THE recent brouhaha about the Australian cricket team’s tour of Zimbabwe was an interesting moment in orthodoxy. It was taken as fact that Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was a tyrant who must not be encouraged on any grounds. No one doubted that; no one had to argue the case. Everyone merely followed that line. There was heated debate about whether sport and politics should mix, but no debate about Mugabe. Not that anyone would defend him, but it’s slightly troubling to come across such an impassioned debate based on so little background information. Which is why the release of Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe is welcome, if a trifle belated.
Local distributor Siren has compiled two bracing documentaries on Mugabe’s wretched regime, including Michael Raeburn’s Zimbabwe Countdown .
Raeburn is a maverick, a British- Egyptian actor, director and novelist who has spent most of his life in Africa, including in Zimbabwe. In 1969 he made the documentary Rhodesia Countdown , a naive political treatise advocating the overthrow of Ian Smith’s white minority government. Raeburn had to flee the country, but he could never ignore it.
Decades later he returned to make a film about the hero of his youth, Mugabe, who had betrayed every ideal he once espoused.
This time Raeburn despairs rather than rages at what is happening to his former homeland. The documentary is a potent look at a terrible regime and a handy companion piece to the Frontline documentary Zimbabwe: Secrets and Lies . Both screened on SBS but have gained more relevance in recent weeks. This disc is hardly going to knock Apocalypto off the shelves but it is another episode in a diverting documentary initiative from Siren.
The company is in the process of branding a number of documentaries. Already the Canadian documentary The Secret History of 9/ 11 has been selling well, and Siren is preparing other packages that could serve as primers on various issues.
Al Qaeda , a package of three documentaries on the terrorist network, including Nuclear Jihad , which explores the exploits of rogue Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan, is already available.
I’m particularly looking forward to a package of documentaries about North Korea. Siren also has the rights to distribute the Root of all Evil? documentaries by Richard Dawkins ( author of The God Delusion ), which were screen on ABC television last month.
Siren isn’t the only smaller distributor focusing on intriguing documentaries. MRA and Madman also have docos coming up.
Among Madman’s selections are Crossing the Bridge , a look at Turkey’s vibrant music scene, and Melvyn Bragg’s look at our language, The Adventure of English .
MRA Entertainment will focus on a few train and World War II documentaries, among others, this month.
Many of them may be esoteric, but some are surprisingly good sellers. Increasingly, more specific interests are being catered for in the DVD documentary category.
This offers further proof that this is a prime market in which the long tail still wags.
* * * DISC WATCH: Flags of Our Fathers two- disc edition ( DreamWorks, MA15+, $ 39.95). I wasn’t a fan of Clint Eastwood’s film during its cinema release: the performances are poor and his companion piece, Letters From Iwo Jima , is a far better film ( it’s released on DVD next month). That said, there’s much to like in this double- disc set, which includes archival footage from Iwo Jima and some featurettes. The best of them is a 17- minute primer for aspiring screenwriters. ( Review below.) bodeym@ theaustralian. com. au