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Premieres & Events

Activist Crowd Cheers Glover, Bamako in NYC

Danny Glover in a TV Western sequence from the African drama Bamako (Photo: New Yorker Films)

By Eric Kohn

Danny Glover set an appropriately contemplative tone for the sold-out crowd at Film Forum on Wednesday night: He kicked off the New York theatrical premiere of the improvisational drama Bamako by recalling his origins as a human rights activist. "When I was a young student, I read African Socialism," the veteran actor said, referring to the writings of the revered former Tanzanian president Julius Nyere. "It's the reason I ended up majoring in economics, [and] thinking that at some point I would go to Tanzania and work with the government in some capacity."

Then Glover -- who has, for every rash Lethal Weapon installment, donated twice as much effort to righteous global initiatives -- read an excerpt from his original inspiration. "What is needed is that the people care for each other's welfare," went the passage, in part. "It is not efficiency of production, nor the amount of wealth in a country, which makes millionaires; it is the uneven distribution of what is produced."

He read the last part again: "The uneven distribution of what is produced."

Not long after the lights dimmed, the reasoning behind Glover's opening words became obvious. Bamako tackles the system that finds entire African nations buried in crippling debt held by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. The movie, written and directed by Abderrahmane Sissako and featuring Glover in a minor role in addition to his credit as an executive producer, is impeccably conceived as an authentic document of despair; the thin story provides ample backdrop for powerfully indicting monologues, with native Africans provided the floor to voice their anger as the errant financial establishments are put on trial. Sissako's style is best described as near-documentary; its principle cast members, authentic victims of the system the film aims to critique, were allowed to enact their courtroom arguments as they envisioned them.

For the unequivocally liberal New York crowd, scenes carried the strongest impact when they hit close to home. During a moment that found an African woman declaring that the underlying problem stemmed from President Bush, one audience member couldn't restrain himself. "Yes! Yes!" he cried.

After the screening, the emotional charge remained palpable. Glover came to the front of the theater with co-executive producer Joslyn Barnes to take questions, but several attendees simply needed to get their feelings out. "I really want to see it again and again," a young woman said, while somebody else pleaded that "we must not lose sight of what Africans have to deal with these days."

Once a question-and-answer exchange began in earnest, Glover and Barnes took the cue and presented the movie's central argument. "What the film is asking is, 'Why is the cost being presented as the solution over and over again?" said Barnes. "You have the bank and the fund convincing the leaders that they should stop investing in higher education."

"Everyone's talking about the issue of debt," added Glover. "What do we mean by sustainable development? The existing paradigm makes a few people rich at the expense of many."

While Glover's presence at the screening clearly contributed to the prestige of the event, his performance in Bamako is strikingly minor -- but intentionally so. Portraying a vengeful cop on a television Western that plays in between trial sequences, Glover contributes to the movie's most abstract qualities. "If the Western is symbolic of American power and empire, then certainly it's traveled around the world in various manifestations," he said. "So I believe [it's] symbolic not only of the image of American power, but also how that Western translates into real action."

Feeding off the energy in the room, Glover urged people to get involved. "We have to act here," he said. "The Global South is certainly going to act on its own behalf, [but] we have to be the ones to raise our voices."

Posted at February 16, 2007 12:41 PM

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