Cartoonists – foot soldiers of democracy is a French documentary film by Stephanie Valloatto. The film introduces political cartoonists from all over the globe including Plantu, Jeff Danziger, Willis from Tunis (Nadia Khiari), among others. The film follows them as they explain the difficulties and political situations they have to deal with in their respective countries. Many have to deal with government censorship but even the satirical cartoonists from western democracies have to deal with pressures: whether informal government pressure or popular pressure. The film never really delves deeply into the issues and national politics affecting each cartoonist but rather compares and contrasts the situations of cartoonists everywhere. This was also made before the barbarous attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris, France however this has only made it even more relevant and important. Those attacks prove that, as the film claims, that this is a community that do indeed risk their lives. It is immediately apparent that this is a community that clearly expresses its solidarity to one another: Baha Boukhari, a Palestinian cartoonist, says that he has more in common with Michel Kichka, a Belgian-raised Israeli cartoonist, than other Palestinians. What lies at the core of this community is the belief in the power of drawings and images to criticize social injustices and government policy.
This belief in the power of the image is something that a filmmaker and even a film viewer can appreciate. The blank page wielded by these satirical cartoonists is more or less repressed in certain countries with dictatorial tendencies. Cartoonists Rayma Suprani (Venezuela), Mikhail Zlatkovsky (Russia) and Pi San (People’s Republic of China) are some of the cartoonists that deal with strong state intolerance towards their art. . The film, and the cartoonists themselves, describe the absurdity of governments which do not allow dissent in the form of a mocking image. Rayma Suprani takes the crew with her as she drives through her city describing how all the buildings that have been built recently all have the image of Chavez on them, even after his death. These people are not the only ones being persecuted however they represent an interesting mix of the resistant artist and the resistant journalist. The multi-faceted nature of their job and the fact that everyone can understand an image gives these political cartoonists a form of power that governments and armed groups fear. The more people they rile-up, and better yet, the more the government is riled-up the more they know they are doing their job properly. Conversely they also express a belief that they must help criticize on behalf of their peoples, of their fellow citizens.
Foot soldiers of democracy is an effective documentary that engages the core themes affecting political cartoonists around the world. It takes an affectionate look at this diverse group of individuals however it does so without resorting to base sentimentality. There is honesty in the film that mirrors the honesty found in the simplicity of satirical political cartoons. The cartoons of the artists that the film shows are very simple to understand if you have understood the national context of an image. As Lassane Zohore from the Ivory Coast says, even the illiterate can understand an image. The same way, a viewer can have no knowledge of the various contexts necessary to fully understand the situation of these cartoonists and will still have an understanding of the importance and significance of their work.
The Reel Artists film festival runs from March 26th-28th at the TIFF bell lightbox. Cartoonists: foot soldiers of democracy will be screened March 27th at 6pm and March 28th at 8pm.