This is Not a Movie – Film Review
Director: Yung Chang
Writers: Yung Chang, Nelofer Pazira
Stars: Robert Fisk, Amira Hass, Nirmeen Hazineh
At the start of this documentary, journalist Robert Fisk talks about watching the Hitchcock film ‘Foreign Correspondent’ as a child. It stars Joel McCrea and shows a glamorous life of spies and espionage. At the end of the film, our foreign correspondent has won the day, got the scoop and ended up with the leading lady. The idea of this glamorous lifestyle stayed with Fisk and he credits it with his inspiration for getting involved with journalism, but the real world is quite different from those depicted on screen. Clearly, ‘this is not a movie’, this is real life.
This is a documentary that follows the life and career of Robert Fisk from his early years in Northern Ireland and then on to his time in the Middle East. There is early footage of him on the streets of Belfast and he discusses the atrocities of the IRA. The important thing though, is that he doesn’t see conflicts in traditional black and white terms, he also discusses the faults of the British army and government. He believes in being on the streets and telling the reader exactly what he sees, ignoring the press releases and spin. This has been his main concept throughout his career. He believes in giving a voice to the people who he feels have been poorly treated in each conflict. At one point he says you wouldn’t give equal time to the slave traders as the slaves, or the Nazis to those in the concentration camps.
He has now lived in the middle east for over 40 years and he feels that gives him a unique perspective on the region. While some use this as a complaint against him, saying he has ‘gone native’ or is a puppet for various regimes, he cites the many correspondents who live in Paris or New York, who then comment on regions they have at best visited. He talks to the average people in the region to get their perspective. There are scenes of him interviewing people on buses and on the street to learn what they think of the conflict.
Fisk is not afraid of ruffling a few feathers, whether it is politicians or editors. One section tells of when Rupert Murdock took control of the Times, the paper Fisk was working for at the time. We get a brief history of the incidents that led Fisk to leave the paper and how he started writing for the Independent. Fisk sees himself as a newspaperman and loves printed media, despite the Independent being purely an online publication these days. He is suspicious of the internet and worries about the quality of journalism being delivered today.
The film is quite graphic at times, showing dead bodies on the street. Fisk has been on the front line of many wars and talks about the acts of genocide he has witnessed. Really, there is too much content here for any one film to cover as we hear and see his travels in Ireland, Israel, Syria, Lebanon and beyond. The film discusses a wide spectrum of conflicts, but it is not to its detriment, as Fisk serves as a guide through all these war zones. Fisk has clearly lived an unusual and important life and this film does justice to his impressive body of work.