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.