The Illusionists examines how global advertising firms, mass media, and the beauty, fashion, and cosmetic-surgery industries have together colonised the way people all around the world define beauty and see themselves. Taking us from Harvard to the halls of the Louvre, from a cosmetic surgeon’s office in Beirut to the heart of Tokyo’s Electric Town, The Illusionists shows how these industries saturate our lives with narrow, Westernised, consumer-driven images of so-called beauty that show little to no respect for biological realities or cultural differences. Featuring voices from prominent sociologists, magazine editors, scientists, artists, and activists, The Illusionists documents a truly global phenomenon, with hegemonic results.
Cornered in the tiny building of the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom for half a decade, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his team are undeterred, continuing to release troves of important documents, even as the personal legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the very organisation he leads and fracture the movement it inspired. Filmmaker Laura Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study of the forces that crescendo with a high-stakes election year in the United States and its controversial aftermath. In a world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a nuanced and curious portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. How much of your own life are you willing to risk?
The Empathy Gap investigates how dominant culture bombards young men with sexist and misogynistic messages and argues that these messages not only devalue women but also undercut men’s innate capacity for caring and empathy. The film looks closely at the ways these messages short-circuit men’s ability to empathize with women, respect them as equals, and take feminism seriously, drawing parallels between sexism and racism, spelling out how each is rooted in cultural norms that discourage empathy, and shows how men who break with these norms live happier and healthier lives.
An ex-pornstar, a 12 year old girl, and a 22 year old who yearns for the ‘normal’ genitals as seen in porn movies, are just some of whom are chronicled in Sexy Baby to draw together how the current relentless culture of pornography, social media and popular culture are deeply and profoundly affecting the lives women and girls. Based on intimate and candid conversations with kids in middle school classrooms, suburban shopping malls, nightclubs, college dorms, and high school house parties, the film chronicles trends among small town and big city kids—the pervasive culture affects everyone, everywhere. Most youngsters know someone who has emailed or texted a naked photo of themselves. Many kids have accidentally or intentionally had their first introduction to sex be via hardcore pornography online. Facebook has created an arena where kids compete to be “liked” and constantly worry about what image to portray. Much of what was once private is now made public. The list goes on. Sexy Baby is a powerful indictment of the Internet age and the hyper-sexualised culture affecting women and girls everywhere, as well as an insight into the struggle of parents navigating this new culture, wanting what is best for their kids and the generations to come.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
High Tech, Low Life follows the journey of two Chinese bloggers who travel their country chronicling under-reported news and social issues stories. Using laptops, mobile phones, and digital cameras, both develop skills for reporting while learning to navigate China’s continually evolving censorship regime and the risks of political persecution. The film follows 57-year-old ‘Tiger Temple,’ who earns the title of China’s first “citizen reporter” after he impulsively documents an unfolding murder; and 27-year-old ‘Zola’ who recognises the opportunity to be famous by reporting on sensitive news throughout China. From the perspective of vastly different generations, both personalities must reconcile an evolving sense of individualism, social responsibility and personal sacrifice. The juxtaposition of Zola’s coming-of-age journey from veggie-farmer to Internet celebrity; and Tiger Temple’s commitment to understanding China’s tumultuous past, both provide a portrait of China and of the wider questions facing news-reporting in the age of the Internet.
By planting a variety of fake celebrity-related stories in the UK media and having tabloid newspapers accept them without corroboration or evidence, Starsuckers navigates through the shams and deceit involved in creating a pernicious celebrity culture, uncovering the real reasons behind the addiction to fame and the corporations and individuals who profit from it.
How do our families influence our relationship with our own bodies? How does popular culture’s standards of beauty get inside our hearts and heads? In what ways can sport and the drive for fitness actually make us sick rather than healthy? In Beauty Mark, former champion triathlete Diane Israel examines this culture’s unhealthy fixation on thinness, beauty, and physical perfection. She talks candidly about her own struggle with eating disorders and obsessive exercising, confronting her own past to come to terms with this culture’s unhealthy fixation on self-destructive ideals of beauty and competitiveness.
Filmmaker Darryl Roberts goes on a five year journey to examine this culture’s burgeoning obsession with physical beauty and perfection, showing how increasingly unattainable images contribute to the rise in low self-esteem, body dismorphia, and eating disorders for young women and girls who also happen to be the beauty industry’s largest consumers. In almost 40,000 media messages a year, young people are being told that unless you look like supermodels and rock stars, you’re not good enough for anyone. In 2004 alone, people across the United States spent $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery. America the Beautiful explores why these people are spending so much money to cover up their discontent that is mainly driven by advertising. What are the true costs of this culture’s obsession with youth, plastic notions of beauty, and impossibly slender physiques? Who actually benefits from this high-priced journey towards a fake ideal, and does it justify an entire nation’s psychosis?
Generation M looks at misogyny and sexism in mainstream media, exploring how negative definitions of femininity and hateful attitudes toward women get constructed and perpetuated throughout popular culture. The film tracks this across a broad and disturbing range of media phenomena: from the hyper-sexualization of commercial products aimed at girls, to the explosion of violence against women in video games aimed at boys; from the hysterical sexist rants of popular hip-hop artists and talk-radio shock-jocks, to the continually harsh, patronizing caricature of women found in virtually every area of media. Generation M posits the consequences of misogyny in all of its forms, showing that when we devalue more than half the population based on gender, we harm everyone—boys and men, women and girls alike.
At the turn of the millennium, a group of eleven girls aged 8 to 16 from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed about their views on media culture and its impact on their lives. Their insightful and provocative responses reveal how the attitudes and expectations of young girls are influenced by a saturated media culture. Using excerpts culled from a typical week of television broadcasting alongside the interviews, What a Girl Wants aims to provoke debate about the effects of media culture and, ideally, act as a catalyst for change in media content.