Editor's Note: Director Stuart Townsend will join the USW on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2008, for a Pittsburgh premiere of "Battle in Seattle." Read more about that event here.
“Battle in Seattle,” a dramatized account of the 1999 protests that paralyzed the World Trade Organization and rocked the world, is a movie major Hollywood studios didn’t want to make. Starring Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Ray Liotta, Michele Rodriguez, Martin Henderson, Andre Benjamin and Channing Tatum, the film is a rare celebration of how ordinary people, union members and activists can trounce the world’s largest corporations.
“The film is riveting – worth seeing just for entertainment purposes. But it is more than a great movie,’’ said USW International President Leo W. Gerard.
Making a difference
Based on the historic events of nearly a decade ago, the full-length drama tells the story of a group of fictional characters over the five days of protests conducted against the WTO as it tried to hold its first ministerial conference ever on United States soil.
Both entertaining and informative, the movie reminds us that when working people unite, we can successfully stand up against greedy corporate interests and change our world.
Stuart Townsend, an actor and first-time director, blended fiction with actual film footage from 1999, when more than 50,000 people converged on Seattle including union activists, students, environmentalists and consumer advocates.
“The film transports you right back to those historic days: our signs, our chants and the power of so many people coming together from across the nation and around the world,” Gerard added. “And then there is our victory; we shut down that WTO expansion. The WTO still has not recovered from the damage we inflicted.”
Protestors filled streets
Over the period of a week, as many as 75,000 people turned out on the streets of Seattle to protest the WTO meeting, the result of months of planning and organization. The USW contingent, swelled by 1,100 Rapid Response activists and led by former International President George Becker and Gerard, was a formidable presence on the streets.
“I was never more proud of our union than I was at Seattle,’’ said Rapid Response Director Tim Waters. “The streets of Seattle really hurt the WTO. It was like lifting the rock up.”
On the morning of Nov. 30, demonstrators did what few had thought possible. They shut down the WTO proceedings with civil disobedience.
Several thousand union members continued to demonstrate for days, marching along side environmentalists and others for the right to protest in the face of police assaults. Many union members were tear-gassed and some were among the 500-plus protestors who were arrested and jailed for taking part in peaceful demonstrations.
The demonstrations had a profound impact on public opinion and awareness of the WTO, a forum for governments around the world to negotiate and settle trade agreements and disputes.
Like many of us, Townsend watched the events in Seattle unfold across the globe from his home in Ireland. It sparked his interest in the anti-globalization movement and started him thinking about Seattle as a subject for a film.
Townsend said one of the main reasons he wanted to make the movie was because he felt the “anti-globalization movement … had their hand on the pulse of what was going wrong in this world.
“And what they were against was the corporatization of the world, and I could see that happening,” he said. “And when I started to bring to light these institutions like the WTO, the IMF (International Monetary Fund) and the World Bank, I started … to realize they were really behind a lot of the misery that exists on this planet.”
Six years in the making, the movie got rave reviews at a screening in Toronto, but there were no distribution offers from major film companies. Ultimately, Townsend decided to distribute the film independently.
“None of the corporations wanted to buy. It’s a movie with stars. It’s a movie they normally would buy in a heart beat,’’ Townsend said in a telephone interview. “Not to get too conspiratorial, but it hasn’t been an easy ride making a movie like this. I’d have been better off making a comedy.”
“Battle in Seattle” will be released in select cities nationwide beginning Sept. 19. For ticket and group sales information call (866) 758-1258, e-mail: email@example.com or visit www.battleinseattlemovie.com.
How the movie fares in its first two weeks of limited distribution will determine whether or not the film – and our story - goes to full national distribution.
“That is where we can help,” said Gerard, who did a post-production interview with Townsend for the publicity effort. “Just like we organized turnout at the Seattle protests – telling our friends, posting information in our union halls, sending out emails and flyers – we can create another Seattle surprise!”
“Battle in Seattle” will be released in select cities nationwide beginning Sept. 19. For tickets and group sales information call (866) 758-1258, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.battleinseattlemovie.com.