Unless we're heading off to war, opportunities to participate in history occur rarely, but occasionally we just know that a significant event lies ahead. The choice is ours—whether to become involved or watch from the sidelines. And we'll never forget that decision.
Mine (so far) came in the spring of 1968 at the University of Illinois when my hippie roommate strongly urged me to accompany him that summer to the Democratic convention in Chicago. He told me how we'd be sleeping in Grant Park and how cool everything would be—Peter, Paul, and Mary expected to be there and thousands of young people having a good time and protesting, and how they were going to parade a real Illinois pig through the streets as a candidate for President.
As intriguing as this sounded, I ended up passing on the offer. Still financially dependent on my parents and relatively ambivalent politically (rooting for progressive Republican Nelson Rockefeller at that time), all I could visualize was a mass party of pot smoking and acid trips and inevitable confrontations with the police.
History unfolded for me on television as the police riots that fateful summer changed American politics forever. Naturally I've some regrets that I wasn't witnessing this on the battle lines first hand and can now only reflect on the justifications for missing the opportunity. My old roommate avoided the bloody clubs, but he'll forever remember the tear gas cannisters and describe the police brutality that he witnessed. I've got to tip my cap to anyone who willingly crosses the Rubicon.
That's what fascinates in Zack Winestine's Caravan/Prague. Following the political ideals expressed in his 1997 States of Control, Winestine joined 100 Utopian anarchists in late summer of 2000 to bike 500 miles from Hannover, Germany to the capital of the Czech Republic with the mission of shutting down the International Monetary Fund and World Bank conference. While many other groups were converging on Prague for the IMF/WB summit, the "Money or Life" bicycle caravan strove to be a counter-example to the secretive financial institutions—requiring total collaboration and 100% agreement before taking any action.
Given the events of the previous year's economic summit in Seattle, Winestine certainly knew the risks involved. The protests during the 1999 summit overshadowed the actual conference in the media, so the IMF/WB and host government had girded their loins to ensure that order be maintained, with a high probability of violence.
Essentially a video diary of his adventures, Winestine provides a valuable first hand account of the proceedings. The bucolic German countryside soon develops into suspenseful thriller [sic] when various police forces form preliminary obstacles before the most critical stage at the Czech border. Winestine narrates his "travelogue" with insight and humor to heighten the experience—necessary, given the subject matter and far more effective than having some objective "Morgan Freeman" style presentation.
The footage is fascinating, ranging from postcard perfect German villages to the cobblestone streets of Prague that are filled with colorful protesters and concussion grenade tossing riot police. Winestine's political diary also ranges from upbeat optimism to frustration to satisfaction to possible disillusionment that gives this video diary a more profound rendering than what you'd expect on the subject. Certainly any IMF/WB summit has the potential to make history, and we can Google factual and political material on their proceedings readily. But Caravan/Prague makes the whole experience a lot more human—without having to become Amnesty International poster boys ourselves.
– John Nesbitt, Old School Reviews
VIDEO LIBRARIAN MAGAZINE REVIEW
Zack Winestine's documentary chronicles a trans-European bicycle
rally in 2000 that spanned 500 miles and ended in the Czech Republic's
capital during the World Bank and International Monetary Fund
conference. Not surprisingly, the convergence of bicyclists and the
economists was no accident: the purpose of the caravan was to gather as
many bike-loving/World Bank-and-IMF-hating people as possible for noisy
demonstrations designed to shut down the conference. Needless to say,
the Prague police weren't entirely pleased to have this
political-demonstration-on-wheels disrupting their city while the
world's media was watching.
Caravan Prague is an affecting, effective piece of documentary filmmaking. It documents the progress of a bike caravan moving five hundred miles across Europe, from Hannover, Germany to Prague, The Czech Republic. The purpose of the journey, in which over a hundred people from various countries participated, was to bring focus on the theme "Money or Life" as they cycled to Prague to join other activists attending a protest of the policies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank in 2000.
As background, it should be noted that the Prague protest was viewed the participating activists as an appropriate follow-up to the previous year's Seattle, Washington, USA protests. The Seattle protest actually overshadowed the proceedings of the World Trade Organization (WTO,) which the activists had come to address, in most international press outlets. The massive numbers of citizens from various countries and walks of life in Seattle in 1999 brought to many people's attention around the world the issues of economic globalization and the lack of transparency in the policy-making processes of many international economic organizations.
Thus, a meeting of the IMF and World Bank representatives would be a flashpoint in the push for a dialogue and the reformation of these organizations.
The theme of the Caravan, "Money or Life," was meant to present an alternate example to the policies of these two organizations. The hundred-plus young people from Europe and North America participating in the caravan had set themselves the goal of establishing a rolling utopian community where all decisions were established on a consensus basis. Meanwhile, the German and Czech police authorities were committed to warding off another Seattle.
A constantly moving action, with people camping out or sleeping in squats as they proceeded, because they had little money, presented a special challenge for police authorities. Ironically, we are thus presented with two caravans, that of activists and that of the police trying to constantly monitor them. This presents Winestine with humorous footage as the two caravans wend their way through some of Germany's most beautiful countryside.
The entire, feature-length documentary is seen from Winestine's eye and he provides narration. He takes us inside his head and through his special journey of adventure, self-discovery and humor in an especially optimistic voice that most viewers will empathize with, I predict. He comes across as youthful, intelligent and engaging, still exploring options for bringing about a better world.
Of course cycling has its own rhythms and that too comes through in the film. As said, the German countryside he shares with us is postcard beautiful. The interactions between the members of caravan itself run the gamut from slapstick to argumentative.
I originally watched Caravan/Prague two weeks ago but wanted to screen it one more time before composing a review of Zach Winestine's wonderful film because I felt I could not do it justice without going back and savoring the work again. My bad because the film was released on DVD by Cinema Libre Studio on August 14. I'm days behind the curve but you don't have to be.
– Rod Amis, CinemActivist.com
The International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings attract considerable attention no matter what city around the world they are held. In more open societies, the protests surrounding these meetings can get rather intense, as both sides of the debate deploy the latest tactics to disrupt the other. Caravan/Prague documents a bicycle caravan which travels 500 miles across Europe to the 2000 meetings. The first-hand account of this journey and the troubles along the way by Zack Winestine gives a solid view of the social/political movement against the IMF/WB policies and the community formed around said resistance.
While it is easy for some to write off a film like Caravan/Prague as just another piece of riot porn, there is more to it than the ever-present establishment/counterculture, police/protester dichotomy. This film does a good job of showing the human side of the anti-globalization movement and the inner dialogue that exists along the way. It captures the sense of energy felt in large scale gatherings of resistance. The story of the bicycle caravan and the struggles of crossing multiple European borders lends a unique perspective to the entire genre.While the vocabulary and actions on the ground have changed since Caravan/Prague was shot, the film is relevant as both history and inspiration. Whether or not one agrees with the particular message within, the community solidarity and willingness to stand up for one’s beliefs that is displayed is refreshing.
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