Friday, February 18, 2011

"Looking Bad"

In 1983 Eddie Becker, Karen Ranucci, Joan Braderman, Skip Blumberg, Joel Kovel and I went to Nicaragua as the US threatened to attack. We thought it would be similar to the assault that was perpetrated against the island nation of Grenada that fall. Everyone expected that there would be a similar military invasion and we went down to try to show that what was happening in Nicaragua was supported by many of the Nicaraguan people and also many U.S. citizens who lived and worked there.

The resulting film is called Waiting for the Invasion: US Citizens in Nicaragua. Although many people all over the world expected an immediate invasion, we were wrong.  The invasion came, but not in the form of a full-out military assault.  Reagan unleashed a bloody U.S.-funded and trained counter insurgency that ruined the Sandinista economy and killed tens of thousands of Nicaraguan peasants.

Before we finished the film, we tried to get portions of it shown on the MacNeil Lehrer Report on PBS. We were quite desperate to get the information to a wider audience to try to stave off what we saw as an impending invasion. We knew that PBS would want full "journalistic neutrality" so we were careful to interview people from "both sides". But it was hard to find people who supported the notion of a U.S. invasion. Even a U.S. ex-military entrepreneur tire salesman wearing a California Chamber of Commerce tee shirt was against an invasion. We interviewed him as he was digging a trench outside of his business saying he would be "ready for Reagan".

We did finally found a pro-invasion spokesperson-- the U.S. Ambassador, Anthony Quintain, who railed against the peaceniks who had gathered in front of his embassy with their peace signs. We also interviewed the Texaco oil man in Managua, whose swarmy interview was full of hostility towards those protesters who "must live in a box", to be brought out for protests by the devious communists running the country.

It was 1983 and it was before the many brigades of U.S. "sandalistias" descended on the revolutionary experiment with their cameras and tape recorders. We had pretty much "an exclusive" with our look inside the Sandinista Revolution.  MacNeil Lehrer kept our film clips for several weeks and a friend who worked with them said they were seriously considering running some of our footage. But ultimately we were turned down.  The opinion from the PBS management (we heard that the issue had gone up the chain of command to Washington executives) was that it was "too one-sided".

"But wait!" we objected. "We did show both sides! We interviewed the ambassador and the oil company!" "Yes," said the producer, "but they look bad. Nothing they say makes any sense." So because it was so obviously "one-sided", our film never ran on PBS. It did, however, run in the Iowa State Fair. A solidarity group picked our film to loop continuously at a booth the next summer. One of the scenes takes place in a cornfield where a young U.S. agronomist speaks about the agrarian reform program and the need to get away from export-only farming and plant more food products.  The Iowa peace group said they looked at a lot of films about conflict in Nicaragua and Central America and they felt that our film was the only one that Iowa farmers could relate to.  Corn farmers unite.

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