A Whisper to a Roar: Film Review

Democracy doc delivers info and some inspiration but doesn't quite gel.

Ben Moses finds inspiring figures and mixed results in five democracy movements around the world.

Five episodes from the recent past serve as case studies in democratic uprising in Ben Moses' documentary A Whisper to a Roar. Clearly intent on inspiring viewers, the informational film makes a fine sum-up for those who've found the last decade's geopolitics too much to keep track of, but isn't promising in commercial terms. Education markets and aspiring movement-organizers, though, should find it useful.

Moses begins oddly, with an animated fairy tale about a dragon whose reign of terror was ended by a mighty warrior who then became a despot himself -- signalling perhaps that he's not aiming the film at regular readers of The Economist. The cartoon (continued later in the film) makes his point, though: That those who oust dictators often find their newfound power too good to give up, meaning opponents of authoritarian regimes must focus as much on changing governmental systems as on leaders. As one interviewee puts it, discussing a democratic victory that didn't lead immediately to sweeping reforms: "They didn't achieve change, they achieved the ability to change."

Moses tells of critical periods in the politics of Venezuela, Malaysia, Egypt, Zimbabwe and the Ukraine, all cases in which opposition arose to a leader who was abusing his power. He cuts from story to story continually throughout the film, perhaps anticipating short attention spans. The tactic might have been productive if these stories demonstrated a universal structure; but while there are common themes, the stories are quite different, and Moses' roving eye gets in the way of viewer involvement.

Another reason for the cutting might be high hopes: Making each story a self-contained chapter, perhaps with a host introducing and drawing parallels between them, would make Roar play more like what it is at heart -- a classroom educational film that lacks the qualities we look for in a theatrical doc. In the best case scenario, the film should be well distributed on disc and easily accessed online, allowing dissatisfied citizens anywhere to draw lessons and hope from these five inspiring stories.

Production Company: Appleseed Democracy Documentary LLC
Director-Screenwriter: Ben Moses
Producers: Ben Moses, Amy Martinez
Executive producers: Larry Diamond, Lynne Moses
Director of photography: Harris Done
Music: Christiopher Thomas
Editor: Sharon Franklin
No rating, 94 minutes.