The second documentary I watched last night focused on Christopher Hitchens' charges against Henry Kissinger, namely that he is a war criminal. Kissinger, a German born American Nobel Peace Prize winner, served as Secretary of State in the administrations of Nixon and Ford. Kissinger played a prominent role in US foreign policy from 1969-1977 (during which time Robert S. McNamara served as President of the World Bank).
Eugene Jarecki's film uses archival footage and interviews with Hitchens (1949-2011) to argue that Kissinger was responsible for atrocities in Vietnam, East Timor and also for ousting Allende in Chile, leading to the military dictatorship of General Pinochet. The documentary paints Kissinger, in Hitchens words, as showing ' callous indifference to human life and human rights'.
It was interesting to contrast the portrait of McNamara with Kissinger. Both men were involved in the Vietnam war, had been to Harvard and hugely influenced and continue to influence foreign policy (the first in terms of policy analysis and the second in terms of realpolitik). But I found myself asking, how much of what we see in these films is true? Do documentaries tell us the truth and capture life as it is? Or is this 'a naive belief that screen truth equates with non-mediation' especially when it concerns issues which are highly controversial?
Some of these questions are raised in Sonia Tascon's article in 2012 Human Rights Quarterly ' Considering Human Rights Films, Representation, and Ethics: Whose Face?'. Tascon's research focuses on the phenomenon of Human Rights Film Festivals and seeks to explore and examine the use of films for human rights purposes. She comments that :
" Although how film has developed historically as a form of communication, media and art might diminish films ability to be viewed as "truth" - unlike photography for example - human rights films circumvent this problem by predominantly using the one type of film form that still holds reader's belief in its reliability and truthfullness: the documentary."
She goes on to state, however, that Michael Moore movies have displaced this idea somewhat. In the same way, the Kissinger documentary makes no qualms about pushing a certain ideology or idea in persuading the audience to judge Kissinger and his actions.