||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 Americansand
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 Chomskys slim but incisive book 9-11 appeared
soon after, and it provided heartening reassurance: Here was someone
who knows history and isnt 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 its
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 monthswe thought we could pull together a
film from these interviews and some scenes from his daily life.
Chomsky respondedby e-mail the next dayto 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 hed
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
Then we learned that this is Chomsky, the man. This is
what he does, and has done nonstop all his lifeChomsky 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 roleto be the provider of facts and analysis directly to
people who are actively engaged in changing the world. It embodies
what he believesthat 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 sessionminitalks, 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
cant even write anymore. Chomsky, the man, may be tireless,
but hes 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. Thats 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 wellno 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.
||John Junkerman, Summer 2002