INTERVIEW: On the Frontline, David Bradbury

viernes-247Bradbury’s films have been shown on all the major Australian commercial and public broadcast networks as well as globally. He has won countless international film festival prizes and been the winner of five AFI awards and two Academy Award nominations (Frontline, which profiled war cameraman Neil Davis, and Chile: Hasta Cuando?, on the brutal military dictatorship of General Pinochet).

Currently sourcing funding for an ambitious and strategic three-part documentary showing the relationship between Australian minining, depleted uranium (DU) fallout and the Indian nuclear program, Bradbury continues to fight on the frontline, using the power of media and documentary film to show the world the truth, and empower individuals into collective action. You can help by donating via The Frontline Film Foundation: a registered charity with tax deductible status that is committed to making environmentally aware and consciousness-raising films.  And stay tuned for the crowdsourcing campaign in 2013 to further engage with the power of activist filmmaking via:

MTF: David we’re very pleased to have some of your films on ScreenZone’s catalogue. You’ve been in this industry for 35 plus years now, so I’m interested to know what keeps you going? What’s the passion that sustains you?

DB: I think that film can enlighten people, it can cast a light in areas where the status quo, or establishment, or government – anyone that could be seen as the ‘bad guys’ are doing what they do wit relative impunity. A film can help to say this is wrong, this needs to change. People that don’t have a voice need to be supported, they need to have a better deal going for them, and a film can say what words can’t.

The old adage a picture is worth a thousand words is a strong truism for me, and that’s why I was happy to switch my career 40-odd years ago when I first got into journalism, as a radio journalist, why I was happy to switch to filmmaking because it gave me a control over the truth, or the best I could find, as truth is a very slippery concept. [Filmmaking] allows me to shoot and interview people and get the truth out as best as I can.

That’s constantly changing–we started out doing documentaries on public broadcasters when I first started out; commercial TV stations generally didn’t want to know about the sort of documentaries I was making, they were too radical and too truth-affecting.

MTF:  Did that every defer you that your films weren’t that commercially viable?

DB:  No, because the film industry was subsidized back then [in Australia] and I was learning as I went. It was through my naivety and innocence I believed I could change the world overnight with one film. Then as I learned there were entrenched interests: the Rupert Murdochs and Kerry Packers of this world that had a vested interest in controlling what went out and owned the networks, I fell back to believing in the public broadcasters.

That was good for a while, but then governments and multinational corporations and national corporations and the like had a closed door as well… Well, the door’s not entirely closed, but it has been [partially] with the ABC and SBS since at least the John Howard era.

So now I look to the Net and selling my DVDs around the country. Activist groups show my films. They can have anything from three people and their neighbours in a loungeroom, through to hiring myself with the help of locals in regional centers and towns across Australia, hiring the scout halls, church halls and school gymnasiums and putting my films on through a DVD presentation.

MTF: So in a way you’ve gone full circle back to the grassroots, back to the community.

DB:  Yeah, the traditional platforms that are the talk of the mainstream media have largely been closed to the sort of films that I feel are still important to make.

MTF: It’s interesting, isn’t it, because you’ve had two Academy Award nominations, you’ve won countless documentary awards, and yet now there seems to be this homogenization and dilution and closing off of what’s permissable from the top of the hierarchy: the film industry and the media itself. Despite that do you still think there are the people out there that want to see these type of films?

DB: There are the people out there that want to see it, for sure. I have people coming up to me from all generations saying that the films that I made in the 1980s in Nicaragua and Chile changed their lives forever by watching those films. Some peoples went off and picked coffee in Nicaragua and were exposed to the positive delights of the Sandinista People’s Revolution; others were influenced by the film I made about the last whale, or depleted uranium [Blowin’ in the Wind].

That’s been enough [feedback] to make me realize that even if I don’t make much money out of it–and that’s the biggest frustration, is to somehow get enough money coming in to sustain myself, feed my family (families), and keep on going, pay for the airfares, the editor, etc. that I need to make these films and get them out. People have an attitude where they expect the information–and of course YouTube is so democratic and free–that there’s not yet a culture where people say, well, if we don’t support a David Bradbury, or [someone else], well, we’re not going to get the truth out there much… There’s not yet a change in the thinking of the people that like to see these truthful documentaries in short or long feature-length form. They aren’t out there yet supporting on [even] a dollar a screening, or $100 a year, or a month [subscription].

There’s been many times in recent years where I’ve felt that I just can’t keep going on because I financially can’t make end meet, and I can’t pay my phone bill in a couple of weeks time. For instance, this week my credit union bounced on paying my phone account!

MTF: So tell us a bit more then about this current film you’ve been working on. We were talking earlier about different revenue raising models [for this film] like crowdsourcing, which puts the onus back to the grassroots and the community and the audience themselves. This may be the next step, as well as full circle for you.

DB: My current film examines the three stages of the nuclear film cycle on a very personal level. It started when I met an aboriginal woman called Isabelle Dingamah (sic) about four years ago, and I started to film her story. She is one of the traditional custodians of the land at Roxby [Downs]. As a little girl she’d had the British atom bomb dropped on her and her family when she was 18-months-old. It’s kind of Shakespearian.

It’s unfolded organically, which is how I make my documentaries, and filmed as I go. That led me to a struggle by the people in South Australia, the aboriginal people, which had divided the community into those who put their hand up and said they were traditional owners of the land, we can speak on behalf of land and grab the crumbs of BHP Billiton and that the government’s prepared to give us under the Native Title Process to sell our land out from our elders, sell our ancestors short. Now [on the other hand] Isabelle’s never sold her people short, never sold her ancestors short. And consequently she was marginalized.

That then led me into the Lizard’s Revenge‘ [party-protest] in the middle of this year and seeing what around 200-mainly-young people in their late teens and early twenties were doing, as well as some gray nomads that had turned up as well on the invitation of [elder] Kevin Buzzacott to oppose the opening up of the Olympic Dam and the selling of more uranium overseas.

We’ve known for a while what that means for the tragic consequences for people in areas like India, China, Ghanna, Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, Russia, Europe, Japan, etc. There the uranium that was sold from Jabiru–which I made a film about, my first anti-nuclear documentary in 1996/7, Jabiluka–which helped stop that uranium mine. But the uranium that was already being exported from there by Rio Tinto, the second largest uranium miner in the world, went to fuel Fukushima, where the disasterous consequences have been felt by the Japanese people.

I have had the privilege and felt the love and respect of the Japanese people who chaperoned we around their country when I made my film A Hard Rain  in 2005/6, when we thought we were going to get up to 25 nuclear power plants courtesy of John Howard, on the Australian mainland.

Another angle of the documentary is a look at what depleted uranium means for the people on the ground in Iraq, where the babies are being born [deformed]. Our uranium ends up in bullets and bombs, in anti-tank rounds, as was fired in the first and second Gulf Wars, and now it’s leading to disasterous effects on the babies of Basra, Baghdad and Fallujah, etc.

I’ll be going back there with a Christian Social Activist, Donna Mullhearn, to show what I know academically speaking. I had photographs of the [depleted uranium effects] in my film Blowin’ in the Wind and know what that does on the ground to the families and to the kids themselves that have been buried. I’ve been told by Donna, who has made three trips to Fallujah, that they’ve turned the football stadium into a cemetery for kids and babies because they can no longer fit them in the [usual] cemetery due to all the kids that have died from the depleted uranium.

So for me it’s a bit of a psychological and a physical challenge. I’m aware from covering warzones, from the post-Vietnam war days to Central America, Nicaragua and so on, going off to East Timor and West Papua… I’m fully aware as a father of five healthy loving kids whom I love and don’t want to leave behind without a dad, that there’s a possibility of having my limbs and balls blow off–to put it mildly. There’s the roadside bombs in Fallujah, or the [danger] of being kidnapped. Donna’s been kidnapped twice now by Al-Qaeda and she now carries a ‘kidnap kit’ which says in Arabic “I do not agree with the American invasion  … and I’m here basically for the kids and the parents of those kids that try to tell their story face-to-face.”

The uranium that goes to fuel the depleted uranium bombs, bullets, anti-tank rounds and missiles in Iraq is creating that legacy of little kids that are just heinously deformed.

MTF: So you were arrested briefly [see:] whilst filming for this documentary a few months back in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu, in a little village near the Koodankulum nuclear reactor… what was it called?

DB: Idinthakarai. I wasn’t arrested, I was just detained. We talked our way out of it and then four nights later with the help of some local anti-nuclear activists that had been involved in the campaign to stop these two Russian nuclear power plants being built at the southernmost tip of India, they got me back in there again and I was able to film what was going on for ten days and the grassroots basis of their struggle.

I’m not sure yet whether this will be a feature-length documentary of three separate [and interconnected] films showing Australia, our connection to India and Iraq. My job is to go out and shoot the footage, bring it back to the editing room and then with my editor look at what we’ve got with the material, find the hook and make a good story out of it that will engage with the Australian people and people overseas that might see the film on the net or as DVDs, etc. This acts as encouragement to the people of India and the village of Idinthakarai as they continue with their struggle; it helps activists with their struggle in other parts of India to keep on keeping on, as it articulates their struggle.

It also highlights the moral responsibility of all Australians… you can’t just keep on shopping till you drop, whether you’re in Mullumbimby, or Sydney, or Brisbane, or wherever. You have to start confronting the fact that we, as the owners of 40% of the world’s uranium, have a responsibility to the rest of the planet to not create more Fukushima-type scenarios, and to support the people in those countries that are saying no.

One of the people I filmed said “we are asking the people of Australia not to export anymore uranium. Don’t allow your government, don’t allow the multinationals like BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, and the like that are lining up to mine it in Queensland now, and Western Australia and the Northern Territory, don’t allow that to happen.”

MTF: David you’ve done a few anti-nuclear films in your career, so do you feel now that the tide is turning around the issue? The governments and the vested interests are like juggernauts who just keep doing what they do, and are people getting more distracted [from these core issues]? Do you have hope for the future?

DB: I vacillate. I go from thinking there’s no point and I should just grow my organic vegetables and look after me and mine, and pull back and wait for the shock that’s going to happen with all the climate change scenarios… and more Fukushimas. But then I note something like the recent news that BHP Billiton quietly announced on the weekend that they’re going to no longer exploit the uranium from the Olympic Dam; they’re going to sell their interest in the Western Australia uranium mine over there.

And I think, well, keep on going Dave, you can only do what you can do; and the people in the village of Idinthakarai can ony do what they can do, [even if they’re] being used as pawns in the bigger scheme of things, we can all only do what we can do. I’ve come from a level where I thought I could save the world and shoot whatever issue I was campaigning for, but I can only keep on going as best I can with the skills I’ve honed and been given by the universe, for want of a better statement… God, the life-force, whatever.

And then let’s wait and see what history and other connections and determination does. My responsibility is to take the word and the message out there. I’m one messenger amongst many, not THE messenger. And then it’s up to the people to do what they will. And avenues like [that is hosting David’s activist films for Video-On-Demand] does what it can giving people the opportunity to plug into the message.

I’m currently training up by son to be a good editor and to pass on to him, as an elder of the tribe, that he has an obligation to not just get a material gain out of filmmaking, but to do the sort of things that you have to do so future generations wil have a safe world to grow up in, that is worth bringing children into,.

I [don’t want a world] where they won’t be too scared to drink the water coming out of the ground or from the sky because it’s not fit for human consumption and you have to pay five bucks a bottle to big companies like Amcal Coca-Cola for ‘safe’ drinking water for yourself and your partner and children.

MTF: And that’s a future worth fighting for.

DB: It certainly is. I’ve had a wonderful life and I feel grateful for that, but I see the responsibility of it too, and I have since my university days. It goes back probably to my Baptist Youth days where I learned to be a good steward for the earth and to hand on to the next generation my little plot of earth and what I’ve been given to look after. We need to do this for all species, not just us selfish homo sapiens, and ensure it’s handed on in as good a shape as it was handed to us.

And we have to fight for that.

Watch his films

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