in Iraq and at its extraterritorial detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The yearly festival of the procession of the unwieldy 65-foot tall wooden chariot honouring the Buddhist deity Rato Machhendranath is the country’s greatest cultural spectacle. But even as they celebrate, Nepalis know that the failure of the chariot procession to complete the journey bodes calamity. What will the Red God predict about the country’s fragile transition to peace and democracy?
The story of Mr Ihsan Khan is not one you come across often. An immigrant from a small town in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan, Mr. Khan was a taxi cab driver in Washington D.C. for over twenty years until he won the lottery in 2001. His decision to run for mayor brings into question the real purpose behind his intentions.
Interfernze explores the intriguing story of what became known as the Telestreet network through the personal experience of the members of Orfeo TV. Operating as a pirate station, the movement aims to give the voiceless the airspace to make themselves heard. The anti-establishment campaign uses civil disobedience as a tool in the quest for democratizing Italy's airwaves.
The film depicts the three stages of democracy as seen through the eyes of a girl growing up in Kenya. The Kenyatta Era was a time of great optimism and post-independence euphoria. It was followed by the era of dictatorship under Daniel arap Moi, and finally the ushering in of a third president, Mwai Kibaki. But after the disputed election results in December 2007 and the resultant violent civil strife and the death of hundreds, we are left wondering if democracy can ever truly come of age.
Croatia is a small country where people like to take big vacations. Post-Yugoslavia, Croatians are dealing with battered history that many are trying to forget. But someone on the town square in Zagreb wants to remind them that wounds take time to heal. Poignantly crafted. On the square is silent reminder of a deafening issue.
The dialogue between people, nature and gods is based upon a sacred knowledge and mythology. In the modern world only a few cultures based on myth survive. The region of the Khanty people is the basic source of oil recovery in Russia. About 70 percent of all Rassia oil is extracted here. The oil companies actively buy huge territories in the Noth of Siberia. Indigenous people are then forced to leave these places, their own patrimonial territories, and so a modern civilization gradually absorbs an ancient culture.
Irom Sharmila is a young women of Manipur who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 7 years now. She has been demanding that the Indian Regional Government repeal a brutal law. The Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act is one of the drastic measures taken by the Indian Regional Government to assert their control over their territory and suppress any unrest or dissent through military means. Sharmila is willing to stake everything - even her life - to restore justice and dignity for her people.
A beauty pageant is held to decide on a Miss Democracy for 2007, and the judges are as eccentric as the contestants. The contestants subtlety reflect their country's political position and answer rounds of questions about their democracies. This humorous representation of international relations highlights the fickle nature of democracy all over the world.
This short film tells the story of a group of Cuban children that play a baseball game in their local neighbourhood. Osmey and Maria, together with their friends, make a baseball using a deodorant can and some tape. During their match several situations arise which become conflicts that are resolved in ways only children can manage. A closer inspection of the game reveals the dynamics of participation, leadership and equality. Oblivious to events outside their game, a radio announces changes in Cuba that will one day have dramatic effects on their lives.
Kinshasa 2.0 tells the story of how the arrest of Marie-Thérèse Nlandu, a women from a prominent political family in the Democratic Republic of Congo, was publicised through the Internet and resulted in the filmmaker visting Kingshasa to see how the arrest has affected the family. This film demonstrates how the internet has the potential to change civic participation in the poorest democracies all over the world.
In the male dominated society of Iran, Farahnaz Shiri, the first female bus driver in Tehran, has made her own little society in her bus. In Iran there are different sections for men and women on public buses. But in Mrs. On Shiri's bus, everything is vice versa. In her bus, women are made to feel empowered and enjoy the privilege of freely debating their position in Iranian society. Mrs. Shiri's struggle to prove herself in this society provides a fascinating insight into gender and power in the close space of a public bus.
In an environment of imminent terrorist threat, this film unravels the complex attitudes people have towards ethnic minorities and the anxieties both parties have suffered since the London bombings of 7/7/05. Misconceptions and stereotypes persist as we follow one woman on her route to a job interview and the silent hostilities ash encounters as a Muslim.
Riaan Cruywagen has been reading the news on television since it arrived in South Africa in 1976. He prides himself in the nickname, "The face of news in South Africa" and his record of the longest serving Afrikaan news reader in the world. In the context of South Africa's spectacular transformation to democracy, Riaan explains how his professional ethics have kept him in the news readers seat.
India is the largest democracy in the world and in Delhi the capital there is a street set aside for permanent protests, Parliament Street. People converge daily to make all sorts of grand demands. Amongst the crowds, on this day, three blind men come across an elephant and while the crowds surge and shout their demands the men try to decide what the elephant is. They each experience something different – one thinks it’s a buffalo, another a wall, or is it a camel? The mahout has another point of view.
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