Citizen activists who use open sources to defy dictatorships and maintain democracy in the world of hybrid warfare: a rare look into the investigative journalistic practices
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: You might have heard the weird word Bellingcat—the name of a citizen journalist collective, whose findings were central in some of the most prominent investigations of the past years. Their work had often been more effective than that of international investigative bodies. Without Bellingcat’s efforts, we might not have known about the use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces on its citizens. Or about the Russian origins of the missile that shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17. “Bellingcat,” the film sheds light on the way the organization came to be and how it operates. and, most importantly, how a ragtag team of guys from all over Europe manages to be so effective in probing into the world’s evil.
WHO MADE IT: Hans Pool, the director, is a notable Dutch documentary filmmaker, whose previous works are not as well known abroad. In 2012 he made a film “Putin’s Olympic Dream” about the intense process of making Sochi into an Olympic capital. This explains why the focus on Bellingcat’s investigations in Pool’s film is also heavily related to Russia. Bellingcat has solved cases in Cameroon, Venezuela, Yemen, Turkey, and the US. But the events of the film mostly portray them dealing with the flight M17 crash mentioned above and the poisoning of Sergey Skripal in London by the Russian special forces. And I’m not complaining: it’s some fascinating stuff. Eliot Higgins, the founder of Bellingcat, as well as his closest and earliest allies, are all portrayed in their sleuthing glory. But you also see them as ordinary humans with their problems and weaknesses.
WHERE WE SAW IT: Human Rights Watch Film Festival 2019
WHY DO WE CARE: There are currently two main conversations that concern data and the internet — one about the good that we get from it, in acts of citizen activism, and the one about the bad, where data gets stolen, misused and abused, much like in the Cambridge Analytica case. And while both are equally important, there can be a more significant lean towards what’s more directly affecting consumers, like data breaches. The staff of Bellingcat doesn’t seemingly do anything to affect every single household in the world. This way, it might seem like they should be further away from the public’s field of interest. But in the times of hybrid war, the actual influence of truth-digging, unmasking and debunking become crucial. Guys like Bellingcat are the ultimate peg in the wheel of the system. It’s necessary to give them and their practices their due if we want to carry on like this and retain (or discover?) the democracy in global politics and law enforcement.
WHY YOU NEED TO WATCH: These guys are pretty badass, and it’s damn fun see them operate. Pool is partial to his characters, and it shows. The juxtaposition of relatable men and their starking investigations makes for an inspiring tale of heroism. You could just as easily be watching a documentary on firefighters or pediatric surgeons, who save lives and then recline on a sofa with a beer. But the deal with the subject matter is that Bellingcat and investigative journos, Edward Snowden and the rest of the whistleblowers, and those who follow their inspired paths, are how we survive late capitalism and global powers wreaking havoc on our planet. It’s not that much of a new subject, and it’s not necessarily revelatory—although I was thrilled to find out the origins of the group’s weird name. But it’s right there at the core of contemporary existence in the world. Hans Pool’s documentary is the superhero film we all need: an informative, honest account of what humans should and can do. Most importantly: it’s exceptionally life-affirming. After receiving bad news all day every day as everyone tuned in to the world’s events does, it’s a relief to know that someone is trying to do something. And the best part is: they’re really good at it.
Bellingcat: Truth in a Post-Truth World, 2019
Director: Hans Pool