Friday, December 8, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Riot act: Movie re-creating WTO chaos

Seattle Times staff reporter

Seattle police say this weekend's filming of a movie based on the 1999 WTO riots will have "minimal" impact on commuters and shoppers.

Of course, they said the same thing seven years ago before the anti-globalization protests erupted into full-scale, tear-gas-choked riots.

Not to worry. Even the small army of actors, plus 300 extras, technicians and others who will participate in the filming of "Battle in Seattle" won't approach the tens of thousands of protesters, police and National Guardsmen who turned Seattle streets into a war zone seven years ago. And the tear gas will be fake.

Nonetheless, there may be a strange sense of déjà vu when actors and extras dressed as sea turtles or cloaked in black with bandanas draped across their faces square off against actors and extras dressed as police officers in riot gear. Similar scenes have already been shot in Vancouver, B.C., where shooting began several weeks ago.

Filming will take place Saturday and Sunday, closing several streets.

"Battle in Seattle" will star Academy Award winner Charlize Theron and was written and is being directed by her boyfriend, Irish actor Stuart Townsend. According to the Internet Movie Data Base (, other stars include actors Susan Sarandon, Ray Liotta, Woody Harrelson, Michelle Rodriguez and Andre Benjamin, aka Andre 3000 from the hip-hop group Outkast.

Jim McKeown of Insight Films, a Vancouver company producing the film with Proud Mary Entertainment, said the movie will draw from the perspectives of many characters — a mother who loses her child in the riots (Theron), a doctor, police officers (including Harrelson) and protesters. Some protesters who took part in the WTO riots have been hired as extras and asked to dress like they did seven years ago, said Aaron Jacobs, owner of Reel Extras.

"Battle in Seattle" is "a story about the circumstances ... of an event that brings issues to eyes and ears of a local community," McKeown said.

The film will recreate the five days of protests that greeted the World Trade Organization's first ministerial meeting in the U.S., when 50,000 protesters — far more than police or then-Mayor Paul Schell ever dreamed — jammed downtown streets. The WTO ministers were trapped inside hotels as self-described anarchists dressed in black smashed store windows. The police response included copious amounts of tear gas and pepper spray ("freshly ground pepper spray" because, after all, it was Seattle, comedian Jay Leno joked at the time) and the entire city ended up under martial law.

Townsend researched many points of view of the WTO debacle that hastened the end of the careers of Schell and Police Chief Norm Stamper. While it does not appear from the cast list that an actor will portray Stamper in the movie, Liotta will play a character named Mayor Jim Tobin. Actors Harrelson and Channing Tatum play riot cops.

Townsend told the Vancouver Sun he will consider the independent, $10 million film a success if it sparks new discussion on the WTO and points of view expressed during the five days of chaos.

Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or

Seattle Times news researcher David Turim contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company


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