Sugar Coated investigates a once secret public relations campaign, dating back to the 1970s, where the sugar industry deflected threats to its multi-billion dollar empire from scientific research emerging implicating processed sugar with adverse health effects. In order to continue sweetening the world’s food supply, thus securing continued profits, the sugar industry turned to the very same deceptions and tactics lifted from the tobacco industry. Using big sugar’s own internal documents on this strategy, Sugar Coated reveals the well-oiled tricks of the trade to confuse the public about what is really driving the global pandemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Will we be fooled again?
In the early 2000s, two brothers garnered tremendous wealth when they started a company selling so-called “non-lethal” taser weapons, which quickly saturated police agencies and reinforced a culture of trigger-happy police officers. But instead of “saving lives” as was the catch-cry of the taser, and the company, the weapons were instead commonly used for pain compliance, and lead to a spurious string of deaths. The company didn’t back down. They insisted, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that their weapon was safe and not at fault—not even a contributing factor—in the killings. Killing Them Safely delves into this troublesome mindset and that of the company, as well as the social implications of such weapons in a problematic police culture.
The Mask You Live In unpacks how this culture’s narrow and harmful definition of masculinity effects boys, young men; girls and women; and society in general in myriad ways, as our children struggle to stay true to themselves when confronted by this culture. Pressured by their peer group, heavily influenced by a barrage of media messages, and even their very own parents and other adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from and suppress their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence, control and manipulation. These traits and stereotypes closely interconnect with problems of race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men as the culture expects and perpetuates. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of how these issues intersect, and what we can do about it.
In Requiem for the American Dream, renowned intellectual figure Noam Chomsky deliberates on the defining characteristics of our time—the colossal concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few and fewer, with the rise of a rapacious individualism and complete collapse of class consciousness. Chomsky does this by discussing some of the key principles that have brought this culture to the pinnacle of historically unprecedented inequality by tracing a half century of policies designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority, while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. The film serves to provide insights into how we got here, and culminates as a reminder that these problems are not inevitable. Once we remember those who came before and those who will come after, we see that we can, and should, fight back.
1966, United States. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to overthrow the corrupt systems of power waging the invasion of Vietnam, amongst the struggle for equality and civil rights at home. Beginning with armed citizens’ patrols to keep police accountable and challenge police brutality in Oakland California, The Black Panther Party put itself at the vanguard for social change, expanding in 1969 to community social programs, including free breakfast for school kids and community health clinics. This lead the FBI to call the movement “the greatest threat to the internal security of the country,” and start an extensive government program called COINTELPRO to surveil, infiltrate, perjure, harass, discredit, destabilise and disintegrate the movement. This film chronicles the story arc of the Black Panthers successes and failures, through the voices of the people who were actually there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and the Black Panthers themselves.
Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States is a series of films that comprehensively examine early North American history through the lens of class, to enable a wider critique of the social order in contemporary United States. The series not only documents and exemplifies individual strikes and labour movements throughout the centuries, but also serves to connect the narratives and political lessons of an entire era from a working-class viewpoint, forming a solid base of analysis for class struggle.
Rape on the Night Shift is a harrowing investigation into the rampant sexual abuse of the many thousands of unseen women who clean the shopping centres, banks and offices of some of the largest companies throughout the United States. The cleaning companies and contractors themselves are some of the largest companies throughout the country and the world. This report follows a prior investigation about systemic abuse of migrant women working in America’s fruit and vegetable fields, as well as packing plants and industry. Both set out to document the many aspects of a booming rape culture, driven in part by the synergy of a failure of criminal prosecutions, the legal system, a culture of pornography, the realities for migrant workers, and a perfect storm for human trafficking.
Rape in The Fields is the first part of a year-long reporting effort into the systemic abuse of migrant women working in the fruit and vegetable fields, packing plants and industry of the United States. The film travels from the almond groves of California’s Central Valley to the packing plants of Iowa, from the apple orchards of Washington’s Yakima Valley to the tomato fields of Florida, speaking with dozens of women who have been sexually assaulted and abused on the job. What is shown is that in the vast fields and orchards of today’s vast agribusiness, it’s easy for a rapist to stalk his victims, and the systems function in such a way to protect the rapist, rather than the workers. Many workers are also immigrants who dare not even denounce their attackers for fear they’ll be deported. The situation on the whole is rife for ensuring abuses. A Human Rights Watch report published in May of 2014 found that rape and other forms of sexual abuse and harassment of female workers was a common problem. This report sets out to shed a light on that problem and expose the new-style slavery and abuse of workers that still continues to this day.
Travelling across North America, DamNation investigates the growing change in national attitude from strange pride in big dams as domineering engineering projects, to the growing truthful awareness that dams have always been the great killers of rivers, wildlife, the salmon, the forests, coastlines, watersheds. Life is bound to water and health of rivers, and now, dam removal in many forms—including Monkey Wrenching—is reclaiming that life and spreading. Where dams come down, rivers come back, allowing the salmon to return after decades of being concreted out. By making firsthand unexpected discoveries moving through rivers and the landscapes altered by dams, DamNation presents a much-needed metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature; to respect, and be humbled. With over two million dams in North America alone—75,000 of them over six feet tall—there’s much work to be done. Let’s get to it.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is not just another celebratory biographical film about the life of a business man that many around the world grieved in 2011. It’s a full rounded critical examination into the fundamentals of a person revered as an iconoclast, a barbed-tongued tyrant, a business sociopath. The real Steve Jobs is revealed like this through candid interviews from those who had close relationships with him at different stages of his life, including the mother of his child, Lisa, that Jobs refused he had, but named a computer after instead. The film also takes us through the evocative essence of the brand of Apple Computers which has captured the population like zombies, and asks the question: What is the legacy of this industry, and the truth of this kind of person that the culture celebrates so much, completely ignoring the darkness?
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief profiles eight former-members of the cult of Scientology, leading to a series of revelations of the history of systematic abuse, manipulation, and betrayal in the organisation by Scientology officials and celebrity figures. The film highlights the origins of Scientology, from its roots in the mind of founder L. Ron Hubbard and successor David Miscavige, to its rise in popularity in Hollywood and beyond. The result is a record of great harm, paranoia, abuse, the vast accumulation of wealth, and a lust for power and control.
Snowden’s Great Escape documents the story of Edward Snowden in Hong Kong in the days after he gave journalists a trove of secret documents about the global mass-surveillance network. The journalists had returned home and the revelations were slowly being published, but Edward Snowden himself was alone, with minimal money, and the largest hunt in history to frantically drag him back to the United States was closing in. This film shows how Snowden, without contacts or money, was able to shake the United States government to its core, evade the hunt, and go on to expose and confirm the reality of ongoing global surveillance by the world’s so-called democracies. The story serves as sobering inspiration for ordinary citizens to go against all odds and fight back against the pervasive dark world of surveillance and social manipulation, not only in the US or UK, but everywhere.
In January 2013, film-maker Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself Citizen Four. In it, he offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Poitras had already been working for several years on a film about mass surveillance programs in the United States, and so in June 2013, she went to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden. She was met there by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill. Several other meetings followed. Citizenfour is based on the recordings from these meetings. What follows is the largest confirmations of mass surveillance using official documents themselves, the world has never seen…
Bitter Lake explores how the realpolitik of the West has converged on a mirror image of itself throughout the Middle-East over the past decades, and how the story of this has become so obfuscating and simplified that we, the public, have been left in a bewildered and confused state. The narrative traverses the United States, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia—but the country at the centre of reflection is Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is the place that has confronted political figureheads across the West with the truth of their delusions—that they cannot understand what is going on any longer inside the systems they have built which do not account for the real world. Bitter Lake sets out to reveal the forces that over the past thirty years, rose up and commandeered those political systems into subservience, to which, as we see now, the highly destructive stories told by those in power, are inexorably bound to. The stories are not only half-truths, but they have monumental consequences in the real world.
A look back on the news events from 2014 reveals a confusing, muddled mess. Things are increasingly chaotic, along with the reporting of the events in the culture of 24-7 rolling news, sound-byte feeds and the Internet. The result, as we see, is not a coherent public understanding of these complex events, but more a profound mass-confusion, with discourse destroyed, which in-turn broods disengagement from the world and further atomises an already divided-and-conquered public. It is this response that is a powerful form of social control, and is by design…
By examining the people and practices of the media and entertainment industries, The Fourth Estate illuminates not only specific incidences of corruption by press groups, but how the wider model of mainstream journalism itself as a for-profit entity has a huge amount to answer for in terms of democracy and the state of politics throughout the world. Filmed over two years throughout the UK on no budget, the filmmakers profile journalists, organisers and critics of industrial media practices, stemming from the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 which was set up to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandals of the Murdoch media empire. While the phone hacking scandal illuminated the depth and breadth of the culture of British journalism, the media’s focus at the time quickly diverted from a brief period of self-examination, back to business as usual. This film instead continues the analysis by looking at the larger implications of a for-profit media model and its connections to ideology, entertainment, and hence the resulting political framework that’s in crisis.
Consumer capitalism dominates the economy, politics, and culture of our age, despite a growing trove of research showing that it is a failed system. In this illustrated presentation, media scholar Justin Lewis makes a compelling case that capitalism can no longer deliver on its myth of the dream and its promise to enhance the quality of life. He argues that changing direction will require changing our media system and our cultural environment, as capitalism has become economically and environmentally unsustainable. This presentation explores how the media and information industries make it difficult to envision other forms of life by limiting critical thinking and keeping us locked in a cycle of consumption, and shows us that change will only be possible if we take culture seriously and transform the very way we organise our media and communications systems.
One generation from now, most people in the United States will have spent more time in the virtual world than in the natural world. New media technologies have changed lives in countless ways. Streams of information now appears in a click. Overseas friends are contactable in an instant. Engulfing video games and streams of endless entertainment to stimulate the senses, dazzle the mind and pander to the acculturated desire to be in control. Even grandma loves Wii. But what are people missing when they’re behind screens? How is it already impacting our children, our society, and the planet? At a time when people are at screens more than they are outside, Play Again explores the challenge in dealing with the addiction and returning to the real world…
Lucent is a grim accounting of the realities of factory farming in Australia. Documented are some of the conditions and day-to-day operations of industrial meat production—from farrowing crates or cages, to artificial insemination, to so-called free range; and of course, to mechanistic slaughter devoid of exchange. The film focuses mainly on pigs but also briefly looks at the issues facing other animals raised and killed for food in industrial conditions.
Pornography has moved from the outskirts of society into the very mainstream of this culture in over less than a span of a generation. From MTV to Internet pornography everywhere, pop culture industries continue to bombard all of us with sexualised images of idealised women and men that jump off the screen and go straight into our lives, profoundly shaping our identity, the ideas and acceptability of body image, and our most intimate relationships. In this video essay, based on the book of the same name, leading scholar and activist Gail Dines argues that the dominant images and stories disseminated by the porn industry, produce and reproduce a system that perpetuates social inequality and encourages violence against women at its very core. In direct opposition to the claims that pornography has delivered a more liberated, equitable and edgy sexuality, Pornland reveals a mass-produced vision of sex that is profoundly sexist, destructive and pervasive in this culture—a world that severely limits and undermines our collective ability to live authentic, truly equal relationships, free of systemic violence and degradation.
In 2010, the death of a three-month-old baby in South Korea named Sarang (translated as Love) became an international news story—the parents had neglected her to play an online fantasy game. She died primarily of malnutrition. But instead of merely condemning the parents, Love Child takes a different approach by looking at some issues that led to the parents addiction and how their child became oblivious to them. The film then expands to view the way South Korea’s standing as a world leader in Internet technologies has adversely affected its society, speaking also globally, where the virtual world now trumps the real world for many millions of people, with extreme consequences.
Dirty Wars follows investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill into the hidden world of the United States’ covert wars and assassination programmes—from Afghanistan to Yemen, Somalia, and beyond. What begins as a relatively commonplace report on the cover-up of a murderous US night raid in a remote corner of Afghanistan, quickly turns into a global investigation of the secretive and powerful Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC)—a top secret arm of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex. As Scahill digs deeper into the activities of JSOC, he is compelled to report on the growing chilling underworld of covert operations carried out across the globe at the behest of the United States government: Targeted killings of American citizens; secret drone strikes; outsourcing American kill lists to warlords, private corporations and paramilitaries. The list goes on. Dirty Wars is a sobering investigation and personal journey into the most important human rights story of our time.
Not only with climate change and the inherent destructiveness of agriculture compounding the current ecological crisis and the need to systemically change things, Seeds of Permaculture follows a group of westerners that travel to Thailand to experience, explore, learn and teach about permaculture systems as a means to try and step out of their way of life and reconnect with cultures past-and-present about traditional knowledge pertaining to food and the land. With education and inspiration as the main thread, the film follows the westerners as they learn about composting, solar heating, food forests, composting toilets, natural building, and earthen ovens. The goal is to empower and excite you, the viewer, about the possibilities of listening and reconnecting with the land where you live.
This film makes use of court documents, diplomatic cables and testimony by business figures themselves, as one case of many, in which corporations and indeed governments side with warlords, as good for business, in the endless pursuit of profit. The story revolves around the civil war of Liberia in the 1990s, with the seeds for exploitation and destruction having been planted a century before by the United States, when formally enslaved peoples in Liberia in-turn set up a society of racism, greed and exploitation, exacerbated by western economic powers. Years later, with the presence of Firestone corporation coming to Liberia to exploit vast plantations of rubber for control over the ‘market,’ the company unfolds as a considerable catalyst for systemic terror, being the forefront for pushing for profits at all costs amongst a brutal civil war; colluding with warlords and corrupt governments in pursuit of this ruthless end. Unfurling as a case study in these methods, this film documents the case that is not so unique but a story amongst many—particularly throughout the so-called third-world—where corporate might and globalisation have extreme consequences…
For the past four years Submedia has been visiting a camp of the Unist’ot’en of the Wet’suet’en Nation in so-called British Columbia in Canada. The Unist’ot’en continue to fend off intrusions to their land by rapacious oil and gas companies. The threats are large and systemic and involve the very base of life itself. This two-part series of short films document the direct actions that are effective in keeping the threats of oil and gas out. Stopping the corporations physically is paramount, as they’ll stop at nothing…
In Mediastan, an undercover team of journalists drive across central Asia interviewing editors of local media outlets to publish secret US diplomatic cables that were provided to WikiLeaks in 2010. Success is varied. And so, after regrouping with Julian Assange in England, questioning the editor of the Guardian, and obtaining candid footage of the New York Times editor and its publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Mediastan closes by leaving the viewer with an informative first-hand overview of the machinations of mainstream media. By venturing into the minds—and actions—of the people and institutions who shape the news, Mediastan shows the system for what it’s worth, and reveals its true motivations…
Merchants of Doubt looks at the well established Public Relations tactic of saturating the media with shills who present themselves as independent scientific authorities on issues in order to cast doubt in the public mind. The film looks at how this tactic, that was originally developed by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the health risks of smoking, has since come to cloud other issues such as the pervasiveness of toxic chemicals, flame retardants, asbestos, certain pharmaceutical drugs and now, climate change. Using the icon of a magician, Merchants of Doubt explores the analogy between these tactics and the methods used by magicians to distract their audiences from observing how illusions are performed. For example, with the tobacco industry, the shills successfully delayed government regulation until long after the health risks from smoking was unequivocally proven. Likewise with manufacturers of flame retardants, who worked to protect their sales after the toxic effects and pervasiveness of the chemicals were discovered. This is all made analogous to the ongoing use of these very same tactics to forestall governmental action in regards to global climate change today.
What do popular television programs like What Not to Wear, The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and The Swan tell us about how to look and feel? What do they tell us about what a good life is supposed to look like? Brand New You explores these questions, and also asks what it means to be an authentic self in an extensively mediated world. It shows how the interventions featured in makeover shows—from weight loss to cosmetic surgery to rearing competitiveness—create, perpetuate and reproduce conventional norms of physical attractiveness and success. By taking a wider social and cultural view, Brand New You also shows how these programs have become tools of rampant individualism, consumerism and inner self-transformation at precisely the same time that collective awareness of social issues has dissipated.
Girl Model offers a glimpse into the hall of mirrors that is the modelling world as it interfaces with other industries and other countries. The film follows Ashley—a deeply ambivalent former-model who is now a scout and scours the Siberian countryside looking for ‘fresh faces’ to send to the Japanese market; and one of her ‘discoveries,’ Nadya, a thirteen year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the centre of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. What entails is the opening of a can of worms that isn’t easily solved in one sitting—a thriving and curiously sinister modelling industry that spans the globe, luring everywhere with pretences of wonder, success and riches. But the realities are harsh. The fashion industry can look glamorous from the outside, but its insides are, at the very least, deceptive and sinister; and the myths run deeply entrenched in the culture, constantly promulgating new, young recruits. This ‘meat market,’ a prelude to sex trafficking, is creepy, ugly, and preys on the young and vulnerable. Can the spell be broken?
Project Censored explores the inner workings of mainstream media in the United States—a media which is often claimed as a free press in a democratic society. But is this really true? Instead what is revealed is a widespread and systemically entrenched culture of censorship and omission throughout the corporate media, as well as a gripping control over media content by centralised corporate control. Project Censored brings to light stories that have been deliberately suppressed, or at the very least obscured and ‘hollowed-out’ by entertainment values over real news content or discourse. Citing a range of examples and modern mainstream media techniques, Project Censored takes a critical view of this information arrangement that has huge implications for real democracy…
Following on from previous reports about the numerous threats from industry facing the Great Barrier Reef, investigative journalist Marian Wilkinson returns to Queensland, Australia some years later to not only review the continued declining state of the reef, but to unfortunately investigate a new string of threats. This year, the government agency tasked with protecting the reef has approved a plan to expand the Abbot Point coal port which has serious cumulative effects on the already stressed reef and surrounding ecology. This in conjunction with the realities caused by anthropogenic climate change means the health of the reef has arguably past tipping point. Do we care enough to shift our perception of viewing everything through the lens of the economy? And not only that—do we care enough to act?
From the courtroom to the lounge room—helped extensively by television and the infamous series “CSI”—forensic science brims with flash and glamour, where cutting-edge technology always reveals the “truth,” and is routinely called on to solve the most difficult criminal cases with ease and “objectivity.” But how reliable is the science behind forensics and its methods as they interface with the legal system? The Real CSI investigates these questions and finds serious flaws in some of the best-known tools of forensics, with systemic inconsistencies in how evidence is presented in the courtroom, along with how the culture of entertainment of this sort can seriously skew a jury’s perceptions. From the sensational murder trial of Casey Anthony, to the FBI’s botched investigation of the Madrid bombing, to capital cases in rural Mississippi of the United States; The Real CSI documents how a field with few standards and unproven science can seriously undermine the concept of justice, and what this means for a future of continued technological escalation…
Instafame is an exploration of a teenager’s relationship with the concepts of success and fame through the lens of the screen, exemplified by the popular photo-sharing website ‘Instagram.’ The short film speaks volumes about this specific aspect of screen culture in that the notions of celebrity are self-reinforced in the closed-loop of the ‘social networking’ environment which is itself a purpose-built, commercially-mediated experience. So what happens to the notions of identity, friendship, personality and so on; in this space, and in the wider culture?
Earth at Risk documents the first conference of the same name convened in 2011 by featured thinkers and activists who are willing to ask the hardest questions about the seriousness of the situation facing life on the planet today. Each speaker presents an impassioned critique of the dominant culture, together building an unassailable case that we need to deprive the rich of their ability to steal from the poor, and the powerful of their ability to destroy the planet. Each offers their ideas on what can be done to build a real resistance movement—one that can actually match the scale of the problem. To fight back and win. Literally, the whole world is at stake.
The Hacker Wars explores the strange duality of the modern-day computer-hacker as a mischievous provocateur, but also in some cases, societal activists with underlying political fervour, serious or not. The film explores this by profiling some of the renowned characters that have tickled the secretive inner workings of corporations and government agencies for various reasons—ranging from the nefarious and narcissistic, to the political and scandalous. Some do it for the lulz, others do it to prove a point, and others still do it to speak truth to corrupt power. In any event, many have faced severe punishments as a result. Weaving through this, The Hacker Wars touches on issues of whistleblowing, social justice and power relations, in a time where computer technologies represent extreme power and control. But for whom? And what? This poses the question in deciphering the personalities of the hackers themselves. Are they troublemakers driven solely by a need to instigate havoc and chaos? Or are they in part activists with good intentions?
Bikpela Bagarap (Big Damage) is the story of logging in Papua New Guinea, following the reality of systemic exploitation by logging companies of indigenous communities, where locals are not even citizens in their own country. Customary landowners are coerced into signing release documents, or sign with the understanding that promises for clean water, health and education will be delivered. On the contrary, traditional hunting grounds are destroyed, waterways polluted, and livelihoods threatened.
In the early hours of March 24th 1989, the Exxon Valdez oil supertanker runs aground in Alaska. The ship discharges several tens of millions of gallons of crude oil. The incident becomes the biggest environmental assault in North American history, and in a flash, the news shoots across the planet along with footage of thousands of dead seabirds, sea otters and other marine life covered in oil, devastated. Thick black tides rise and cover the beaches of the once-pristine reefs of Alaska. Black Wave recalls this event, a generation later, by speaking with renowned marine toxicologist Riki Ott and the fishermen of the little town of Cordova, Alaska. They tell us all about the environmental and social consequences of the black wave that changed their lives forever—the legacy of the Exxon Valdez that still lingers today.
The legacy of the Bush administration and the so-called “War on Terror” includes a new logic that stretches well beyond the realm of overzealous security agencies, airport security and international relations, and into suppressing public protest; expanded surveillance aimed at entire populations, but especially activists; and mobilising fear for social control. Special police techniques have even been developed and applied in order to specifically suppress dissent and manage protests, especially in the wake of the rising anti-globalisation movements towards the turn of the millennium. Preempting Dissent provides a quick overview of how some of this logic developed, as well as a glimpse of how political protest in the West has been shaped and controlled in the “post-9/11″ years, up to and including the so-called Occupy movement. By provoking a reflection of the implications of the logic of the “War on Terror” and how its applied to stifle political protest, Preempting Dissent aims to lay some of the groundwork to develop more effective resistance tactics.
The United States of Secrets chronologically accounts the Bush administration’s embrace of illegal and widespread dragnet surveillance and eavesdropping programmes, along with the Obama administration’s decision to not only continue them, but to dramatically expand them—despite denials and promises to the contrary. By weaving narratives by those who sought to blow the whistle on these programmes over the decades—culminating with Edward Snowden’s unprecedented dump of insider documents in 2013—we see how and why those inside the NSA and other government agencies came to act; what actions were effective, and what role the mainstream media had and continues to have in keeping such secret projects alive and untouchable in the name of ‘national security.’
Social media networks purport the ability to interact with culture—talking directly to artists, celebrities, movies, brands, and even one another—in ways never before possible. But is this real empowerment? Or do marketing companies still hold the upper hand, as before? Generation Like explores how the perennial quest for identity and connection is usurped in the pervasive game of cat-and-mouse by vast corporate power in the extensive machine for consumerism that is now the online environment. The audience becomes the marketer; buzz is subtly controlled and manipulated by and from real-time behavioural insights; and the content generated is sold back to the audience in the name of participation. But does the audience even think they’re being used? Do they care? Or does the perceived chance to be the ‘next big star’ make it all worth it?