For the past 15 years, the misnomer “War on Terror” has been used by the United States to justify everything from mass surveillance and spying on its own citizens, to the use of secret drone strikes to kill people without trial or sometimes even evidence. Governments have always applied surveillance to those they consider a political threat, but the scale of the clandestine PRISM programme, which collects the data of billions of innocent people all across the globe, is unprecedented. Likewise is the call for the journalists who published the documents revealing the PRISM programme to be prosecuted. In the wake of relations about sustained, systematic abuses of power, it is apparent that in many areas, the United States operates on spurious interpretations of law, often explained in confidential memos, hidden from the public. Other times, the law is disregarded entirely. So what does this mean for resistance? How can citizen rights be reconciled with a rogue state security apparatus?
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…
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.
Filmed over 18 months, Lessons in Dissent is a kaleidoscopic portrait of a new generation of Hong Kong democracy activists. 18-year-old Joshua Wong dedicates himself to stopping the introduction of National Education. His campaign begins to snowball when an interview goes viral on social media. With the new school year fast approaching, a showdown with the government seems inevitable. So with a microphone in hand, and still in his school uniform, he takes to the streets to protest, along with 120,000 people in support. Meanwhile, former classmate Ma Jai fights against political oppression on the streets and in the courts. Having dropped out of school and dedicated himself to the movement, he endures the persecution suffered by those not lucky enough to be protected by the glare of the media. Lessons in Dissent catapults the viewer on to the streets of Hong Kong, confronting the viewer with the country’s rising energy of dissent.
Pretty Slick reveals the untold story of BP’s coverup following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion is known as one of the largest environmental catastrophes in the history of the United States, but what is not well-known is that BP, along with government approval, used toxic chemicals to sink the oil in the water rather than clean it up, using a controversial chemical dispersant called Corexit. Because of this, it is estimated that approximately 75% of the oil, or over 150 million gallons, is still unaccounted for. When filmmaker James Fox learned of this, he began a three year investigation to find out about the dispersant use and its coverup. Pretty Slick reveals how public safety and environmental health took a backseat to restoring the economy, and along the way exposes the collusion between big oil and the United States government in these happenings.
Clothes to Die For documents the worst industrial disaster of the 21st century—the collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh, in which more than 1,100 people died and 2,400 were injured. The eight-storey building housed factories that were making clothes for many western companies—Prada, Gucci, Primark, Walmart, H&M, Gap, and others. Through a series of compelling interviews and footage from the scene, this film gives a voice to those directly affected, and highlights the greed and high-level corruption that led to the tragedy. It also provides an insight into how the incredible growth in the garment industry has transformed Bangladesh, in particular the lives of women. Clothes to Die For raises fundamental questions about the global fashion industry and the responsibilities of all those involved.
In recent years, nature conservation has become a booming business where huge sums of money change hands, and endangered species become exotic financial products. Banking Nature, delves into this hidden world of so-called environmental banking, where huge corporations such as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase buy up the land and habitat of endangered species, and then sell them in the form of shares. Companies that inevitably harm the environment are then obliged to buy credits to offset the damage that they have caused. In Uganda, we meet men who measure trees to determine how much carbon they store and then a banker from the German firm that sells the resulting carbon credits. In Brazil, the steel giant Vale destroys the rainforest, replaces it with a monocrop tree plantation, and reaps the benefits of environmental credits as if the rainforest was still standing. Banking Nature posits that we disallow the same corporate criminals responsible for the global financial crisis from turning what’s left of the natural world into their final corrupt commodities market.
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.
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.
In the early 1970s, in response to the United States testing nuclear weapons on the island of Amchitka, a group of environmental activists got together with the aim of sailing a ship out to Amchitka to disrupt the weapons tests and stop them. But fuelled by bad weather, delays, infighting and clashes of ego, the group never reached the island and the weapons tests went ahead. Yet the symbolism of their attempt flourished in the media, entering the public consciousness. This is where the “Greenpeace movement” was born, emerging from the era of a philosophy of passive resistance, where bearing witness to objectionable activity is supposedly protested simply by a mere presence. But just how far can this philosophy go to actually stop atrocities? This film reveals the answer to that question, where Greenpeace eventually morphs into a large global organisation, far from its environmental ideals. Internal fallout leads to the founders each drifting their own separate ways, with some even coming to criticise Greenpeace and others even actively working against their own creation.
A Good American chronicles the work of whistleblower William Binney, a former official of the National Security Agency who specialised in cryptography and signals intelligence analysis for over three decades. The film focuses on the lead up to the events of the 1990s where Binney was instrumental in the creation of a secret intelligence program called ThinThread, in which mass surveillance of global communications data was carried out and had sophisticated analysis applied to it in search for threats in real time. However, three weeks prior to the September 11th 2001 attacks, Michael Hayden, director of the NSA, ends the ThinThread program to instead run with another called Trailblazer which lacks privacy protections. Not long after this, Binney resigns. What the NSA does to Binney after this turn of events is the story of the transformation where Binney and his colleagues Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Thomas Drake, and Diane Roark blow the whistle on a corrupt and brutal agency.
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.
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.
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.
Maïdan is an observational film that documents the civil uprising and revolution that toppled the government of president Victor Yanukovich of Ukraine in 2014, and has since developed into an international crisis between Russia and the West. In long unedited strides, the film portrays the protests progressing over time from peaceful rallies, half a million people strong, to bloody street battles between protesters and riot police in Kiev’s Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square).
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.
Concerning Violence narrates the events of African nationalist and independence movements in the 1960s and 1970s which challenged colonial and white minority rule. The film is an archive-driven video essay based on author Frantz Fanon’s ‘The Wretched of the Earth,’ covering the most daring moments in the struggle for liberation in the so-called ‘Third World,’ as well as an exploration into the mechanisms of decolonisation. Fanon’s text, which was banned soon after publication more than 50 years ago, remains a major relevant tool for understanding and illuminating the neo-colonialism still happening today, as well as the reactions against it.
In the wake of the September 11th attacks, amongst the ravaging of war, the United States has been secretly deploying drones to carry out assassinations throughout the Middle East. The drones are increasingly piloted by the likes of young computer gamers groomed by screen culture and computer games of war, where in many cases, the Pentagon is directly involved in the creation of such games as recruitment tools, actively working to lure young people proficient with technology into the new era of the military-industrial-complex. Drone unravels this complex phenomenon while travelling to places such as Waziristan, where innocent civilians, including children and rescue workers are routinely secretly killed, where families and communities ravaged by the drone strikes search for understanding, accountability and adjustment to the daily horrors. The film also takes a look at the young people sitting behind the screens of the new war machines, half a world away, that actually pull the trigger, asking what kind of world is being built in the rise of seemingly endless and lucrative war driven by technological escalation.
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?
Above All Else is an intimate portrait of a group of activists and landowners in East Texas, United States, who undertook a series of direct actions and put their bodies in the way to stop construction of the Keystone pipeline in 2012. The film follows David Daniel, a quiet, affable carpenter, whose backyard became the epicenter of a tree-sit that physically blocked the path of the controversial pipeline. This was the birthplace of the Tar Sands Blockade, an activist group that would go on to oppose the pipeline’s construction all along its route. David’s stance against Keystone brought together an unlikely coalition of allies, from Texan farmers to student environmentalists to fire-cracker great-grandmothers like Eleanor Fairchild. Above All Else is the story of David and his allies, their struggles, and what happened when they stood in the way of the most powerful industry in the world.
Fascism Inc. examines a series of historical events to compile a view of the past, the present and the future of fascism and its relation to the economic interests of each era—including the current era. The film travels from Mussolini’s Italy, to Greece under the Nazi occupation; the civil war and the dictatorship; and from Hitler’s Germany to the modern European and Greek fascism. Following on from the foundations of earlier films such as Debtocracy and Catastroika which described the causes of the debt crisis, the impact of the austerity measures, the erosion of democracy and the sell-out of the country’s assets; Fascism Inc. aspires to continue to motivate anti-fascist resistance movements across Europe, and the world.
War Matters chronicles a decade of anti-war protest in Britain through the story of veteran peace campaigner Brian Haw, who camped in Parliament Square for over 10 years in protest against the UK government’s policies in the Middle East. Brian began his campaign against war on 2nd June 2001, initially in protest of the sanctions against Iraq. After the September 11 attacks in the United States later on that year, Brian’s campaign took on a whole new level of importance. War Matters documents this shift by examining the larger issue of the British arms trade and the repercussions of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars around the world, as civil rights are being curtailed in so-called democracies. Where does democracy end and tyranny begin?
Who Pays the Price — The Human Cost of Electronics is a short film that seeks to humanise the largely hidden and anonymous global labour force that enables the ubiquitous technoculture, documenting the harsh conditions in which electronics are made and how this really impacts those people’s lives, and the environment. Toxic chemicals, plastics, and sweat-shop working conditions all contribute to the global machine that disseminates digital technologies, hidden in plain sight. Through direct footage of factory workers, interviews with them and analysis of the conditions, Who Pays the Price asks the question of the viewer, and as a call to action to stop the exploitation and toxification of people and the natural world.
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…
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…
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.
The Internet’s Own Boy is a biographical documentary of the programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who died at age 26. From his help in the development of the basic Internet protocol RSS at age 14, to the co-founding of the social network website Reddit in 2006, Swartz becomes disillusioned with the grooming of academia to the corporate life presented to him, and turns instead to work on issues of sociology, civic awareness and activism. It then becomes Swartz’s work in social justice issues and political organising, combined with an open and sharing approach to information access that ensnares him in a two year legal battle, in which authorities seek to make an example of him and the work. The battle sadly ends with Swartz taking his own life. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to the political system, civil liberties and human relationships.
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.
In March 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, took hundreds of secret documents out, and mailed them to newspapers across the country to share them with the public. The group, calling themselves The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, undertook the actions at a time where suspicions about systemic abuse and manipulation of social and political movements by intelligence agencies were running high in the context of the Vietnam war and 1960s counter-culture. In doing so, these citizens uncovered the FBI’s vast and illegal regimes, leading to insights about mass surveillance, intimidation, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers for manipulation, and sabotage. Much of this would later go on to be known as part of a covert program called COINTELPRO that was run directly by J. Edgar Hoover to destroy social change movements—a history that is imperative to understand in the context of today, where state repression of social change movements continues.
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?
On April 20th 2010, a massive oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It was called the Deepwater Horizon rig, operated by the BP corporation. The resulting fire claimed the lives of eleven workers, while the exploding oil well spewed over 4.2 million barrels of oil into the sea over 82 straight days, killing the ocean and millions of animals. The disaster is considered the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States. Ecocide profiles the disaster through the residents of Grand Isle, the last inhabited barrier island off the coast of Louisiana, United States, who thought they were living in paradise until the BP oil explosion hit their shores. Through the lived experiences of this island community, we see the devastating repercussions of the explosion, several years later, that continue to this day.
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 do it to “speak truth to power.” In any event, many have faced severe punishments as a result. By following 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 serious activists with good intentions, or are they driven by insane ideologies?
Private Violence focuses on the issue of domestic violence, as told through two survivors: Kit Gruelle, a domestic violence victim turned advocate who seeks justice for all female violence survivors; and Deanna Walters, whose estranged husband Robbie kidnapped and beat her for four days in the cab of his truck. They were pulled over by police and she was taken to the hospital, but in spite of Deanna’s devastating injuries, Robbie was not arrested. The film follows Deanna’s journey as she rebuilds her life and fights to place Robbie behind bars. Ultimately, Private Violence centers on dispelling the logic of the commonly asked question: “Why didn’t she just leave?”
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.