DVD LET­TER­BOX

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv - MICHAEL BODEY

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

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