November 5, 2004
Border screening prevents film screening
By Winston Ross
FLORENCE - The show was to start at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and the house was packed.
More than 70 people crowded the Siuslaw Public Library's Bromley Room, hoping to watch "The Fourth World War," an award-winning documentary about anti-globalization movements across the world. And a bonus: the New York directors would be on hand to show the film.
But it wasn't going to happen. Earlier in the day, U.S. Customs Agents had waylaid directors Rick Rowley and Jacqueline Soohen as they attempted to cross from Canada into Washington state. The agents wanted to know just what kind of film they were hauling, and why their passports contained stamps from Iraq and Palestine.
"It was really kind of low-level harassment," Rowley said via cell phone Thursday.
Agents searched the pair's minivan and questioned them for two or three hours, he said, making it impossible for them to reach Florence as scheduled.
"Border patrol canceled the screening," he said.
They got word to event organizer Rand Dawson, who had to explain the unexpected turn of events. Dawson is a member of Citizens Democracy Watch, a local group that has staged protests against the Iraq war in parts of Florence. He was peeved that U.S. citizens needed to do that much explaining about why they were re-entering the country - movie or no movie.
The directors were "clearly stopped and delayed because they are activist filmmakers," he charged.
"This homeland security emphasis on political perspective is misplaced," he said. "They're not going to make us safer by trying to censor film content."
The film's production company, Big Noise Tactical, touts itself as a "not-for-profit, all-volunteer collective of media makers around the world, dedicated to circulating beautiful, passionate, revolutionary images," according to www.bignoisefilms .com. "We are not filmmakers producing and distributing our work. We are rebels, crystallizing radical community and weaving a network of skin and images, of dreams and bone, of solidarity and connection against the isolation, alienation and cynicism of capitalist decomposition."
Still, U.S. Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mike Milne said agents wouldn't have questioned them solely because of politics.
"There are a number of things we interview and talk to people at the border about," he said. "We are not movie content censors."
As agents question the 1 million people who enter the nation's ports each day, Milne said, "it's our number one job to keep terrorists and terrorist-related weapons out of the U.S., plus to enforce our good old-fashioned laws against drug smuggling and illegal immigration."
A filmmaker would be prevented from bringing pornography into the U.S. Another contraband item is seditious material - that which advocates the overthrow of the government - which may have been what the agents who stopped Rowley and Soohen were trying to ascertain.
Due to privacy laws, however, Milne couldn't offer specifics.
"We question people," he said. "And it may take a long time. But that's our job."
Dawson is trying to secure a copy of the film for a future screening. But the Florence crowd didn't go home empty-handed.
As it happened, one of the audience members had a copy of another film by the same company, "This is What Democracy Looks like." So they watched that instead.
Copyright 2004 The Register-Guard
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