Liberia: An Uncivil War (TV Movie 2004) Poster

(2004 TV Movie)

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An incredible first hand view of a sad country
vincent-271 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
This movie is a fascinating looking inside a third world countries civil war (Liberia) the kind of which have been happening all over the world since the colonial powers withdrew after WWII. Filmmakers Jonathan Stack and James Brabazon (winners of International Documentary Association Courage Under Fire award) provide a first hand view of the battle for control of the capital of Liberia (Monrovia) which is held by (elected) president Charles Taylor. The filmmakers show how much Liberia looks up to the United States (their flag looks strikingly similar) and how they view themselves as the 51st state. It's amazing that a country so racked by poverty and obviously exploited by western nations has such a naive view of America. Their views quickly change as their country descends into war and the Americans, who are looked upon as saviours, never come. The shots of war are sometimes very gruesome and surreal, such as the shot (from a previous war) of a teenager holding the heart of a killed enemy. Supposedly they believe that if they eat the hearts of their vanquished, it gives them strength. Chilling.

We see both sides of the conflict and as the other reviewer comments, both sides are equally disorganized and seemingly crazed. The rebels, called LURD are determined to removed Charles Taylor, for what reason, we are told he harbours international terrorists by the Americans and is accused of war crimes. They provide no evidence for this however. To the other reviews who commented on the negative image of the U.S., it is unfortunate that you cannot accept the truth about your country, but if you notice their are many people interviewed who are pro Americans, yet the Americans do little except, astonishingly, send out Marines to protect beer shipments to the embassy while the city is being mortared. It is noted how many of the weapons are are American and it's pretty amazing that a high powered rifle can be bought for less than $20 in Africa.

I have read many accounts of U.S. involvement in developing countries and how their misery is exploited for their own ends. This film shows this ugliness firsthand and as much as the U.S. ambassadors and military try and spin things, it's obvious they care little about the country, except, as the ambassador freely admits, as so far as the shipments of raw materials back to the United States. I have always had mixed feelings about the UN and their role in governing world affairs, yet what can you say about an American force that stays for only 1 month after the rebels finally win? It seems it is international forces of the UN that do the real work in rebuilding the country.

I watched this movie with amazement and incredible sadness for these people living in such horribly poor conditions, colonized to the point where they have lost their language, their religion, exploited by the West and left to destroy themselves. Their elected leader overthrown by rebels who are supported by western powers. If you ever doubted that these small impoverished nations are mere pawns in the international chess game, this movie will remove any doubt. The saddest thing is that the war and death seemed so pointless in the end, little was gained except the removal of one man. Perhaps it is the American influence, the belief that all evil is concentrated in one "bad guy", and that the solution is his removal. Pity life is never that simple.
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Interesting, but flawed
bensonmum222 May 2005
Warning: Spoilers
  • Liberia: An Uncivil War is a sometimes interesting, sometimes shocking, but sometimes flawed look at the last days of the Civil War in Liberia in 1993. One of the directors was embedded with the rebel group LURD, while the other spent his time in the capital city with the government and the people. The portions of the movie that focuses on the rebels is fascinating. More than of few of the rebels appear to be little more than boys. Their training appeared to be all but non-existent. Yet, the commitment to the rebel cause was obvious.

  • The portion focusing on the government was just as interesting. The images of civilians being slaughtered were horrific. It was amazing to watch some of these people attempt to go through life as if a battle wasn't taking place a few miles away. The one glaring weakness with this portion of the movie was the lack of in-depth coverage of the government's forces. Whether the filmmakers weren't afforded access or they just failed to report on the army was not made clear. What was clear was the fact that the army wasn't any more prepared or organized than the rebels.

  • My biggest complaint with the film (and I'm sure I'll get negative votes for this) was what I perceived to be an anti-American bias on the part of the filmmakers. At every possible opportunity, America was shown in as negative a light as possible. I understand that these may only be perceptions on my part, but that's the way I saw it.
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Some context below;
harmonyx42 November 2007
Warning: Spoilers
I was there just after this. The film is restrained (yep - hard to believe after you've seen it) and not quite as graphic as the reality - no-one could watch it if it was. (It's still incredibly graphic - be warned. The word James Brabazon used is 'visceral'.) My hats off to the filmmakers - they have true guts (to keep in the theme - sorry).

Where I feel it would have been more rounded for them to explore more fully is the psychological grappling of the ordinary citizen. That is one of the biggest horrors of this war. Yes, they went about their business (of survival) as best they could but the horror of being randomly close to death at every moment, and dependent on someone else's volubility, is as difficult to witness as the actual physical traumas. And, maybe some views from the parents of the drugged-to-their-eyeballs child soldiers would have shown them more as people. Although, to be honest, they weren't really people then.

And, yes, it's very critical of the US government but it doesn't come from an anti-American 'bias' - it is a just accurate reflection of the reality. The Liberians were absolutely sure their American brothers would come to help them out. And even after all that, there is still an incredible depth of feeling that Liberians have towards the USA. As a whole, they still think of themselves as the 51st state, though some have a better understanding of where Liberia fits into American thought processes (nowhere except for the commodities they have that the USA wants). But still the Liberians harbour historic sentimentality. Maybe they should all see this movie too. Oh, maybe not, until the trauma psychologists have been in.
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Lacking Full Understanding
Dalydalo2 July 2006
The problem with the documentary was it really didn't address the human rights issues and corruption of the Liberian Government. At some points of the film you almost feel sorry for Charles Taylor - perhaps if we knew the whole picture we wouldn't. The film did have a lot of anti-American tint to it, and some of it may have been deserved.

However, if the filmmakers were going to be critical of the US Government, they seemed to forget to put any real criticism on there brothers in the American Media. The absence of Liberia being anywhere in the news media in the US was a contributing factor of the lack of US involvement. One that should not be overlooked, which other then one line in the film wasn't even mentioned. Funny how that always seems to happen - the media very rarely critizes themselves.

It wasn't fair to really point out the lack of American involvement-without pointing out the lack of Western involvement as a whole. Liberia may be the one country that has some real history with the US. The rest of Africa and it's poverty, corruption and instability as a whole is more a direct link to Europe and it's failure with former colonies.
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War documentary at its gritty finest
avacado-azzurro30 April 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Armed with Canon XL1 pro-sumer video cameras, James Brabazon and Jonathan Stack went into the Liberian jungle in 1993 and brought out a great war documentary. This film is as real as can be.

Brabazon and Stack didn't just film, they interviewed key players from both sides of the conflict and did their homework. They present viewers with a stark look at the current reality of tribal and urban warfare fought in a subtropical environment. LURD rebels and henchmen of Liberia's former dictator Charles Taylor are both presented in an equally objective light.

This documentary is a must have for anyone interested in the current state of civil warfare. It features extremely graphic imagery and is not recommended for the squeamish.
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Joker-2610 February 2007
Warning: Spoilers
The BBC does seem to come up with some incredible documentaries from time to time, often involving very brave war journalists who venture beyond the cushy hotels to get a true understanding of the conflict. And they manage to capture some gripping moments. They did it in Iraq a number of years ago when a journalist was saved from a mob lynching by Iraqi resistance fighters, whom he later interviewed. In this docu, we see even more such 'moments', for example when dead children are buried in a mass grave and when rebel troops march on the capital Monrovia. All this while the articulate, charismatic strongman Charles Taylor comments on the unfolding drama from his Presidential compound.

Taylor has indeed been involved in all the various regional wars, be they fuelled by diamonds, oil, or just tribalistic power grabs. He has plenty of blood on his hands and has justifiably been indicted for war crimes by the ICC in the Hague. In fact, he has been involved in criminal activity ever since he was a student in the US. His murky links to American right wing evangelists also seems strange in the context of Bush and his cohorts firstly calling for him to leave Liberia and then offering $2m for his arrest and extradition from Nigeria. I say strange because these same evangelists are closely linked to the Bush administration itself.

This documentary does rightly criticize the US on occasion. The question that went through my mind is why do the Americans seem to go into countries that do not want them (e.g. Iraq and Somalia) yet in the very few countries that clearly do (e.g. Liberia) they stay as far away as possible? Most Liberians wanted to see US troops on the streets because they see the states as a sort of 'bigger brother' figure (the US did establish the country in the first place after all). However, the US chose to stay out, despite having 3000 Marines briefly stationed offshore. The documentary makes the point that perhaps they were fearful of another 'black hawk down' scenario as US troops get bogged down in the midst of urban warfare in Monrovia. At one point we are shown a clip of US troops in Monrovia's streets but they're merely there for a few minutes to ensure beer gets delivered to the embassy!! On the whole though, the makers are simply detailing the horrors being inflicted on the innocent people without pointing fingers. Liberia still faces an uncertain future despite a new govt taking power and UN troops providing a semblance of security.

On the whole, a very detailed, tragic and often terrifying portrait of Liberia's civil war, done to a subtle backdrop of melancholic African hip-hop critical of the fighting and longing for some kind of peace. We often get the impression from observers in the documentary that there is little hope of such a positive outcome. One senses that instability and war still remain a constant menace as the country moves on.
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