Atopia // 2007 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Dylan Charles (Retired) // May 22nd, 2008
What do you do when war engulfs you and your government tells you there is no war?
For the past twenty years, Uganda has been dealing with a brutal civil war. The Lord's Resistance Army (L.R.A.), a rebel group, occupies the northern half of the country, and it seems like the government has all but abandoned the people in that region. Filmmaker Catherine Hébert documents the stories of five individuals affected by a war that the president doesn't seem to be interested in ending.
Hébert has taken an interesting approach with The Other Side of the Country. Rather than interviewing historians, sociologists, and government officials (a top-down perspective on the situation), she sticks to social workers and normal citizens affected by what's going on. She uses television recordings and interviews with a local radio personality to show the government's voice, which is what the average Ugandan would get. The audience is given a fairly clear idea of the lack of information these citizens have. The president promises that the rebels are just about to be defeated, but he said that fifteen years ago, too.
No one has a clue why the rebels are allowed to continue their campaign against the Ugandan government, though a few offer their opinions on the matter. No one even seems clear about what the rebels want in the first place. Their leader, Joseph Kony, has no voice in the documentary and implies that he hasn't really been speaking to anyone.
Hébert's strategy is problematic if one actually wants a solid understanding of the politics behind the situation. Since we're only given the perspective of local leaders and the victims, we have a very narrow view.
That view is fairly shocking. At times, it's hard to figure out who the real bad guy is. The government has done just as much to hurt the people as the L.R.A...At one point, a radio interviewer points out President Museveni has twelve thousand soldiers assigned to protect him, while the people under attack from the L.R.A. have fifteen soldiers for every fifteen thousand people. Museveni has relocated almost 80 percent of the people in the northern part of the country, placing them in massive camps that are crammed full of people. They can choose to lose their homes and livelihoods to Museveni or the L.R.A. it seems.
While Hébert's coverage is narrow, it's also thorough. Children, teachers, church leaders, social workers, police officers, and victims of the L.R.A. all get a chance before the camera. The government has its own chance to talk, with a representative mumbling a few talking points and dodging tenacious reporters. The only ones not talking are members of the L.R.A. But maybe the fact that they have abducted twenty thousand children is voice enough.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (French)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Official Site