By Ian Peek
Have you ever played a video games beta-test? Something decidedly unfinished?
Therein lies the problem of reviewing a ‘World exclusive sneak peek’ of The World Is My Country at the Manchester Film Festival. You’re watching something very near completion, yet somehow not quite so. It’s difficult to account for what that extra distance travelled might bring to the film, but, for now, this film experience remains an unsatisfying one.
The film is a biopic of Garry Davis, an international peace activist, who Martin Sheen introduces with the words, “I fell in love with this guy,” and it is easy to find plenty here to love. “He was an actor who leapt off the Broadway stage, onto the world stage in 1948, taking on border guards, armies and whole nations, showing us we can build a world that is constructive for all and destructive to none.”
Davis left the Broadway stage shortly after his career took off. Initially, because he was drafted into the air force, following attacks on Pearl Harbour. His brother, who joined the navy, lost his life shortly after signing up. Garry’s devastation fuelled his rage, and fired an urge for revenge. Dropping bombs on another country didn’t bring him satisfaction, but rather, shame, at taking life in return. He felt sorrow for the deaths he was responsible for, and horror at watching vid-reels of devastation in the aftermath of atomic bombs.
He read Anatomy of Peace by Emery Reeves and Rights of Man by Thomas Paine, coming to the conclusion that war was a product of borders and sovereign nations. He also believed that, only by removing these borders completely, could we truly escape it. He renounced US citizenship, handed back his US passport and fought to become “World Citizen #1.” Davis camped out on a small patch declared international territory, on the doorstep of the United Nations base at the Palais de Chaillot in France.
While in France, he garnered considerable support from noted French intellectuals such as Sartre and Camus, invaded the UN conference with their aid, and successfully commandeered its floor for a time. He became the figurehead of a movement which eventually established a passport for World Citizenship and continued to promote an ideology of peace and Human Rights that could exist worldwide. The climax this idea builds towards is the establishment of a single world government, above and beyond the petty squabbles and agendas of individual nations, truly representative of all citizens of the world. Plenty to love.
Davis even receives a letter from the wife of the US president, encouraging that he’s the man to do it. There’s support all around, celebrity endorsements, and a good heart at the centre of all of this. Yet, as the film closes, the narration of the 90+ year-old Davis leaves you with the impression that it was an idea we never made good on.
Although striving to instill an end-note of optimism, it’s hard not to question whether the idea wasn’t just a little half-baked from the first, and is now suffering from being left out in the cold too long. It’s perhaps apt to have seen the film unfinished – and to leave not with a sense of celebration for what was, but one of disappointment for what might have been.