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Operation Lysistrata (2006)

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In January 2003, two women in New York City, Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, thought to organize readings of the ancient Greek play by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, as a protest against the ... See full summary »

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Title: Operation Lysistrata (2006)

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Credited cast:
Cheryl Black ...
Kathryn Blume ...
Sharron Bower ...
Meg A. Bucks ...
Meg A. Bucks (as Billionaires for Bush)
Robin Eublind ...
Robin Eublind (as Billionaires for Bush)
Mark Greene ...
Xavier Laret ...
Amanda Stephens Lee ...
Ellen McLaughlin ...


In January 2003, two women in New York City, Kathryn Blume and Sharron Bower, thought to organize readings of the ancient Greek play by Aristophanes, Lysistrata, as a protest against the imminent preemptive war on Iraq. Originally conceived as a local event, however, over the course of a few weeks, word of the Lysistrata Project quickly gained momentum and became a worldwide happening for peace. On March 3, 2003 nearly 1,100 simultaneous productions of Lysistrata were performed in 59 countries around the globe. Written by Anonymous

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03/03/03, the theater world takes the stage against the war in Iraq







Release Date:

7 September 2006 (USA)  »

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Inspiring partnership between two activist forms - theatre and documentary film
3 November 2008 | by (University of Minnesota) – See all my reviews

In an election year, when concerns over the efficacy of our politics are running high, filmmaker Michael Patrick Kelly offers an insightful portrait of how an individual thought can have a global impact.

The story of a worldwide theatrical act of dissent, Operation Lysistrata follows a 3-month odyssey led by two New York activists, Sharron Bower and Kathryn Blume, as they coordinated global readings of Aristophanes' 2,500 year old play, Lysistrata, on March 3rd, 2003 to protest Bush's invasion of Iraq. Operation Lysistrata, whose title deliberately plays on the military action it sought to prevent, traces an idea that started with two women in New York and grew to global proportions. Bower and Blume coordinated 1,029 readings worldwide in churches, schools, basements, refugee camps, press corp offices, and private homes. An estimated 225,000 people in 59 countries and all 50 U.S. states participated in the event.

The film deftly weaves news footage, rehearsals from around the world, clever supporting animation, and interviews with actors, artists and ordinary people as it tells the story of freedom of speech, grassroots activism, and the power of theatre to change the world. From the idea of making an anti-war statement in January 2003, to the worldwide reading on March 3rd, to reflection 10 days after the event, Kelly's film includes a stunning array of footage from all over the world, as far as Singapore, Norway, Patras and Rome and across the United States, from Brooklyn to San Francisco and all points in between.

F. Murray Abraham, Judith Malina, Ellen McLaughlin, Kevin Bacon, Kyra Sedgwick, Mercedes Ruehl, Robert Brustein, Tony Kushner and many others lend their theatre and film celebrity to the cause and are featured alongside everyday New Yorkers and global citizens who feel compelled to speak out.

As the film opens Abraham tells the story of the sparrow who, when he heard the sky was falling, lay down on his back and tried to hold it up with his little feet. When asked what he thought he, as a tiny, weak creature, would accomplish, he replied, "We do what we can." This notion of doing something, of standing up and being counted, permeates the film, which also includes archival footage from the Civil Rights and Women's Movements, commentary on art's role in social change by historian Howard Zinn, and documentary footage of the anti-war protests in New York, Washington DC and across Europe.

The readings ranges from fully realized theatrical productions, such as the one at the Brooklyn Academy of Music that featured Abraham, Bacon, and Sedgwick, to a reading without electricity in a Kurdish refugee camp in Patras, Greece. Performers in war-torn Philippines literally risked their lives to participate in this reading. A group of gagged performers stood before the Houses of Parliament in London and as Big Ben struck the hour, turned, removed their gags, and recited the play's communal chorus, an indictment of the misuse of reigning power. Community theatre groups performed indoors and on street corners, private citizens hosted readings in their homes, and 15-year old Daniel Merritt of Columbus, Ohio staged a version acted entirely by toy dinosaurs. And the film incorporates the attention-getting humor of Aristophanes' play, complete with every imaginable strap-on phallus, codpiece, and sex jokes galore.

We watch individuals become activists, find their political voices, and act on their convictions. We witness how divisive a force this war is, as people from varying sides of the political spectrum encounter one another through this event. And we see Aristophanes' play as a mirror that reflects contemporary culture and offers a way to talk about power and its abuses in our society.

Kelly's film represents an inspiring partnership between two activist forms: theatre and documentary film. Both media hold the power to cause social change, by exposing, articulating, and chronicling society's flaws and political ills. Operation Lysistrata is an artful blend of these two forms, at once chronicling the activism of artists speaking out against war, illustrating the power of Aristophanes' farce in making contemporary anti-war statements, and reinforcing the vital role documentary filmmakers play as our cultural watchdogs.

Five years into the war, with 4,100 US soldiers and over a million Iraqis dead, and countless wounded and in need of mental health care, Kelly's film stands as testament to the importance of dissenting voices. By bringing attention to this important global theatrical act of dissent, especially in an election year that could drastically shift our political landscape, Operation Lysistrata does its part in holding up the sky.

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