Published on April 23rd, 2013 | by Greg0
Somalia: “The World’s Most Dangerous Place” And “The Project”
It’s rare that we’re able to offer a truly multimedia review. For the past week or so, we’ve been bringing you coverage of the Tribeca Film Festival, happening through this weekend here in New York City. Recently, we caught a screening of an interesting documentary, and found it an excellent comparison piece to a book that’s currently in our hands for review as well. Both focus on Somalia, often called the world’s most failed state, a country where the word Mogadishu recalls fears about “Black Hawk Down”, and where the coastline is a famed haven for pirates. Neither is widely available yet, but consider this a preview for what is sure to be in the news soon.
“The Project” is a documentary that covers the foundation of a sort of public/private military force, the Puntland Maritime Police Force. “The scourge of Somali piracy has been devastating the Middle East and North African shipping industries for nearly a decade. As a country with no functioning central government for over twenty years and no military training permitted under UN sanctions, Somalia has been largely powerless to curb the increasingly bold and violent actions of the pirates.” In steps companies like Blackwater and the government of the UAE, who create a sort of task force to attempt to bring some order to the lawless front. At first, it’s an interesting story, largely thanks to the footage shot by Roger Carstens, who is there as a bystander and supporter. Director Shawn Efran clearly grabbed on early to an interesting idea, and kudos for sticking with it.
Interviews with Blackwater founder Erik Prince and even the victims themselves unfortunately add little though, and viewers are often confused as to where it’s all going. The editing and arc feels a bit slapdash, with parts clearly added thanks to updates less than a month before the premiere. There’s a climatic scene that left most in the audience confused as to what had happened and why and how. It’s a pirate movie without pirates, an action film with no action, and ultimately no background or real detail on the “enemy”. There’s paranoia and suspicion and drama, but it all feels very distant, long over, and we already know how it’s going to resolve. “The Project” was thus a sadly weak film about an essentially weak project, one that had potential but got caught up in politics. The pirates get starved out, and so do we. Showing Wednesday at 3:30PM and Thursday at 8:30PM.
But the film forms the perfect backdrop and was more interesting thanks our research and reading of an upcoming non-fiction book, “The World’s Most Dangerous Place”. Author James Fergusson deftly supplies some history and leads us on a tour of this hotbed of strife and turmoil. Though the movie offers some striking visuals of horrible things, reading about them is equally terrible, and it’s easy to feel a bit depressed. But stick with it, if only to see the bright side.
The introduction of the book, though, almost had us skip it entirely- as it undercuts the title and the book itself, by the author’s explicit admission. It turns out that the world can move pretty quickly, and that Somalia has actually seen some very positive changes. It’s not a holiday destination yet- and we’re not booking tickets- but the very forces that “The Project” and the book explore hit a sort of tipping point, it appears. The radical Islam group responsible for much of the trouble, Al-Shabaab, is on the run- and local law and order is improving, businesses are trying to get back to normal, and things are looking far more positive. For instance, on piracy: “Backers were now reportedly reluctant to finance pirate expeditions due to the low rate of success, and pirates were no longer able to reimburse their creditors.According to the International Maritime Bureau, pirate attacks had by October 2012 dropped to a six-year low, with only 1 ship attacked in the third quarter compared to 36 during the same period in 2011.”
That doesn’t mean that the book and movie are wrong, just already out of date, and a bit out of focus thanks to recent events. The headlines are still not great of course (only yesterday, “At least 6 people were confirmed dead and many others injured in heavy clashes between Al Shabaab and Somali government forces on Sunday at a village near Hudur”, which happens to be mentioned in the film).
Anyone interested in the conflict would be well-advised to check out both the film and the book, but with a caveat that news moves quickly and neither of them is completely satisfying. $16, and available in late May in paperback, 432 pages, Da Capo Press.