Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia.
A graduate of the University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, Walberg has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s. He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al-Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al Jazeera and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.
Walberg commented on the significance of the Iranian festival in an exclusive interview published in the 16th RIFF website.
The full text of the interview follows:
What do you think about the role of independent producers and directors in promoting the truth, peace and reality via an independent film festival such as RIFF? Is it possible at all while we see the US hegemonic hollywoodian invasions?
ERIC WALBERG: These festivals are all the more important now, especially because of the hegemony of US films. The mainstream festivals like Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) in Canada have only a small niche for progress films. The best festival here is HotDoc, the Toronto Documentary Film Festival, where many anti-imperialist films produced independently are shown. And the Toronto Palestinian Film Festival which traditionally has been held after TIFF.
Why in Hollywood we generally see so much hatred toward Iranians and Muslims and what’s in your eyes the true way of reacting to such Islamophobia and Iranophobia?
The prejudice against Iran and Muslims in general is a product of the force of American culture, which breathes imperialism, much as in Rome, Roman citizens assumed that the Roman Empire was eternal.
Muslims are by faith anti-imperialist. Even the great Muslim empires of the past were never attempting to seize the whole world, and never forced citizens to abandon their faith if they were not Muslim.
The injustice of Palestine ensures that Muslims will resist the colonialist Israel regime, and the US and Israel as a whole. Iran stands out as the most outspoken critic of the empire, and is thus the target of unremitting propaganda defaming the country.
This recapitulates the hostility of the West to the Soviet Union, which likewise was anti-imperialist and resisted the US and Israel. It was similarly vilified and finally succumbed to the pressures against it.
What’s your view on the perspectives that Iranian films give to the world? How about those which have been awarded by Oscar, Cannes, Berlin or other Western film festivals? Do you think there’s a political tendency to choose specific films from Iran or other Muslim-majority countries, which present these societies in the same way that West’s mainstream media do?
Iranian films are rarely seen here, but I keep my eyes open and see them whenever possible. They are first class. Unfortunately, Hollywood rules the roost. Foreign language films in general are rarely seen or promoted. That is the way of mass commercial culture. You must look hard to find the nuggets of uplifting cinema, without a pro-war, pro-US subtext.
Can you please mention five topics that American and European films don’t pay attention to and they should?
1. Defending family values and promoting a healthy lifestyle, 2. Promoting peace and protesting against warmongering, 3. Presenting an alternative view of history from eastern, i.e., Muslim and Buddhist perspectives, 4. Promoting Islam as the way of peace, 5. Carrying out more extensive explorations of alternative futures, utopias and postindustrial ecologically-inspired societies.
How about the role of documentary films in all that?
I have been able to see hints of most of those topics at HotDocs and in films from the Sundance festival. Documentary films dealing with these topics are useful, as they personalize these abstractions, which risk being dismissed as platitudes.
‘Spaceship Earth’ is a 2020 American documentary about the 1991 experiment that saw eight individuals spend two years quarantined inside of a self-engineered replica of Earth's ecosystem, dubbed ‘Biosphere 2’, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2020. Watching a documentary about ‘Biosphere 2’ brings to life the idea of creating a sustainable environment.
There are many documentaries being made now showing the plight of natives around the world as capitalism and Western commercial culture eat away at their homes and traditions. Documentary films are one of our best weapons in the fight for a better world.