In September 2005, Afghanistan held its first parliamentary elections in 35 years. Among the candidates was Malalai Joya, a courageous 27-year-old woman who had ignited outrage among hard-liners when she spoke out against corrupt warlords and criminals at the “Grand Council of tribal elders” in 2003. Enemies of Happiness is a revelatory portrait of this extraordinary freedom fighter and the way she connected with the people of Afghanistan. The film also serves as a snapshot of life and politics in war-torn Afghanistan from this time. As Joya rightly points out several Taliban warlords and wants them prosecuted for their crimes against the Afghan people, she is exposed to several death threats, and has been under constant protection. Can she overcome entrenched views and death threats to help bring democracy to Afghanistan?
The Invisible War documents the rapid militarisation of police in recent years by looking at the deployment of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons and the real effects of their use. Shotguns loaded with bean bags, rubber bullets, wood, rubber, and foam cylinders; electrical tasers; pepper sprays, OC-gas, and other chemical weapons; microwaves, stink bombs, pulsed energy weapons and many more. What is interesting is that, according to an overwhelming amount of recorded cases, these weapons have turned out to have caused many deaths and/or serious injuries, and are more often used on peaceful non-compliant citizens, or protesters, as a means of obedience rather than protection—invoking serious questions about the future of police and society.
Esc & Ctrl is an online series of short documentary films where journalist and filmmaker Jon Ronson explores some aspects of screen culture and the Internet. By exemplifying the concepts of control of information and the screen culture’s reactions to publishing, censorship, viral videos, media attention and manipulation; a small set of stories weave together to pose bigger questions around democracy and open communication in the age of the computers and a corporately mediated virtual world.
The Blue Planet is a comprehensive series of films about the natural history of the world’s oceans. Each film in the series examines a different aspect of marine life—from the Arctic and Antarctica, to the depths of wide open oceans and coral reefs, to the coastlines and tides of the Galápagos Islands, Russia, Australia, Argentina and elsewhere.
Hot Girls Wanted is an up-close and personal view into the lives of several 18 to 25 year-old girls who are lured into the world of amateur pornography on the Internet. The film sets out to illustrate just some of the many ways the industry really works as opposed to how it appears, as well as providing an insight into the modern recruitment process—the pundits on the inside call it ‘The Game.’ And there are many tricks. According to the teens themselves, many come to porn by the promise of rich extravagant lifestyles, as well as fame and visibility. And while the money can be good for some, at least for a little while, that’s only a small part of the picture. The myths are many and there is a brutal reality of life in the industry, causing high turnovers of girls—once they cotton-on to The Game…
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.
What drives a young Westerner to volunteer as a peace activist in the Middle East? Visit Palestine follows Caiomhe Butterly—a young woman from Dublin, Ireland; who is one of a growing number of volunteers who risk their own lives to intervene in the long-running and bloody conflict of the occupation of Palestine. Activists such as Butterly are usually stereotyped as lunatics, meddlers or saints. This film offers a first-hand insight into a brave, honest, determined yet self-critical woman who takes direct action to the limit, with no quest for glory. The film also serves as a real conduit into the everyday lives of Palestinians, fighting for their lives…
In 2004, during the invasion of Iraq, the public learned of systemic sexual abuse, torture, rape and even murder going on inside Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. Photographs taken by the soldiers themselves were at the centre of the scandal, and seared public consciousness. Standard Operating Procedure sets out to examine the context of these photographs. Why were they taken? What was happening outside the frame? The Abu Ghraib photographs serve as both an expose and a coverup. An expose, because the photographs offer us a glimpse of the horror of Abu Ghraib; and a coverup because they convinced journalists and readers they had seen everything, that there was no need to look further…
Ghosts of Rwanda marks the 10th anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda—a state-sponsored massacre in which some 800,000 Rwandans were methodically hunted down and murdered, as the United Nations and other states refused to intervene. The film examines the social, political, and diplomatic failures that converged to enable the genocide to occur. Through interviews with key government officials, diplomats, soldiers, and survivors of the slaughter, Ghosts of Rwanda presents first-hand accounts of the genocide from those who lived it—the diplomats on the scene who thought they were building peace only to see their colleagues murdered; the Tutsi survivors who recount the horror of seeing their friends and family slaughtered by Hutu friends and co-workers; and the UN peacekeepers in Rwanda who were ordered not to intervene in the massacre happening all around them.
Nature’s Great Events is a series of films that look at how seasonal changes cause shifting weather patterns and ocean currents, which in turn create the conditions for some of the planet’s most spectacular wildlife events. Each episode focuses on the challenges and opportunities these changes present to a few key species. We see the impact of the melting of the arctic ice in the summer, the annual return of the salmon, the impact of the migration of wildebeest on a pride of lions, the annual winter sardine run along the coast of Africa, and the great feast in the ocean when the plankton blooms; amongst others…
The hypocrisy of the United States government is scrutinized in Distorted Morality—a scathing thesis against war and the invasion of Iraq, presented by renowned scholar Noam Chomsky in 2002. Chomsky sets fair and logical parameters to test his ideas, before outlining the reasons why the United States post-9/11 “war on terror” is a logical absurdity. This, according to Chomsky’s carefully supported analysis, is because the US government has been, and continues to be, a major supporter of state-supported terrorism; favoring retaliatory or preemptive aggression over mediation in the world court, and avoiding accountability by excluding itself from the globally accepted definition of terrorism. Explored also are numerous historical examples to support.
Ghosts of Abu Ghraib examines the sexual abuse, torture, rape, and murder of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison at the hands of US military police in the fall of 2003. The film shows how the abuse was systemic of the military-intelligence complex, flawing the “bad apples” theory that was sprouted through the media at the time. By making reference to Stanley Milgrim’s obedience experiments of the 1960s, the film asks: How can ordinary people take these actions? And what orders came from the chain of command?
First Life follows David Attenborough on a journey to unconver some of the origins of life on Earth. He investigates the evidence from the earliest fossils, which suggest that complex animals first appeared in the oceans around 500 million years ago, an event known as the Cambrian Explosion. Trace fossils of multicellular organisms from an even earlier period, the Ediacaran biota, are also examined. Attenborough then travels to Canada, Morocco and Australia, using some of the latest fossil discoveries and their nearest equivalents amongst living species to reveal what life may have been like at that time.
Located in Western Africa, Sierra Leone is a nation caught in a struggle between extreme poverty and extreme wealth. While diamond mining provides the bulk of the country’s income, most of its people struggle to survive by raising their own crops. In 1991, a rebel group called the Revolutionary United Front formed to take on government and corporate interests in a bid for a more just economy and an end to hunger. At first, the RUF was popular with Sierra Leoneans, many of whom resented the elite seen as corrupt and looked forward to the promises of free education, health care and equitable sharing of diamond revenues. However, as civil broke out, the RUF was brutal and developed a reputation internationally for its terrible cruelty towards civilians, and its widespread use of child soldiers. What ensued was bloody mayhem. Around 70,000 people lost their lives in the nearly 15 years of fighting, while millions lost their homes and many thousands were maimed. The Empire In Africa tells the story behind the brutality, and shines a light on the terrible bloodshed, with the view that future horrors may then end.
This film provides some insights into the plight of Omar Ahmed Khadr, a Canadian citizen, who was fifteen years old when he was taken by United States forces in Afghanistan in 2002 to be interrogated, tortured, and sent to Guantánamo Bay. Based on seven hours of CCTV footage recently conceded and declassified by Canadian courts, You Don’t Like The Truth offers a dark, yet officially-sanctioned view into the sadistic world of today’s intelligence agencies and the secret operations in the War-of-Terror.
In the wake of giant speculative property bubbles and high unemployment, ordinary people are occupying empty buildings in urban areas and turning them into free, open and public space. Communities thrive alongside music and art collectives, concerts, food co-operatives and community gardens. One also finds construction workshops, child care, language classes, political talks and even legal advice on social and economic rights. Okupación focuses in on such community spaces in Madrid, Spain; and follows the fight to keep such spaces alive and open.
Unconstitutional investigates the ways in which the civil liberties of citizens and immigrants have been rolled back in the United States since September 11, 2001; and the PATRIOT Act. The film details some stories behind those affected—from law-abiding store clerks to United States Olympians unable to travel.
30 Frames A Second is an immersive first-person account of the events that unfolded during the week the World Trade Organisation came to Seattle in the United States, November 1999. The film is assembled from the perspective of 15-year veteran network-news cameraman Rustin Thompson, who became disillusioned with mainstream media and hence covered the WTO as an independent journalist. As such, even with press credentials for the event, Thompson is swept into the retribution of the state and police power which hit at the protests with tear gas, pepper spray, and police abuse. For him and the protesters alike, it begs the question about the functioning of the so-called democracies we live in, where civil liberties and human rights are curtailed in favour of facilitating the vast corporatocracy and global economic empire—precisely one of the points that sparked protests in the first place…
Big Bucks, Big Pharma looks at the varied insidious methods of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to manipulate—and in some instances create—psychological conditions for profit. Focusing on the advertising for psychotropic drugs, the film demonstrates the ways in which pharmaceutical marketing glamorises and normalises the use of prescription medication, and how this works in tandem with promotion and delivery by doctors. These practices combine to shape how both patients and doctors understand and relate to mental and physical health, as well as treatment. Ultimately, Big Bucks, Big Pharma challenges the viewer to ask important questions about the consequences of a society relying on a for-profit industry for collective health and well-being.
Leviathan is an immerse film documenting the toll that commercial fishing continues to take on the life of the ocean. The message is explicit in the imagery of the film, which largely avoids exposition and context; goes on without narration, unfolding largely in the dark of night. Attesting to the power of estrangement and visceral imagery, Heavy-metal music coincides with heavy machinery, grinding gears and chains, to also similarly portray the repetitive hard-work of trawling life, against the collapse of ocean-life.
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.
Underground is a film about the Weather Underground Organisation—a group founded as a militant faction of the civil rights and anti-war movement of the 1960s and 1970s. The film combines interviews with members of the group after they went underground who explain how they became radicalised amongst the political happenings in the United States at the time, as well as the revolutionary struggles in Cuba, Russia and China, and the history of struggles over Native American rights and labour issues. Also detailed is the group’s analysis of American society, addressing those who have inspired them, and further explaining the reasons behind their militancy, while also introducing the issue of tactics. We see the use of property destruction as a way to bring about change and destabilise the current political order. Underground takes an intimate look at the inner workings of the Weather Underground and their strong internal collective identity, providing a record of how a bunch of middle-class Americans became self-styled militant revolutionaries, raising questions not only about the merits of their struggle, but also about past and future radical actions.
After a string of popular protests in Seattle against the World Trade Organisation in 1999, tens of thousands reemerged to challenge the International Monetary Fund and World Bank at their April 2000 meeting in Washington DC. Once again, media activists were on the spot to provide the non-corporate coverage you just won’t find anywhere else. Breaking the Bank provides an informative background on the history and impact of the IMF and World Bank, and features extensive coverage of the events in Washington against the powerful organisations that are killing the planet.
Is the human population going to outstrip the Earth’s food supply? The effects of modern agriculture not only lead to a short term food surplus which quickly slipped as population boomed, but agriculture itself causes huge environmental problems such as soil erosion, salinity and chemical pollution—all further illustrating an impossible system in perpetuity. Food or Famine looks at projects in North America, Chile, Indonesia, Africa and India which are participating in a worldwide movement to return to local food growing methods based on the land and healthy ecological principles. The film also examines the worldwide imbalance between food consumption and production, stoking the need to confront the mounting challenges ahead…
Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields is an investigative two part series about the final weeks of the quarter-century-long civil war in Sri Lanka. The films are made and broadcast as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon faces growing criticism for refusing to launch an investigation into ‘credible allegations’ that Sri Lankan forces committed war crimes during the the bloody conflict with the rebel group, the Tamil Tigers. With disturbing and distressing descriptions and film of executions, atrocities and the shelling of civilians; the programmes show and investigate devastating video evidence of war crimes—some of the most horrific footage of war ever captured.
In Mexico, ‘maquiladoras’ is a word used to describe the sort of factories that have become commonplace with globalisation—mass assembly and manufacturing plants primarily staffed by women for low wage and long hours in unsafe and toxic conditions. Tijuana has attracted so many such factories that it has gained the nickname Maquilapolis. Delving into the landscape of this, this film asks the question: What is the human price of globalisation? Maquilapolis brings American and Mexican-American filmmakers together with Tijuana factory workers and community organisers to answer that question and tell the story of globalisation through the eyes and voices of the workers themselves. The result is a film to inform and inspire, as each day the workers confront labor violations, environmental devastation and urban chaos…
The Chicago Sessions explores the ethical implications of the financial crisis during three sessions with a group of law and philosophy students. The grounds of the University of Chicago provide a compelling arena, since it is here that both economist Milton Friedman—staunch promoter of free market capitalism—and Barack Obama, lectured. Examples of crisis related issues discussed during the sessions are: mortgage lending practices, foreclosures, bail outs and CEO pay. The students will test their ideas both on eminent professors and on field experts. The discussion is fueled and illustrated by case stories that the students themselves provide. The cases show how the financial crisis really affects the people of Chicago and in one example shows the consequences of the foreclosures in a neighborhood not far from the university and Barack Obama’s home.
Stealing America: Vote by Vote examines a bundle of documented cases of election manipulation and irregularities throughout the United States, some that stretch back as far as 1996. The film focuses on voter disfranchisement, the use of electronic voting machines, and voting anomalies such as uncounted ballots, inaccurate final vote tallies, and vote-switching. Through a combination of first-person accounts (including Democratic Sen. Bob Hagan of Ohio, who also witnessed vote-switching firsthand), extensive research and revealing clips from multiple TV news sources, this film investigates the many ‘glitches’ in voting procedures that result in literally millions of votes being potentially lost, miscounted or even deleted.
The War of Words Down Under documents an insight into the radical campaign of the 1980s to ban advertising and promotion of cigarettes in Australia. The result is a movement of culture-jamming activists called B.U.G.A. U.P. or Billboard Utilising Graffitists Against Unhealthy Promotions; who deface, disrupt, remove and challenge smoking promotions and advertising wherever it appears—in shopping centres, sports fields, billboards, etc. The movement starts in inner-city Sydney in October 1979, later spreading to Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide and Perth; with many of the members coming from professional backgrounds, including doctors and health workers. This film shows how direct-action can provoke and achieve social and political change, albeit a slow process, with success for this movement coming almost a decade later…
This short film, put together by activists, documents the extreme proliferation of e-waste throughout Asia. The effects of the waste is catastrophic, as computers and electronics contain some of the most hazardous materials—cadmium, barium, plastics, mercury, lead, Brominated Flame Retardants and dioxins. Working at the nexus of human rights and environment, this film confronts the issues of environmental justice at a macro level, by provoking the need to stop this trade and address the issues. With over 80% of e-waste coming from the United States alone being exported throughout Asia, the problem is only to increase unless things change, especially in the age of planned obsolescence and consumer ‘upgrades.’
Between 1999 and 2000, nearly 8,000 women reported a rape to the police. Out of those women, 90 per cent identified their attacker, and DNA evidence helped place the accused at the scene of the crime. But the admission of a prior relationship with the perpetrator counted against the victim. In any case, the conviction rate for rape is unbelievably low—only nine convictions for every 100 cases reported. Film-maker Rachel Coughlan follows the heart-wrenching stories of five women to win their fight for justice, showing in the process the systematic failures of the legal system in why such cases—the ones that do even make it to court—often don’t result in conviction.
The insane and horrific history of the development of nuclear weapons is examined first-hand in Trinity and Beyond. The film makes use of extensive archive footage from declassified military sources, where the sources themselves speak about the development of nuclear weapons, revealing the calamitous results of use. From the United States’s Trinity test of 1945, to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; to the rapid increase in testing and proliferation by states across the globe, culminating to the first Chinese atomic bomb test in 1964, Trinity and Beyond is a stark reminder of this culture’s insanity and death urge, and how—unless it is stopped—the expanding threat it continues to pose draws in, literally, the prospect of life on this planet for generations to come.
More than three million Vietnamese people still suffer the gruelling effects of chemical weapons used by the United States during the Vietnam War. American militaries doused forests, lands and waterways of Vietnam with the deadly chemicals Agent Orange, White, Blue, Pink, Green and Purple. Agent Orange in particular, which contains dioxin—the most toxic chemical ever known—has disabled countless people and generations of their offspring. This film weaves personal stories together with the stories of American GIs to lead to a great unravelling of the first-hand devastating and lethal effects of Agent Orange and war, generations later.
Atomic Footprints uses archival footage and new material from the outback of Australia to examine the nuclear fuel chain, and the current push to expand uranium mines throughout Australia. This film speaks with local indigenous communities about the impact of already-existing uranium mining and refinement, and shows in clear examples some of the reasons why we should continue to oppose it around the world.
King Corn follows two college friends curious about the food system, as they decide to have a shot at farming an acre of corn. In the process, the two examine the role that the increasing production of corn has had across not only on the concepts of industrial food, but the health of the land, the health of the environment, and the health of people. The film spotlights the role of government subsidies which make huge monocrops of corn possible, which itself has—as industrial agriculture—a catastrophic ecological impact, but in-turn drives factory-farming of animals and other atrocities such as the production of high-fructose corn syrup which is saturated throughout industrial food, not least, fast-food. We see how this industrialisation has eliminated the family farm and local food production—things which are increasingly impossible in this brutal arrangement of corporate power.
The Tall Man is the story of an Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee (tribal name: Mulrunji) who in 2004 was arrested by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley (the so-called ‘Tall Man’) in Palm Island, a tropical paradise in Australia’s Far North. 45 minutes after the arrest, Mulrunji was found dead in the Palm Island police station. His injuries were like those of someone who’d been in a fatal car crash. The police claimed he had “tripped on a step,” but the community knew this was bullshit. The Palm Islanders protested for truth and burnt down the police station. The subsequent trial of Hurley—who had been decorated for his work in Aboriginal communities—made headlines day after day, shadowed by Queensland police threatening to strike. The police officer was acquitted for the death by the Attorney General. The Tall Man follows these stories by delving into the courtroom, the notorious Queensland police force, and speaking with the Indigenous community of Palm Island, where this tale is sadly still indicative of many of the continuing atrocities of Aboriginal deaths in police custody.
The Gruen Effect is a biographical film of Victor Gruen, considered by some to be the grand architect of the modern shopping mall and pedestrian zone. His ideas about urban planning have led to cities that serve the new gods of consumption, developing concepts that have reshaped the modern world. But in perhaps the ultimate of ironies, a naïve Gruen initially envisioned shopping centres as utopian communal spaces that would bring people together. However, developers took these ideas to brood the emergence of suburbia and the new era of consumption that would come to define the post-war world. Viewed with a critical eye, and tracing the path from Gruen’s prewar Vienna, to the 1950s America, and back to Europe in 1968, The Gruen Effect can show the themes and translation errors that have come to define intensely colonising urban life, along with a disappointed Gruen appalled at the impact shopping centres have on communities.
Spring of 1968 in Memphis Tennessee marked the peak of the Civil Rights movement in the United States. At the River I Stand sets out to reconstruct the eventful months leading up to this period by looking at what started as a strike by sanitation workers which quickly soared into a national conflagration. The film disentangles the complex historical forces that came together for the struggle as well the inevitability of tragedy at the death of many, including Martin Luther King. At the River I Stand brings into sharp relief issues that have only become more urgent in the intervening years: the connection between economic and civil rights; debates over strategies for change, and the questions of effectiveness of pacifist tactics for social change; the demand for full inclusion of African Americans in life; as well as the pressing fight for dignity for all working people…
For years now, the global economy has been exporting most of its wastes and dirty industries to the so-called third world. With this era of proliferation of technology and planned obsolescence, it’s no surprise that e-waste has taken over in these places too. Though while corporations claim that used TVs and computers are being safely recycled in Australia, the reality on the ground throughout Africa shows a very different story. This film travels to Ghana to see that a staggering amount of the world’s e-waste is ending up being burnt in open dumps with severe consequences. The waste creates an escalating and accumulating environmental and health nightmare. But not only this, the arrival of the waste in the first place breaks a myriad of laws and conventions that are supposed to be in place. e-Waste Hell documents this stark reality…
Disarm travels a dozen countries to look at how—despite a global ban—millions of anti-personnel landmines continue to be used to claim victims daily in more than eighty countries. The forces challenging the achievement of a landmine-free world are predictable. As such, the film mixes the views of diplomats and governments against that of victims, de-miners, soldiers, campaigners and aid workers to explore the issues that both hinder and further the case against the use of landmines across the world.