However, when the doc sticks to her coverage of Desert Storm, the Bosnian War, the Rwandan Genocide, and other geopolitical conflicts of the 1990s the film comes into sharper focus. Here Lawless uses Moth’s own footage on the ground, much of which aired on CNN, shaping the view of the atrocities of war for audiences across the globe. As her fellow CNN journalists describe covering the first armed conflicts where the press was actively targeted, it’s easy to see parallels to the situation in Gaza today. It’s hard to watch the footage she filmed of the IDF firing right at her car in Lebanon then later bomb a U.N. camp filled with Lebanese civilians, and realize that, despite her best efforts to document these horrors in real time so they wouldn’t happen again, history is repeating itself.
Who gets to shape, record, remember, and tell the stories from history is the subject of Johan Grimonprez’s searing video-essay “Soundtrack to a Coup d’Etat.” Watching the doc evokes the same intellectual and visceral feeling one gets from reading a dense work of nonfiction, complete with a thick annotated bibliography.
Working with a team of editors Grimonprez’s film adapts three books: My Country, Africa: Autobiography of the Black Pasionaria by activist and human rights advocate Andrée Blouin, Congo, Inc. by Congolese writer In Koli Jean Bofane, and To Katanga and Back: A UN Case History by Irish diplomat Conor Cruise O’Brien. The filmmaker deploys narrators to bring them to life like oral histories, while also using excerpts from the audio memoirs of Soviet politician Nikita Khrushchev. These are then infused with home video footage, newsreels, text excerpts from newspapers, diplomatic correspondence, archival interviews, and footage and songs from African griots and American jazz musicians like Abbey Lincoln and Max Roach, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Ornette Colman, Nina Simone, and Louis Armstrong.
All of this pieces together to form a Howard Zinn style people’s history of the formation of the Democratic Republic of Congo under the ill-fated Patrice Lumumba, his mission to create a United States of Africa, the way post-colonial nations in Africa were used as pawns by both U.S. and Soviet powers, how the Civil Rights Movement in the United States was in inexorably connected to geopolitics of post-colonial Africa, the Global South’s attempt to reject western influence as they joined the United Nations, and ultimately the collusion of western powers to back the first post-colonial coup in Africa in order to main control of the region’s mineral resources.