Introduction Chomsky's Profile Director's Statement Director's Profile Producer's Profile
  On Producing Power and Terror   Staff   Screening schedule in Japan
image Power and Terror
Director's Statement
Like many in Tokyo, I responded to the September 11 terrorist attacks with a mixture of sadness and fear and anger, which only increased as the live coverage revealed the extent of the human loss. But in the days and weeks that followed, this emotional immediacy was joined by a sense of alarm, which also increased as we watched the Bush administration respond with self-righteous jingoism, followed by massive, unrestrained military force.

I was startled to hear that some 95 percent of Americans—and 100 percent of opinion-makers--had taken up the call to arms. As a member of that miniscule 5 percent, I felt lonely and disheartened. Had we learned nothing from 15 years of fighting a delusionary war in Vietnam? Did no one stop to question whether military force was the answer to terror?

Noam Chomsky’s slim but incisive book “9-11” appeared soon after, and it provided heartening reassurance: Here was someone who knows history and isn’t afraid to draw its lessons. A free voice, unbeholden to the mass media or the American political system, who makes a compelling case against all violence, whether it’s the armed intervention of the powerful, or the flip side, the often cruel terror of groups that claim to represent the disenfranchised.

Producer Yamagami and I agreed that this perspective needs to be heard in Japan, as well as overseas. We contacted Chomsky at the end of the year to see if he could spare the time for three long interviews over the next few months—we thought we could pull together a film from these interviews and some scenes from his daily life.

Chomsky responded—by e-mail the next day—to say he supported the idea of a film, though it would be difficult. There would be time for only one interview, at his office several months later. But he’d be glad to have us film his public talks, of which of he was giving many in the coming weeks. We agreed on a plan to film several talks and a long interview, but we were worried that it would be hard to capture Chomsky, the man, through public and semipublic appearances alone.

Then we learned that this is “Chomsky, the man.” This is what he does, and has done nonstop all his life—Chomsky talks. Major addresses and overseas speaking tours are booked several years in advance, but smaller talks, in union halls or college campuses, are squeezed into his tight schedule whenever time allows. In the months after 9-11, Chomsky gave dozens of talks and more than a hundred interviews. Each talk built upon the last and each interview gave him another opportunity to set the record straight.

We learned that there is a phenomenon called the “Chomsky effect:” many who attend his talks feel invigorated by hearing him give voice to concerns they have long harbored but found difficult to express. We discovered that Chomsky consciously chose, years ago, to take on this role—to be the provider of facts and analysis directly to people who are actively engaged in changing the world. It embodies what he believes—that political change takes place at the level of popular, community-based institutions.

Giving talks works a surprising effect on Chomsky, which we witnessed during a very busy week in the San Francisco Bay Area in March 2002. He had been invited by UC-Berkeley to give a pair of lectures on linguisitics. He held office hours on campus and met with linguistics students and faculty in the area; in his “free time,” he gave five talks in five days (three of which we filmed), to a total audience of more than 5,000 people.

By the final day, Friday in Palo Alto, his voice was cracking and he was dead tired, but when he started talking to an intent crowd of 1,000 people in a hotel ballroom, he hit his stride and gained energy as the evening progressed, from a long talk about space-based missiles into the Q & A session—minitalks, sometimes 10 minutes long, that responded to concerns the audience raised.

After the talk, Chomsky spent another 45 minutes patiently answering questions from a group of 25 who lingered. At one point, his fingers became cramped from signing his autograph and he laughed, “I can’t even write anymore.” Chomsky, the man, may be tireless, but he’s not made of steel. He was still talking as he exited the ballroom, telling a friend how inspired he was by his recent trip to the Kurdish region of Turkey.

For many months the working title of this film was “Chomsky Talks.” We liked its humility and straight-forwardness, which are both qualities that distinguish Chomsky. That’s what he does is talk, and he is the first one to point out that that is all he does, the rest is in the hands of the audience.

This was how we wanted to present our film as well—no narration, simply Chomsky laying out his ideas and raising questions that ultimately will have to be decided in popular and political arenas. And, despite our initial worries, we think the film also captures Noam, the man, with his wit and warmth and unyielding commitment.

Chomsky Effect
John Junkerman, Summer 2002  
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