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Director's Statement
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March 22, 2002. Exiting a talk that Noam Chomsky gave in Palo Alto, California, a middle-aged woman remarked: "Chomsky gave us hope that if we just organize and act, there's hope. That's wonderful. I feel better than I've felt for months."

January 31, 2003. Exiting a screening of "Power and Terror," in Naha, Okinawa, a young woman remarked: "I was feeling very depressed about the state of the world this past week. But now I have my spirit back."

In the past year, in the course of directing and screening this film about America's most prominent dissident, I have witnessed numerous times what has been called the "Chomsky effect."

Audiences at Chomsky's talks and at film screenings leave the halls invigorated and spirited--not exhausted and discouraged--despite the often distressing subjects of his talks and the effort required to hear and digest their content.

This has been a surprising phenomenon to encounter, but I have come to understand it in the following way. First, much of the public (in Japan as well as America) is deeply troubled and skeptical both of government policies and of media coverage of those policies. It is heartening to hear Chomsky articulate these doubts with his characteristically wide-ranging command of historical fact and his penetrating analysis of that fact.

Secondly, Chomsky conveys a deep and abiding faith in the power of language and fact to cut through layers of obfuscation and propaganda and to liberate our minds. He speaks not with incendiary rhetoric or ideological cant, but with quiet, modulated, and often ironically humorous confidence. This too gives heart to his audiences.

The result is that many listen with rapt attention to talks that may go on for 90 or 120 minutes. The halls are generally filled to capacity, and you do not see anyone dozing off or leaving midway through the talk. Rather, the level of concentration tends to increase as the evening wears on. This is generally true of the film as well.

November 22, 2002. During a discussion after the premiere screening of "Power and Terror" in Manhattan, a young man remarked: "The people in the audience seem to agree with everything that Chomsky says. How is that any different from the unquestioning support that audiences give President Bush?"

A fair question, since Chomsky has many devoted followers and a level of celebrity that is rare among intellectuals. But I think the difference is in the message: Chomsky asks far more questions than he provides answers. "I don't know the truth," he insists.

It is up to each one of us to exercise our right to know, to examine the facts, and to form our own conclusions. This is what democracy, in its truest meaning, is all about. "You can indulge in fantasies if you like," Chomsky says, "but that's a choice."

And this, I think is a third reason for the "Chomsky effect."

Hearing one of his talks is, in itself, an act of self-assertion, an exercise in the ongoing process of re-examining accepted wisdom and forming one's own perspective, a step toward a responsible engagement with the world. In a world that is often characterized by passive acquiescence to government direction and to the media's presentation of world events, thinking through these issues from a fresh perspective--together with Chomsky--is an act of rebellion, of self-liberation, and that is always invigorating.
John Junkerman  
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