Sunday, March 29, 2015

RAFF 2015 Film Review- Cartoonists: Foot Soldiers of Democracy

In light of the January events at the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris the role of Newspaper Cartoonist is acutely focused. Is their role to be satirical, should they provoke a response are their any taboo subjects that should be off limits? Do the answer to these questions change depending on the part of the world the cartoonist resides?

Director Stephanie Valloatto's film features 12 Cartoonists from around the world. Valloatto leans mainly towards French speaking professors but all corners of the planet are well represented. The leader of the group is Le Monde's political cartoonist Jean Plantureux who signs as Plantu. He has been called anti-Semitic one day then anti-Muslim the next. French Presidents call Le Monde to complain about how they are being portrayed and at the time of filming Plantu had a pending case in front of the French courts for a post where he went a linked the Pope to the Churches ongoing struggles with defrocked priests. Plantu is also the co-founder of Cartooning for Peace along with then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan.

The different artists style of work depends on the accepted standards in their society. One of the most interesting subjects is Rayma Surprani who has to undergone personal verbal attacks in her native Venezuela. She started drawing Hugo Chavez when he came to power but as he got fatter she kept adding chins and bulk until the government passed a law that the President was not to be drawn. Suprani had to resort to ways around the edict by drawing stand in bananas with a crown to represent the leader.  The same scenario greeted Zlatkovsky in Russia. He had some freedoms in the Perestroika era especially under Yeltsin that continued during as Putin's rise to power. But as in Venezuela after Putin took office drawing the President was banned. Therefore Zlatovsky resorts to using the Russian bear and an overbearing Kremlin shaped crown to show the weight of the Russian Government on the Russian people and foreign states alike.

Valloatto does not avoid the controversial issues. She brings Israeli cartoonist Kichka and Palestinian foil Boukhari together with Plantu present as a buffer to discuss the goings on each side of the Sharon Wall. Boukhari Faso's Glez visits Zohore in his Ivory Coast editorial room as they discuss the boundaries of what they can get print and the points where they self edit.  Some of the drawers have to use other means to get their work out. China's Pi San has to resort to You Tube to get his more sketch like scenarios out to the public while in Tunisia Nadi Khiari's alter ego a cat named Willis from Tunis finds a home on Facebook and amongst graffiti on courtyard and building walls.

But the two main sources of backlash concern the piece called The Prophet by Danish author Kurt Westergaard that led to violent protests in the streets in the Muslim world and burning of Danish flags for the Artist daring to draw the Prophet Mohammed. A greater The backlash occurred in Syria  where cartoonist Ali Farzat was kidnapped and had all of his fingers broken due to a posting about President Assad.  Plantu responded  with a cartoon showing Assad at the steps of a butcher shop with the Title: Son of A Butcher since 1957.

Cartoonist: Foot Soldiers of Democracy is a timely look at the craft and obstacles facing cartooning. The artists have to deal with censorship, political correctness, taboos and an increasing level of violent responses to their work. In some locations only overt racism is off the table while in others discussing the leader, Army, Judiciary and Religion are forbidden. Each cartoonist and editor self sensor but even the mildest post can gain extreme criticism in the modern world of immediate feedback over social media.

*** Out of 4

Cartoonist: Foot Soldiers for Democracy | Stephanie Valloatto | France | 2014 | 106 Minutes.

Tags: Freedom of the Press, Censorship, Political Correctness, Taboos, Politicians, Military, Violent Attacks.

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