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Challenges to Democracy: A Whisper to a Roar

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During a blizzard in Kiev, Ukraine last month, director Ben Moses attended a screening of his film A Whisper To A Roar. As he made his way to the theater, he wondered if this wasn't a little crazy and if anyone would fight through the cold and snow to come see the film. There were 500 people in the audience. The theater was packed. Moses couldn't even get a seat. Ukraine is one of the five countries featured in A Whisper To A Roar, released last October. Egypt, Malaysia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe are the other countries the film centers on looking at democracy and the struggle for freedom.

A Whisper To A Roar will be released on Netflix and DVD on April 16th. Since the film was shot and released, the stories in all five of these countries have continued to evolve, but the fundamental challenge of change and the adoption of democracy remains constant. Elections in Venezuela have just occurred, resulting in calls for a recount. Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles came within little more than one percentage point of Chavez-government candidate Nicolas Madura, who was largely favored to win the election outright. Egypt has seen repeated violence in the streets and President Morsi has been criticized for his handling of the outbreaks as well as economic conditions in the country. Malaysia will hold elections in May and some are giving the former Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim good odds at winning office. Zimbabwe will also hold elections this summer. Growing fears of violence like that seen in 2008, have led to calls for peace and transparency in the election. Unfortunately, reports of voter intimidation are already hitting the news.

The success of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine in 2004 led to significant steps toward democracy, but maintaining these gains in the face of current repressive leadership is proving difficult. There have been recent demonstrations against a current referendum that could extend President Viktor Yanukovych's term as head of state. The very first question Moses was asked after the screening was "How do we fix it?"

"I said that you're asking an American filmmaker how to solve your political problems. I'm not the one you should be asking. But it hurt in a way because they're so desperate to make things better. They feel like the Orange Revolution that they fought for 9 years ago has failed. I said that I don't think it failed at all. Your awareness that the people can be heard doesn't mean that you're going to get the greatest leader in the first try, but you've got to keep trying...They didn't understand that because they had their revolution and they stood their ground and they forced the then government to play fair for once that they weren't going to have all their problems solved. What they didn't know was that they have to keep trying. You may not get the guy you want in office the first time, but you can kick him out and you've got to be active and you've got to participate. You've got to find somebody better and put them in office... They didn't really have an understanding of how democracy works since they haven't had it before."

Executive Producer Larry Diamond wrote the book, The Spirit of Democracy that inspired the film. In catching up with him for the DVD release we talked about the reactions he's witnessed with the film.

"What amazes me given that we stopped filming a while ago is how incredibly current the film still is. People are very moved. I'd say that's the single most common reaction we get is a feeling of inspiration and very intense identification with these people who have been taking risks and struggling in very, very challenging and sometimes dangerous circumstances for things we take for granted in the United States. It sounds a little bit self-promotional, it's a little bit awkward saying it, but it has been the case that at every showing I've been to the audience has broken out into applause at the end of the film. They really do feel inspired by it. The film, in particular, as you can imagine is having a very, very profound impact on people who are from these countries or people who have been to these countries or know people from these countries. But it also speaks to people who just care about human rights and freedom. It speaks to people who come from or live in other countries that are engaged in similar circumstances where they're trying to get to democracy or they've got democracy but it's insecure."

We also discussed the film in terms of functioning as a springboard or touchstone for other issues, such as gender inequality.

"This comes out when we have panel discussions and we get political women activists commenting on the film. I would say that although the film does not explicitly address the really massive inequalities in power, status, dignity and all the rest based on gender, it speaks to many women who have been deprived of their ability to raise these issues in generally repressive climates. Let's not be simplistic, we know from what's going on in [a country like] India now, it doesn't assure the dignity and security of women, but at least it gives people tools that they can struggle with to try to combat these abuses. It's a very, very long struggle and it's a multi-dimensional struggle. There are so many challenges that these countries face, but it's very hard for them to mobilize and confront them effectively if they don't have a general climate of freedom and some kind of rule of law."

A Whisper To A Roar has been translated into 6 languages and will be available through Netflix, ITunes, Google Play, Amazon and more on April 16th. The film is also being adapted and a curriculum developed for high school and college students with SPICE out of Stanford. Upcoming screenings are listed on the film's website.