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…
In the past 40 years, global consumption of fish has doubled. Having decimated natural fish populations globally, the industrial food system has turned to mass-scale farming practices in order to sustain the unsustainable, supplying huge supermarket chains and commercial food outlets with cheap processed fish products. What do we know about this and these processes? And what of the lives of the fish? What about their health and the health of the waters in which they’re taken? Fillet-Oh!-Fish is the result of yet another indictment of the industrial food system, agriculture and factory farming—all of which have egregious implications to the health and well-being of species, and the planet as a whole. We see myriad mixes of pesticides and other chemicals, leading to toxic rivers and streams, the pervasiveness of the industrial food system, with glimpses into working conditions and processing methods, as well as the perniciousness of globalisation, with the world-wide reach of this crazy system that has hijacked a fundamental life-giver: food.
How To Stop A Multinational follows three women in Argentina as they put themselves in harms way to stop a gold mining company from entering their town. With the activists having defeated a Canadian mining company, the campaign is now against a Chinese one that wishes to extend the operation, making use of large quantities of fresh water—up to 45,000,000 litres per day—a plan that seriously threatens the future viability of the town and the environment. This short film documents the campaign which is still in its early days, where activists carry out a series of direct-actions to stop the mining company from physically entering the town; training villagers, informing others and filming the outcomes along the way…
The Square follows the anti-government protest movement in Egypt through the eyes of six very different activists, starting in Tahrir Square in 2011, up until the 2013 coup d’état. The film follows the activists on a life-changing journey through the euphoria of victory into the uncertainties and dangers of the current military rule, where everything they fought for is now under threat or teetering in the balance. The Square becomes an immersive experience, transporting the viewer into the intense emotional drama and personal stories behind the revolts. It is an inspirational account of people asserting their rights, struggling against multiple forces—from a brutal army dictatorship willing to crush protesters with military tanks, to a corrupt Muslim Brotherhood using mosques to manipulate voters; a struggle unfinished, unfolding.
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…
Peter Francis, a former undercover police spy turned conscientious whistleblower, breaks ranks by speaking to the media after becoming troubled by the unaccountable culture of secret police operations throughout the United Kingdom targeting peace activists for decades. Tactics included undercover police officers having sexual relationships with activists, even going as far as commonly having children with the women they were spying on. Undercover agents also often assumed the identities of dead children in order to have “solid cover stories.” We also see how undercover police were asked to look for intelligence that could be used to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and their campaign. The Lawrence family both speak of their shock at hearing about that the police did this to them. This short investigation opens a flood of questions about the secret history of covert police operations, and indeed the future of them in the context of the sprawling surveillance state of today.
Stop the Flows is a media project in progress to document resistance movements around the world that are working towards stopping the flows of oil and gas, minerals and other natural ‘resource’ extraction from within their communities, territories and landbases; as well as stopping the flow of the tremendous amounts of wealth generated from these destructive activities. This series aims to support and capture the many forms of organising, direct-action, protest and resistance movements throughout the world working to end mining, the oil economy, nuclear power and more…
Damocracy travels from the deepest corners of the vast Amazon rainforest in Brazil to the mountains and plains of fertile upper Mesopotamia in south east Turkey, to expose the myth that large-scale dams, as clean energy, are a solution to climate change. The film records the priceless cultural and natural heritage the world will lose in the Amazon and Mesopotamia if two planned large-scale dams are built—the Belo Monte dam in Brazil, and the Ilisu dam in Turkey. Damocracy documents the story of resistance by the thousands of people who will be displaced if the two projects go ahead, and issues a call to the world to support this fight to save the last rivers from industrial civilisation…
Gasland Part II follows on three years later, to continue documenting how the stakes have been raised on all sides in one of the most devastating environmental issues rapidly spreading the globe. This sequel further enriches the argument that the gas industry’s portrayal of natural gas as a clean and safe alternative to oil is a lie, where in fact fracked wells inevitably leak over time, and vent exuberantly more potent greenhouse gasses such as methane in cumulative effect, not to mention the continued string of cases of severe water contamination across the United States and even cases as far away as Australia. Gasland Part II follows deeper into these happenings, revealing yet more of an entrenched corporate collusion in the pursuit of exploiting dwindling ‘natural resources’…
The Wall Street Code explores the once-secret lucrative world of prolific algorithmic trading by profiling an inside programmer who, in 2012, dared to stand up against Wall Street and its extreme culture of secrecy, to blow the whistle on insights into the way the modern global money market works. His name is Haim Bodek—aka ‘The Algo Arms Dealer’—and having worked for Goldman Sachs, his revelations speak to the new kind of wealth made only possible by vast mathematical formulas, computer technologies and clever circumventions of laws and loophole exploits. Vast server farms and algorithms working beyond the timescale of human comprehension, have largely taken over human trading on the global financial markets for decades. What are the implications of that? The algorithms seem to have a life of their own. Snippets of code secretly lie waiting for the moment that your pension fund gets on the market; trades done in nanoseconds on tiny fluctuations in stock prices. And the only ones who understand this system are its architects—the algorithm developers. The Wall Street Code provides just a small insight into this new world of high-frequency trading, amongst other things…
Counter-Intelligence is a 5 part series that explores in-depth, the vast, sprawling and secret National Security State that operates throughout the United States—and indeed the world. The series examines the foundations of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, charting through to the myriad consequences in today’s world where secret intelligence organisations continue to hijack governments, manipulate elections and commit heinous crimes against humanity—all under the cloak of “National Security”. In the wake of the continued revelations of the NSA PRISM program, this series is now more important than ever to provide a solid historical context to the workings of the rapacious and ever-expanding National Security State…
Your retirement plan, if you’re even lucky enough to have one, is a gamble. Fees, self-dealing, kickbacks, deregulation and/or no regulation at all brings great profits to the financial system, while imperiling the future of individuals who provide 100% of the funds, take 100% of the risks, but only get 30% of the returns. Even the privileged Baby Boomer generation now faces uncertainties, to say nothing of those who come after and face an even more staggering wealth inequality. The paternalistic “American dream” of the 1950s has long been over. Now, thanks to decades of neoliberalism, with a financial system geared towards short term profits and externalising risks and costs, the retirement fund industry is a ten trillion dollar industry, protected by obfuscation and complexity. The Retirement Gamble offers a window into this racket, raising just some of the troubling questions about how this supposed system claims to “work for everyone” when it does nothing of the sort, by design.
By taking the example of documenting the conditions in zoos and circus shows, An Apology to Elephants is a film about the institutional cruelty to animals and their environments. In the circus, elephants are whipped, beaten and struck with hooks—a pain-compliance technique called bull-hooking—to perform tricks and behave according to the requirements of captivity. The film also looks at the prevalence of the ivory trade, stating that the current elephant killing rate would lead to extinction of the species in ten years. The film is a call to more than an apology, it’s a call to stop these sadistic institutions and repair the damage done to animals and the environment by this culture.
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…
In groups we are told what to do, but do we always do so? Do groups give us courage to obey, or do they inhibit us? How do protest and change emerge? In Random 8, a randomly selected group of eight people from all walks of life are brought together in a bare room, mobile phones are confiscated, and cameras record their reaction to a series of simple instructions that escalate in intensity and in degree of challenge. The film cites the issues raised by several famous psychological experiments, including the work of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s who studied human obedience to orders, even when the orders were immoral or caused pain to others; and the work of sociologist Bill Gamson et al, in which groups were asked to carry out unjust requests made by an authority figure. What can happen when we’re asked to do something that goes against our beliefs?
Utopia is both an epic portrayal of the oldest continuous human culture on the planet—indigenous Australia—and an investigation into a suppressed colonial past and rapacious present. One of the world’s best kept secrets is revealed against the great Australian ‘mining boom,’ showing how the country’s racially divided past and current-day media collusion play their parts in a system that is apartheid in all but name. The film examines the exploitation of the Aboriginal population, both as a people and of the land they have lived on for centuries, and how so many institutions have profited while people continue to suffer. The injustice stretches across countless generations and stories. Utopia reveals this universal story of power and resistance, driven by old imperatives, in a media age of saturation which is profoundly silent and complicit; a call to continue resistance.
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…
The Newburgh Sting exposes the FBI’s nationwide practice of targeting Muslim communities by luring unsuspecting impoverished citizens into traps to commit acts of terrorism, and then selling their arrests to the public as major law enforcement coups. As told by the defendants, lawyers, local Imams and a former career FBI agent, The Newburgh Sting depicts how four men living at the margins of society were entrapped by an FBI informant and lured into a wild plot involving bombing a wealthy Riverdale synagogue, and shooting stinger missiles to take down a military supply plane. Their arrest was misleadingly portrayed to the public as a counter-terror victory.
Nearly 100 years after its creation, the power of the United States Federal Reserve has never been greater. Governments and financial systems around the world pay close attention to the Fed Chairman’s every word, philosophies and ideologies. Yet the average person knows very little about the most powerful and least understood financial institution. Money For Nothing takes viewers inside the Fed and reveals the impact of Fed policies past, present, and future.
Migratory Songbird populations are drastically collapsing. Many species have already been driven extinct. But yet, as an endangered species, the birds are still targeted by poachers. Millions of birds are unlawfully slaughtered each year for large sums on the black market. Emptying the Skies explores the wonder of these marvelously tiny globe-flying birds, along with the story of the Committee Against Bird Slaughter, an action group of citizens who have dedicated their lives to directly stop and confront the poachers. They disrupt and destroy trapping, freeing as many birds as possible, changing the world one bird at a time.
Web Junkie travels to China, the first country in the world where Internet addiction has been classified as a clinical disorder. The film focuses on the methods used to treat young people, which reveal a surreal mix of prison, hospital, and military operations, with a dose of group therapy thrown in for good measure. We also see the cultural and emotional effects of Internet addiction in China’s society of hyper-competitiveness, which speaks to the dominant culture worldwide. Web Junkie exposes the virtual world in a country—and indeed world—of disparity, where health officials have no idea how to cope with a younger generation that finds World of Warcraft more exciting and supposedly more “real” than their own lives.
In November 2012, yet another incident at a textiles factory in Bangladesh killed at least 112 people. Walmart’s brand shorts were among the clothing found in the charred remains. Walmart blamed its supplier, saying the order had been sub-contracted without its permission. With this example among the many, Made in Bangladesh illustrates the complex organisation of corporate obfuscation—the industries that continue to drive sweat shops, slave labour and child labour under a very clever hall of mirrors…
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.
Why did appointed officials of the Australian Reserve Bank and its employees break sanctions in Iraq and cosy up to Saddam Hussein through a frontman during the late 1990s, early 2000s and beyond? Why did a former Deputy Governor and other directors hand-picked by the Reserve Bank to safeguard its subsidiary companies from corruption, end up—over a decade—overseeing some of the most corrupt business practices possible? How did they allow millions of dollars to be wired to third parties in foreign countries—including a known arms dealer—in order to win banknote contracts knowingly using bribery and supporting corruption?
In 1970, 1,500 hippies and their spiritual guru Stephen Gaskin founded a commune in rural Tennessee, United States. Members gave over their life savings, grew their own food, delivered their babies at home and built a self-sufficient society. Raised in this alternative community by a Jewish mother from Beverly Hills and a Puerto Rican father from the Bronx, filmmakers and sisters Rena and Nadine return for the first time since leaving in 1985. As well as facing their past after years of hiding their upbringing, they chart the rise and fall of America’s largest utopian socialist experiment and their own family tree. The nascent idealism of a community destroyed, in part by its own idealism, is reflected in the personal story of a family split apart by differences. American Commune finds inspiration in failure, humour, and most surprisingly, that community values are alive and well in the next generation.
For many years, there has been widespread speculation, but very little consensus, about the relationship between violent video games and violence in the real world. Joystick Warriors draws on the insights of media scholars, military analysts, combat veterans, and gamers themselves, to examine the latest research on the issue. By setting its sights on the wildly popular genre of first-person shooter games, Joystick Warriors exploring how the immersive experience these games offer link up with the larger stories this culture tells about violence, militarism, guns, and manhood. It also examines the gaming industry’s longstanding working relationship with the United States military and the arms industry, showing how the games themselves work to sanitise, glamorise, and normalise violence while cultivating regressive attitudes and ideas about masculinity and militarism.
Just along the fault lines of the Pacific Rim of Fire from Japan, lies Taiwan—another heavily industrialised, modern economy highly reliant on nuclear power. Ninety percent of the world’s earthquakes occur along the Rim of Fire, so no wonder there are worries about a fourth nuclear plant being built there. The government of Taiwan is promising to hold a referendum on its future, but if the reactor doesn’t go ahead the country’s nuclear strategy is in question, along with the $9 billion already spent on the plant. And the state-owned power company, Taipower, would face bankruptcy, leaving no one to manage Taiwan’s nuclear waste. The waste currently sits across the water on the tiny Orchid Island, quickly corroding and risking potential disaster for the native Tao inhabitants. As fears grow, can we learn from Fukushima before it’s too late?
Over the past several years, a seemingly relentless string of killings by police of unarmed black men—Michael Brown in Ferguson, Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Eric Garner in New York—has reignited issues around race, policing and civil rights in the United States that have been languishing unresolved for decades. Recently the issues are critical enough that the Department of Justice has stepped in to mandate reform of several police forces renowned for brutality and institutional abuses of power. In Policing the Police, journalist Jelani Cobb gets up close and personal with police departments and officers alike, to show from the inside the difficulties these institutions now face of fixing a broken relationship with the community after decades of mistrust. Is it even possible with the current police culture? Policing the Police is a powerful case study of these questions, and a light on just how much has to change.
In 2013, seventeen-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life. She had been gang-raped a year and a half earlier by her classmates and labeled a “slut” as a result. Despite transferring schools many times, she could not escape constant online harassment and in-person bullying. But Rehtaeh’s story is horribly not the only one like this to make headlines in recent years. Why is the sexual shaming of girls and women, especially sexual assault victims, still so prevalent throughout this culture? UnSlut tackles this question through a series of conversations with those who have experienced sexual shaming and how it manifests, while also offering immediate and long-term goals for personal and institutional change.
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.
Arresting Power documents the history of conflict between the Portland police and members of the community throughout the past fifty years in the United States. The film portrays personal stories of victims of police misconduct, the families of people who were killed by police, and members of community activist groups working for reform and abolition. Using experimental filming techniques, meditative footage, and official police radio audio feeds, Arresting Power pieces together a space for understanding a lens on the impacts of police violence and community attitudes.
The True Cost is a global investigation into the clothes we wear, the people who make them, and the impact the industry is having on the world. The price of clothing has been decreasing for decades, while the human and environmental costs have grown catastrophically. The True Cost pulls back the curtain on the untold story and asks us to consider, who really pays the price for our clothing?
In the race towards modernity, amongst the buzz and jitter of technological innovation and the rapid growth of cities, silence is now quickly passing into legend. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4′ 33″, the sights and sounds of this film delicately interweave with silence to create a contemplative experience that works its way through frantic minds and into the quiet spaces of hearts. As much a work of devotion as it is documentary, In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives.
In 1960, NBC aired what is widely considered to be the first reality television show in American broadcast history. Billing itself as a new kind of visual reporting, the show was called Story of a Family, and it purported to document the day-to-day lives of the 10-member Robertson family of Amarillo, Texas. While the show has long since faded from public memory, media scholars and television historians have long recognised its significance as a precursor to the “unscripted programming” that dominates television today. TV Family draws on this history by interviewing several of the children featured in Story of a Family, to offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes account of how the show was made, and what it means to shape culture. Weaving personal anecdotes with commentary from historians and scholars, TV Family reveals the story of how the show’s producers carefully choreographed the way they wanted the family to appear to the American public—all in the name of “authenticity.” The result is an eye-opening look at one of television’s earliest successes in shaping the reality of family life in commercially viable ways.
The Hunting Ground presents the story of multiple students who were sexually assaulted at their college campuses, and say that college administrators either ignored them or required that they navigate a complex academic bureaucracy to deal with their claims, and then often did nothing. The film shows that many college officials were more concerned by minimising rape statistics for their universities than by the welfare of the students, and contains interviews with college administrators who state that they were pressured into suppressing rape cases. The film documents the lack of action by law enforcement and university administrations, including Harvard, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Amherst College, and Notre Dame, but it also examines fraternities such as Sigma Alpha Epsilon, colloquially referred by some as “Sexual Assault Expected.” The Hunting Ground also profiles a group of students that pushed back against this extreme injustice, by creating their own survivors network across the United States, supporting survivors and driving universities to finally take the issue of sexual assault seriously.
Peace Officer explores both the militarisation and increasingly violent culture of police forces, as told through the career of William Lawrence, a former sheriff of Davis County in Utah United States, who established and trained the state’s first SWAT team. As a gifted investigator, Lawrence’s savvy skills help break the Ted Bundy case. He also sees SWAT enter the public consciousness and transform the culture of policing throughout the 1970s, along with the convergence of the War on Drugs on policing attitudes and police violence. He eventually leaves public office, concerned, when soon after, his son-in-law is killed in an emergency call gone awry by the very same SWAT unit he created 30 years ago. An internal investigation of course finds no police wrongdoing, so Lawrence turns to his own renowned investigative skills. He sets out to not only uncover the truth of his son-in-law’s homicide, but to tackle the culture and attitudes of modern-day policing on a national level.
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons; or that dancing around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Why are these “solutions” not sufficient? But most importantly, what can be done instead to actually stop the murder of the planet?
What do you get when you combine the culture of screens with the society of the spectacle, pervasive individualism with its rampant loneliness, in a media environment awash in a culture of pornography, instant gratification and self-interested sexual impetuousness? An insight into the question could be perhaps explained through The Secret World of Tinder. Tinder is an ‘app’ for ‘smartphones’ that displays profile pictures of people that are near the phone. When couples are matched, they can text each other. Many call it “the sex button” and the app indeed has a reputation in the world of online dating. This short TV documentary attempts to explore what it means in today’s culture mediated by technology, as seen through the Tinder app, providing insights into the way some people think and feel about sex and relationships in the age of the technocracy.
Growing Up Trans explores how queer theory, now in the mainstream, has come to children—some younger than six years old. For just a generation ago, it was considered only adults who wished to perform opposite gender stereotypes, physically changing their bodies or appearance with drugs, hormones and invasive surgery; but today, many young children are seeking serious and new medical or chemical interventions, at younger and younger ages, in a culture of rampant individualism and post-modernism. Told from the perspective of parents, doctors, but perhaps most revealing of all, the kids themselves, Growing Up Trans reveals a sharp narrative that speaks to the choices and struggles of a new generation of young people, while also illustrating the dynamics of the larger post-modern culture and how its profoundly influenced their lives, bodies, and indeed the existential self.
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.