Stuart Townsend may be best known for being fired from the role of Aragorn in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, but he’s looking to make a new name for himself: director. He’s currently shooting a fairly sprawling movie, The Battle in Seattle, based on the true story of the 1999 anti-WTO protests in Seattle, Washington that turned violent.
The film is loaded with names, including Charlize Theron, Woody Harrelson, Susan Sarandon and Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 from OutKast. He attended the junket for Charlotte’s Web today (he voices a crow), and spent a little time talking about Townsend’s film. “Stuart, you wouldn’t know this was his first time. I swear to God that I’m not just saying that to sound good,” said Benjamin. “On set he seems like he’s been doing this all his life. He knows what he wants – he’s been working on this for three years so in his head he probably already knows the story. Basically it’s about the events that took place in 1999 in Seattle when basically the whole world met up to protest the WTO. You had all kinds of groups from animal activists to people that didn’t like genetically engineered food to equal rights activists to labor unions, and they all got together. They said, ‘We’re going to devise a plan to shut down the WTO.’ I play a protester, one of the protesters in the main group, and Michelle Rodriguez is another one. It’s a true story – they strategically got together and did it non-violently.”
Of course things got violent quickly as the Seattle police massively overreacted to the situation. That aspect, and the way it was spun, are major elements of the film. “We get gassed, we get sprayed, we get beat the shit out of. It’s crazy because [the protesters] did it non-violently but [the authorities] got upset it was such a good plan. Of course you have a couple of knuckleheads that want to act the fool and throw rocks at Starbucks and spray paint McDonalds, so [the media] were like, ‘Oh the whole city’s going wild, it’s a whole town of anarchists!’ That wasn’t the case, they were just a few. But there’s actually a line in the movie about, what do you expect the news to do? There’s just eight corporations that own all the media.”
While the actors are playing fictional characters in a real story, they did have a chance to talk to actual Seattle veterans, who showed up to work as extras. “They actually train for what to do when they get arrested. They train to know the kind of chemicals to put on your eyes if you spray gas, all this kinds of stuff. It’s interesting man, because they’re serious about it. They go around the world and protest different things. That’s what they do. Some of them have day jobs – ‘I’m a carpenter, I build houses, but I’m going to down to Mexico next week.’”
The film has already caused controversy on right wing blogs, where the troglodytes get deeply upset anytime anyone expresses an opinion different from their own (they’re really freaking out about Steven Soderbergh’s Che Guevara movies, despite not knowing anything about how he’ll be handling the subject). But Benjamin doesn’t think the movie is a propaganda piece. “The way it’s presented isn’t like we’re WTO haters or we’re a whole bunch of treehuggers; he made it where you saw every side of it. You see it from the police side, you see it from the mayor’s side, you see it from the protester’s side, which I think is a great way to approach it so it doesn’t look like this tool to get people to think a certain way.
He also views it as a way to educate people about an issue about which they might be in the dark. "I definitely didn’t know anything about it, but it does open your eyes to certain things. What you should do if you watch it is get your own materials together and learn about it. Especially a lot of people in my circle, they probably don’t know what WTO means, but they have such rule and control over the world – and not just in trade. They use it to get away with a lot of things.”