Hardly the liberal rant one might expect from its hot-potato subject and the presence of Vanessa Redgrave providing (thankfully sparse) narration, Dealing and Wheeling in Small Arms strives for an expansive, fair-minded view of guns. Shot on four continents, Sander Francken’s documentary opens at a Cambodian shooting range, visits with a small-arms designer in Arizona and surveys the devastation wrought by gun violence in Central Africa. The bulk of the film explores the quasilegal machinations by which many of the weapons collected during the E.U. disarmament of Bosnia found their way to the Congo, where gun ownership can mean the difference between life and death (one man flatly states he’d sooner give up one of his children than his gun, the better to protect the rest of his family).
The apparent intent is to inform the public about the evils associated with the small-arms trade, but Dealing lacks the big-picture political grounding of Hubert Sauper’s terrific 2004 documentary, Darwin’s Nightmare, which considered the African arms trade in the context of economic globalization. As both films make painfully clear in scenes of official wrangling, those with the most power to change the situation already know what’s going on. What is lacking is not information but political will; an unexceptional documentary like this one, noble intentions notwithstanding, seems unlikely to change that.