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Global Haywire (2007)


In a dazzling mix of animation, interviews and historical footage, a committee of experts from across the globe is appointed to ascertain why civilisation is in a continual state of malfunction, as illustrated by the tension between the Christian and Islamic worlds, the frequency of wars and uprisings, and the inequality between rich and poor nations.

Curator’s notes

The most skilled cartoonists are those who can boil down significant political and social issues and present the essence of a matter and the truth at its heart. This is exactly what writer, director and animator Bruce Petty has done in this feature-length left-leaning part-animated satire. He asks why the world has gone haywire and looks to history to find the answer, starting with the differences between East and West at the time of the Crusades and ending with terrorism in the 21st Century.

Just to take on a topic of this breadth, complexity, and present-day importance is audacious and ambitious, especially for someone in Australia, a country not known for intellectual pursuits. If the documentary was dominated by experts talking to camera, or was more straightforward in its approach, the finished product could have been very ponderous. Instead, Petty gets his point across – that the rise of terrorism is due to the actions of the West – in a colourful, energetic and entertaining manner.

He combines his distinctive brand of animation with historical footage and stills, interviews with experts and new material filmed with actors, binding it all together with a lively soundtrack and a narrator (Tom Baker) whose voice at times drips in gravitas, and at other times sounds like it is poking fun at the absurdity and silliness of it all. The result is a highly original and very bold film.

The fictional investigative committee plays a big part in driving the narrative. It hears evidence that the world still lives in the shadow of colonialism and the violence that colonialism unleashed, and that powerful countries have always gone to war to get their hands on resources, not – as they often claim – to introduce democratic principles. The US bears the brunt of much of the criticism.

Global Haywire makes it clear that Petty believes in the medium of animation for getting across a point. Near the end of the film the narrator asks, ‘Did the world have to be a comic strip before it made any sense?’ He answers his own question, ‘This story is told in cartoons because when it is told factually no-one believes it.’

Global Haywire was released in Australian cinemas on 10 April 2008. In 2007, Bruce Petty won the AFI Award for Best Direction in a Documentary and his son Sam won Best Sound in a Documentary. The film was also nominated for Best Documentary and Best Editing in a Documentary. Petty senior is one of Australia’s most treasured satirists and his film Leisure won an Academy Award for best animated short in 1977.

Secondary curator’s notes

by Antoinette Starkiewicz

Global Haywire is a brilliant work for three reasons. It is a history of the modern world with a breadth and insights you are not likely to get from any other source. It unravels concepts and complex ideas with intelligence and humour. Not least, it is prescient, made two years before the Global Financial Crisis of 2009, it foresees the mayhem caused by world leaders and the unbridled and irresponsible actions of their bankers.

Vince, the protagonist, is a fictitious, hybrid figure with many similarities to Leonardo da Vinci. Writer, director and animator Bruce Petty brings Vince to life with characteristic vigorous strokes of his black pen and the Flash animation program. Vince rescues and falls in love with the beautiful Mona and they sail away to freedom.

Navigating his invention, the Freedom Vehicle, Vince takes on crowds of passengers, who symbolise humanity. Man, history, and finally Vince are under investigation by a committee made up of live actors, historical characters represented by cut-outs and animated caricatures. The committee, deliberating under a photographic still of a huge vaulted ceiling, watch a screen on which their investigation unfolds. Every conceivable two-dimensional visual medium is employed to explain why we find ourselves amid global haywire: live action, animation, graphics, photographs, cartoons, illustrations, posters, maps, diagrams, sketches and images of famous paintings.

By the end of the film, it is high time for Vince to return to the drawing board; he does so, with Leonardo’s drawings as the background. Will he (and ourselves) construct a better ‘Freedom Vehicle’ for the future? This remarkable film is certainly animated with new ideas.