By STEPHEN HOLDEN
“I’d rather lose one son than my gun, because with a gun I can save my family,” declares a frightened Congolese villager in “Dealing and Wheeling in Small Arms,” a depressing, scattershot survey of the spread of weaponry around the world, especially in Africa.
This Dutch film, directed by Sander Francken, shifts abruptly back and forth between a ground-level view of how small arms have affected poor countries and a throw-up-your-hands analysis of the inability of any international agency, including the United Nations, to curtail the prolific, and profitable, small-arms trade. Although the film visits Cambodia, Uganda and Bosnia, it focuses mostly on Congo, where imported guns have plunged the country into perpetual civil war.
The Congolese strife suggests a rural African equivalent of gang warfare in American urban neighborhoods, and the documentary includes more than one scene of gun-toting children wreaking havoc. Angry Congolese villagers emphasize that the guns were not made there; they were manufactured outside the country. They find their way to Congo by plane, boat and car through shadowy networks that are almost impossible to trace because the route involves so many way stations, with payoffs at each.
It is not surprising that some Congolese view the spread of small arms as a conspiracy of the haves to keep the country at war while stripping it of its natural resources. One man tells of guns’ being dropped from airplanes and of villagers’ being lined up, handed free weapons, and told to go fight one another.
Accurate statistics about the spread of small arms are hard to come by and are, at best, rough estimates. In the last 15 years, Vanessa Redgrave says in a voice-over, 100 million small arms were manufactured and sold, with Western Europe the largest supplier. Attempts to reduce the supply are pitiful.
The movie wastes precious time following the director around as he interviews gun dealers and marksmen on firing ranges about the differences between this and that automatic weapon; these scenes smack of gun fetishism, and to those who don’t share what might be called the gun gene, they are boring and creepy.
Gun love, the film suggests, is in our blood, and the manufacture and distribution of arms a rampant social pathology that is not about to end anytime soon.
DEALING AND WHEELING IN SMALL ARMS
Opens on Wednesday in
Produced and directed by Sander Francken; written by Joost Schrickx, Josh Lacey and Mr. Francken; narrated by Vanessa Redgrave; directors of photography, Sander Snoep, Pieter Groeneveld, Edwin Donders, Jan-Dries Groenendijk, Maarten Kramer and Mr. Francken; edited by Gys Zevenbergen; music by Rainer Michel. At the Anthology Film Archives, 32 Second Avenue, at Second Street, East Village. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is not rated.