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Archive for Saturday, March 30, 2002

PBS explores downfall of dictator

March 30, 2002

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Martin Sheen narrates the remarkable and inspiring documentary "Bringing Down a Dictator" (9 p.m. Sunday, PBS, check local listings), which shows how a dedicated group of student activists used well-organized, nonviolent resistance to topple the blood-stained regime of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.

The film focuses on the student organization OTPOR (which translates as "Resistance" in Serbian). OTPOR used traditional methods like protest marches and leaflet distribution as well as parody TV commercials, graffiti and the Internet to spread the message that political change was not only possible, it was both popularly supported and inevitable.

OTPOR coordinator Srdja Popovic explains how the group considered sardonic ridicule to be its most powerful weapon. "Everything we did had a dose of humor. I'm full of humor and irony, and you're beating me, arresting me. Â You could always see young people laughing, feeling good, making Milosevic look ridiculous."

OTPOR used its growing popularity to force the divided opposition parties to agree on one candidate. Their formidable organization was also on hand to monitor Serbia's election of Sept. 24, 2000. When Milosevic denied the results of the vote, the OTPOR activists joined workers, farmers and eventually Milosevic's own police in a general strike and a march on Belgrade. On Oct. 6, the dictator was finally deposed, without bloodshed.

"Bringing Down a Dictator" provides a fascinating window on a revolution that was given limited coverage by America's 24-hour news services. It is also a refreshing departure from television's degrading depiction of young people as mindless consumers or sex-obsessed slackers.

 Stricken with a leukemia, an arrogant New Yorker (Paul Reiser) in need of a bone-marrow transplant travels to Liverpool, England, in search of his biological mother (Julie Waters) and blood relatives in the cable drama "Strange Relations" (7 p.m. Sunday, Showtime). There, he becomes emotionally involved with his new family and erotically entangled with his British brother's ex-wife.

Playing a dying man is a real stretch for the "Mad About You" star, and Reiser's character never becomes entirely sympathetic. At the same time, "Strange Relations" deserves credit for never reaching for the obvious, and for an ending that I never saw coming. It's clearly inspired by earlier, better films, ranging from the adoption drama "Secrets & Lies" to the fish-out-of-water comedy "Local Hero."

Tonight's other highlights

 The NCAA Basketball Tournament (5 p.m., CBS) continues.

 George Clooney and Nicole Kidman star in the 1997 thriller "The Peacemaker" (7 p.m., ABC).

 HBO repeats this season's first four episodes of the superb series "Six Feet Under" (8 p.m.).

 A diamond-district cabal leads to murder on a repeat of "Law & Order" (9 p.m., NBC).

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