Movie Review | Battle In Seattle

battle in seattle

There haven’t been many political films coming out of these days, so I was pretty intrigued by the very story of Battle in Seattle, which details the rather infamous demonstrations during the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in Seattle, circa 1999. If you were alive in any shape or form and followed the news, these demonstrations were kind of hard to miss, managing to make for a great media frenzy of tear-gassed civilians getting beat up by the police, and Seattle being turned in to state of emergency. Some people might just remember protesters dressed up as turtles on CNN.

While the events are real, and some of the footage from the actual protests were mixed in much like The Chicago 10 – the characters were all fictional. This is perhaps what I found pretty interesting about the film. Directed by Stuart Townsend (better known as the guy who gets to go home to Charlize Theron), the film depicts the events from the points of view of various contrasting characters. A policeman who is part of the crowd-control, several organizers and leaders of the protests, a mayor, and a lobbyist. The film covers the events that transpire in those five days, and how peaceful protests became increasingly chaotic and in an instant, protesters were pitted against the Seattle police and national guard units.

When it comes to these kind of movies that border on documentary, it’s always hard to tell where the bias lies. I don’t believe the idea was to show police brutality or the prevalence of protesters, or even politicians in a state of confusion. Despite the leanings towards a pro-demonstrators position, I think the idea was to show how a large group of people had a message and how that message was unfortunately drowned out. It’s a message that continues to be drowned out till this day. The film also portrayed some of the important events that happened inside the WTO meetings, where developing nations, especially from Africa, had their own little protests for being largely ignored by the Americans and Europeans; a schism that still runs till this day in the WTO meetings.

Nevertheless, this very protest was a milestone and having participated in a WTO-related protest myself while in college, the Seattle incident is practically a highlight in the protester’s-guide-to-the-galaxy, so it’s pretty interesting to see it depicted on film.

I thought it was a pretty cool movie to watch. Free speech and free expression is a fragile thing, and to see them clash with the state’s arm of control is always fascinating as it demonstrates how even in the country that champions both freedoms, it’s not all roses. Let alone the developing world.



  • The Battle in Seattle. Well – I was there – still got a personal souvenir – a rubber bullet. Believe me it is no fun being caught between two lines of riot police, a cloud of teargas, extremely angry protesters and a giant blue rubber whale. Dodging rubber bullets was the easy part. On the political side I never got the point of the protest. Free trade is beneficial point. And in particular to the developing world.

    Where did you watch the movie? Theater/DVD? I want to refresh my memory.

  • I think the freedoms that people have in the west are less than the perfect image their government tend to portray generally. Although I haven’t seen the movie, I think that movies, documentaries, and the press can play a role at highlighting the weaknesses of the freedoms people have, which should in theory lead to a change of laws and checks and balances in the longer term.


    I agree that free trade could be very beneficial. However, I think it is an over-simplification to say that it is beneficial to the developing world. Before these countries can benefit from it, there has to be the economic, educational, and regulatory frameworks that accompany it. The industries have to be mature enough to not be obliterated out of existence by the competition. If there is no chance for people to develop local industries and expertise, they will have no chance long term. They will always be dependent on the developed world. So in a sense, free trade is only fair if it is completely open in all aspects: economic, cultural, and educational.
    I strongly believe that if the playing field is level, the results will be astounding.

  • in jordan the film can be found on dvd in the balad, particularly at Hammudeh’s. in north america it’s playing in limited release.

  • Of course it’s a general statement ceteris paribus. There are a lot of imperfections. Look at the cotton subsidies in the USA, rice in South Korea and Japan, agriculture in the EU, tariffs in India and Brazil and the lack of regional trade cooperation in various parts of Africa. But that is exactly the point of the trade negotiations within WTO. You can disagree with the trade policies of a lot of the WTO members but what’s wrong with the concept of trade negotiation within the WTO. Why should the WTO ministerials be accompanied by violent demonstrations as in Seattle in 99 and in Hong Kong 05? If people need (and I believe they do) to press their governments then do it during national elections or national campaigns.

    My country is one of the countries that sincerely want the Doha-round to be a genuine development round meaning no new concessions for poorer countries, but reality unfortunately dictates that because governments wants to be re-elected (also in the US, in France and in Ireland) there has to be a quid pro quo in these negotiations.

  • Your Excellency, There is some truth to what you say, but time and again it was proven that the friedmanian ideology doesn’t work well with democracy;”reform” has to be shoved. The middle class and the poor outnumber the rich, and the keynesians will always win elections(If they were fair). Just look at the US as an example, putting race aside, democrats and their keynesian ideology will win in a land slide.

  • I liked the writers comments on this movie Battle in Seattle..some intelligent person who explains it well.. some of the other reviews I read told me that the movie review people were comparing this great movie to some over the top Hollywood film that was supposed to entertain them with horror and amazing drama..etc when this beautiful film was exactly described above for what it is..the story is about the protestors. I am sure alot of stuff ending up on the cutting room floor as not enough time to fit in all Stuart would have wanted..but he got a good message thanks again for your review. All my friends in Australia loved the film.. only complaint was..”not long enough”.

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