Total Denial

Total Denial


Reviewed by: Chris

Total Denial is a gripping documentary about the victory of 15 indigenous people from the jungles of Burma over a leading corporation in a US court.

It begins with introductory scenes of the country and the legendary Aung San Sui Kyi, who led the struggle against the military dictatorship, even from prison.

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Amid the visually stunning temples and colour-rich countryside, we focus in on an area near the Thai border, where a large ethnic minority, the Karen, hide.

In 1992, TOTAL and UNOCAL do a deal with the dictatorship to run a gas pipeline from the Andaman Sea through Burma to Thailand. The military provides “security” by using lethal force, rape and torture, forcing the villagers to work on road construction as slaves.

Milena Kaneva's award winning film is remarkable in many ways, but chiefly as it tells the story of one man, Ka Hsaw Wa, an activist whose life was changed as a young man when he came across the dead body of a girl, her nipples cut off and a tree trunk rammed into her vagina.

Ka Hsaw Wa dedicates his life to human rights, speaking fluent English and Burmese, dodging back and forth, as he plays cat-and-mouse with the border guards. All the while he is fighting to live, raise a family and protect his homeland. At one point, he describes how he was once tortured. When he goes into difficult areas of the jungle now, he takes a gun with a single bullet - to commit suicide, if captured.

Total Denial is no dry courtroom drama, although there is plenty of tension later on. It speaks to eye witnesses of brutal crimes and shows the scars and wounds of people forced to work in slavery. At one point, the interviewer almost breaks down, speaking to a defector, who corroborates the atrocities of colleagues and tells how he was forced to join the army. Several NGOs are interviewed, also giving first hand accounts of murder. One teacher describes the sight of a pregnant woman, shot and then burnt to death.

The film explains how to film quickly and secretly, when opportunities arise, and how to survive in the jungle with only a hammock. Ka Hsaw Wa listens in to military communications on a short wave radio to avoid detection.

Total Denial is more than a vividly illustrated polemic. Lawyers for UNOCAL and TOTAL are given every opportunity to put their side of the story and they are eloquent in their defence, convincingly rubbishing as “fabrications” the events we have seen and heard recounted from a wide variety of sources.

In court, the US judges show themselves to be nobody's fool and ask penetrating questions. There is a law that allows people from other countries, who have been wronged by US corporations, to sue in the US. Attempts have been made under the present administration to lean on decisions in regard to this law - oil companies with connections to George W Bush stand to lose heavily.

It is a privilege to watch this film. It is expertly made and shows humanity at its worst and, more importantly, its best. It is a remarkable story of love and hope, one that brings tears to your eyes and restores your faith in justice.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed on: 04 Mar 2007
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Fighting the multinationals in Burma through US courts.

Director: Milena Kaneva

Year: 2006

Runtime: 90 minutes

Country: Bulgaria/Italy


Human Rights 2007

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