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A FEW weeks back a photograph appeared on my Twitter feed of the US dissident academic Noam Chomsky sitting with former Uruguayan president Jose Alberto “Pepe” Mujica in a beat-up Volkswagen Beetle.
Being somewhat obsessed with Chomsky and fascinated by Pepe Mujica – an 85-year-old former leftist guerilla who was president of Uruguay between 2010 to 2015, gave most of his salary to charity, shunned the presidential palace and chose to live on his rustic farm instead – I had to find out what they were doing together.
It turns out the photograph was a screenshot of an upcoming film called Chomsky & Mujica, a documentary about the first meeting of the two leftist luminaries.
“I believe that they are true wise men,” the Mexican director Saul Alvidrez tells me after I sought him out.
“I actually call them ‘the wise man of the north’ and ‘the wise man of the south’,” he says. “They don’t like the nicknames, obviously.”
Alvidrez holds the 91-year-old Chomsky to be one of the most important intellectuals alive: “He’s an incredible human being and a very kind person. He has an incredible brain. I don’t understand how one person is capable of holding so much information.
“He has written over 100 books. He’s the father of modern linguistics. He is the most important political dissident in the US for 40 or 50 years.”
Alvidrez is just as enthused about Uruguay’s former rebel turned president as the US academic.
“Mujica has six bullet wounds. He spent almost 15 years in prison in terrible conditions, and many years in solitary confinement.
“After the dictatorship, he was released and became a senator, a minister and then president.
“Not only is that an incredible story, his way of life is also extraordinary. He was called the poorest president in the world because he lives in the same little house in the rural outskirts of Montevideo since he was released from prison.
“He still drives an ’80s Volkswagen.
“His speeches have been shared around the world because of his sincerity, his philosophy of austerity, not austerity as it is understood in Europe right now but as a person – not as a policy, of course.
“As a president Mujica developed a lot of very progressive and interesting social policies.”
It has taken Alvidrez five years to put together Chomsky & Mujica, his first film. By the time I speak with him, his crowdfunder has already banked well over £44,600, massively surpassing the original target of £17,100.
He’s not quite sure when we will be able to see the film. But the plan is to take the project on an international film festival tour and, hopefully, release it on a streaming platform like Netflix later in the year.
As fascinating as the subjects in Alvidrez’s flick are, the 31-year-old director has led an equally interesting life.
At 24, while at university in Mexico City back in 2012, his activism ended up putting him in trouble with the corporate media, the then soon-to-be (now, thankfully, former) president Enrique Pena Nieto and the country’s spooks.
“I was a co-founder of the movement called ‘I Am The 132nd’ (Yo Soy 132).
“It all began with a video at [The Ibero-American University] where 131 students created a video expressing their opposition to Pena Nieto.
“I went to them and said we could develop a new movement with their university and many others called ‘Yo Soy 132’. If they were the 131st, then the entire movement was the 132nd.”
The campaign was about raising awareness of the collusion between the Mexican mainstream media and politicians and how it “constructs lies to achieve political power.”
Yo Soy 132 grew in a similar direction to the Occupy movement in the US and Britain, attracting students and young people dismayed by the state of the world. As it picked up steam, it began to catch the attention of the corporate media, the politicians and the state it was criticising.
“My political activism was viciously neutralised through direct attacks from the Mexican government’s intelligence agency,” which at the time was called the Centre for Investigation and National Security.
Alvidrez says an agent was sent to record his conversations.
“One week before the elections, the agent uploaded onto YouTube an edited audio recording of me in order to make people believe that I was working with Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the left-wing candidate at the time who is now the president.
“It was a lie. It was done in order to harm the movement and to portray me as an infiltrated leader working for the leftist presidential candidate.
“It became the most important news story for the entire week before the election, which was very difficult for me because I became a national scandal.
“I lost a lot of credibility. And I was receiving death threats from the intelligence agencies.”
Of course, the corporate media’s preferred candidate Pena Nieto “won” but life remained difficult for Alvidrez.
“I decided that the answer was to search for the solution in the south. So I went to Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay, Colombia and Argentina. I spent four years down there.”
It was while Alvidrez was living in exile that he began to write to Chomsky, who famously responds to pretty much everyone who writes to him.
“We had correspondence for years over emails. Actually we began talking about the Yo Soy 132 movement, which he liked and we developed a relationship through that.”
In 2017 Alvidrez went from Ecuador to Boston, Massachusetts and met Chomsky.
“I told him that he and Pepe Mujica were the two guys I admired the most.
“For me it was a shame that they hadn’t ever met each other. So I asked him if he would be interested in doing a documentary with me and Pepe. He said yes and a couple of months later I did the same with Pepe.”
Months later, in 2017, Chomsky, Mujica, Alvidrez and his team gathered in Uruguay at Mujica’s farm and began filming.
“We spent a weekend together with Noam, his wife Valeria, Pepe and his wife Lucia.
“Since we had a lot of time, we had the opportunity to speak about many, many things, like love, freedom, power, a lot of geopolitical analysis and reflections on their lives. They shared a lot for two guys who didn’t know each other. They became very good friends.”
While most governments across the world do nothing about the impending environmental collapse, or acquiesce in it with open arms, Alvidrez hopes “the wise men of the north and south” will inspire young people to change it.
“I’m 31 years old. We millennials are the beholders of the apocalypse. Our civilisation is unsustainable ecologically, politically, socially, and economically.
“So that’s why I wanted to gather these two so that they could share their knowledge with humanity. But especially to the younger generations because I believe we are the last chance to do something about it.
“The film has a lot of specific points but the most important message is that we need to understand that the neoliberal or capitalist culture we are living in now is an individualist and competitive culture that is anti-social and absolutely unsustainable.
“What we must do is to develop a new collaborative culture that is the antithesis to this.”
Saul Alvidrez is a director and political activist. For updates on his film, Chomsky & Mujica, visit: mstar.link/CnM.
Ben Cowles is the Star’s web editor and a co-host of Podaganda, the podcast the corporate media warned you about. You can follow him on Twitter via” @Cowlesz and the podcast here: mstar.link/Podaganda.
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