Title: A Whisper to a Roar

Director: Ben Moses

A sort of voting rights companion piece to Steve York’s “A Force More Powerful,” which was a rangy nonfiction film about non-violent resistance movements around the world and spanning time, Ben Moses’ “A Whisper to a Roar” is a powerful documentary that ties together the heroic and ongoing efforts of democracy activists in five countries, and reaffirms the human spirit’s innate desire for freedom.

“It is dangerous to be right when the government is wrong,” Voltaire once wrote, and “A Whisper to a Roar” offers up ample evidence of this axiom, in the form of lethal pushback by dictators, autocrats and other corrupted power systems when faced with challenges to their authority. A striking segment focusing on the Ukraine opens with the story of kidnapped journalist Georgiy Gongadze, and then charts the rise of the country’s “Orange Revolution” of 2004, and the poisoning of reformist presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez’s distastefully violent rhetoric and overreach in closing radio and TV stations that offer dissent to his policies is examined. Malaysian opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim’s slandering and incarceration is detailed, as are the brutal policies of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. And in perhaps the strongest narrative strand — or at least the one freshest and with the most direct implications for the United States — Egypt’s crackdown on democracy protesters and imprisonment of opposition leader Ayman Nour is cast into stark relief.

Shot over the course of three years — and funded by the Moulay Hicham Foundation, whose chief benefactor, Prince Moulay Hicham of Monaco, is a renowned democracy advocate — “A Whisper to a Roar” deftly intercuts back and forth between all of these narratives, which unfold at different times over the past 15 years. In doing so, it shows their commonality in “breaking down the barrier of apathy,” as one interviewee puts it. Social media and/or liberalized press have helped open new channels of communication amongst disaffected constituencies, and emboldened calls for democratic participation. The poor and otherwise marginalized see, by way of both other international examples and the skittish actions of their own authoritarian governments, the precarious and assailable nature of systemic corruption and oppression, through sustained public pressure.

The production package is fairly straightforward, but the range of interviewees runs the gamut from frontline demonstrators and participants to more intellectual members of the international commentariat, which give the movie a rooted sense of scope. Smartly, too, director Moses doesn’t tip the hands of his narrative in advance by fully identifying the occupations and standings of his subjects, leaving room for some suspense for those who don’t follow or recall international news. Emotionally engaging and impactful, “A Whisper to a Roar” is a well put together look at the yearning and universal nature of values we too frequently ascribe as uniquely American.

NOTE: “A Whisper to a Roar” opens this week in Los Angeles at the Laemmle NoHo 7. For more information, visit the movie’s website, www.AWhisperToaRoar.com.

Technical: B

Story: B+

Overall: B+

Written by: Brent Simon

A Whisper to a Roar Movie

By Brent Simon

A graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Brent Simon is a three-term president of LAFCA, a contributor to Screen International, Newsweek Japan, Magill's Cinema Annual, and many other outlets. He cannot abide a world without U2 and tacos.

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