Based on the book of the same title by Juliet Schor, The Overspent American scrutinises the form of consumerism ever-pervasive in this current era that is driven by upscale spending and debt; shaped and reinforced by a media system driven by commercial interests. We’re encouraged from all angles to spend money we don’t have, working longer hours than ever before. Illustrated with hundreds of examples, The Overspent American draws attention to both the financial and social costs of this giant consumption machine, where the frivolous and relentless search for “happiness” and identity is espoused by advertising.
A few weeks after the September 11 attacks in 2001, the United States congress quickly passed the USA PATRIOT Act—a complicated and controversial law which was purportedly required to help with tracking future terrorist threats. Unconstitutional sets out to explain this law and examine its true impact. Citing a trove of examples from people whose lives have been directly effected, what we see is how law enforcement has rounded up Muslims and people with Arabic names to detain them for wild unspecified lengths of time without due process or even charges; the massive curtailment of civil liberties; erosion of enshrined privacy rights, increases in surveillance; and the abuses of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib.
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.
Amidst the supposed growing prosperity of India, there remains a dark underbelly of poverty. Born Into Brothels chronicles this through the lens of Kolkata’s red light district where film-maker Zana Briski inspires a group of children of the prostitutes of the area to photograph the most reluctant subjects of it. As the kids excel in their new found art, will this help them have a chance for a better life away from the miserable poverty that threatens to crush their dreams?
Crazy Rulers of the World is a series that investigates what happens when chiefs of the United States intelligence agencies and the army began believing in very strange things. With first-hand access to the leading characters in the story, filmmaker Jon Ronson examines the extraordinary and bizarre national secrets at the core of the war on terror.
Spin the Bottle critiques the role that popular culture plays in glamorising excessive drinking and high-risk behaviour, in contrast to the ways alcohol affects the lives of real young men and women in reality. This film decodes the power and influence of seductive media images to show how they shape personal identity when linked to the use of alcohol. Nowhere is this link more apparent than on America’s college campuses. By exploring the party scene, Spin the Bottle also shows the difficulties young people have in navigating a cultural environment saturated with messages about gender and alcohol. Interviews with health professionals provide a clear picture of how drinking impacts student health and academic performance, but it is the students’ own experiences and reflections that tell the real story behind alcohol’s alluring public and cultural image.
Rebel Without A Pause follows renowned linguist and activist, Noam Chomsky through discussions and talks on various world events such as the invasion of Iraq, the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror. Chomsky also weaves in accounts of media manipulation, social control, and discusses the workings of the politics of fear. The film combines footage from large forums to small interactive discussions on these topics, as well as reflections from others…
If a key indicator of the health of a democracy is the state of its media, the United States is in deep trouble. In Rich Media, Poor Democracy, renowned media experts Robert McChesney and Mark Crispin Miller explore how the façade of a diverse mainstream media is in fact a system characterised by a handful of powerful corporations which leads to homogenisation and centralisation. Through numerous examples, we see how journalism has been compromised by business power and how conglomerates such as Disney, Sony, Viacom, News Corp, and AOL Time Warner produce a system of news that is high on sensationalism and low on information. This film suggests that unless citizen activism can reclaim the commons, this corporate system will be characterised by a rich media spectacle and an ever impoverished democracy.
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.
The United States proudly self-identifies as the major purveyor of peace and democracy across the world. But does this perception of self match up to the actual policies and history of military actions throughout recent decades? Are the United States’ seemingly constant wars of aggression befitting to achieving peace? These are some of the central dichotomies addressed in this short film In Whose Interest? We see internal documentation of the US involvement in countries like Vietnam or Guatemala which indicate that the main factors motivating American foreign policy are clearly economic concerns. In Guatemala, the United States overthrows a democratically elected government to install a military-backed dictatorship that is suitable to the American United Fruit corporation. A similar pattern emerges in Vietnam, El Salvador and East Timor. Perhaps most oppressive yet is US policy in the Middle East, where the US provides Israel with more than $3 billion per year in military assistance—more aid than they give to the entire continent of Africa. We see how American policy is determined by the corporate sector, tightly linked to the state, which makes decisions in their own self-interest—in stark opposition to the rhetoric of democracy…
The belief that good triumphs over evil resonates deeply through the religious and political discourses of dominant culture. It is also a common theme in the entertainment media where the struggle between good and evil is frequently resolved through violence. The negative impacts of media violence on children has long been a public concern, but it is even more troubling when military violence, both in the news and in entertainment, is often glorified as heroic and noble. Beyond Good & Evil: Children, Media & Violent Times is a look at how mass communication distorts and manipulates language and visual imagery. It shows viewers how the media’s overriding objective of satisfying an audience converts real issues surrounding race, war, and violence into nothing more than spectacle.
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.’
Ammo for the Info Warrior is a two part series of collections of short films by the Guerrilla News Network (GNN), an independent news organisation with a mission to expose young people to important global news and information free from corporate filters. Each part consists of a selection of 5 to 10 minute videos covering a range of stories, from the violent diamond trade in Sierra Leone; to the PR industry’s manipulation of public opinion; to analysis of IBM and its role in the Holocaust; to CopWatch, a movement of people keeping police accountable; and short slam poetry clips about the business of hip-hop. Ammo for the Info Warrior experiments with format with the aim of being an innovative educational tool to tackle serious socio-political issues for a generation brought up on MTV. It can be a catalyst for discussion and debate, encouraging the viewer to develop skills in critical thinking and analysis.
American Porn is an investigation on the forces behind the explosion of pornography available throughout the United States. Through interviews with the pornographers themselves, actors, lawyers, federal and state prosecutors, activists, and a Wall Street analyst covering the industry, American Porn examines the business ties between respected corporations and porn companies, the rise of extreme hardcore porn, and a political battle of the times…
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.
Deep Trouble covers the concerns of commercial fishing from a global perspective. Many species of fish that are eaten every day all around the world are now seriously threatened or are critically endangered. The Southern Bluefin Tuna for one. Mainstream awareness of where market fish come from let alone how endangered they might be is minimal. As fish stocks dry up, supermarkets are now offering new and strange species from the deep sea. Bizarre-looking creatures are being dragged up in vast fishing nets from depths of 1,000 metres or more, and the methods used to catch them are horrifying. How sustainable is this?
The Disney Company’s massive success in the 20th century is based on creating an image of innocence, magic and fun for kids. Its animated films in particular are almost universally lauded as wholesome family entertainment, enjoying massive popularity among children and endorsement from parents and teachers around the world. This film takes a close look at Disney, to analyse the world these films create for kids and the stories they tell and propagate; contextualised by the cultural pedagogy of Disney’s conglomerate mass-media control and vast corporate power. Including interviews with social commentators, media scholars, child psychologists, kindergarten teachers, multicultural educators, college students and children, Mickey Mouse Monopoly provokes audiences to confront assumptions about an institution that is virtually synonymous with childhood pleasure.
Unprecedented looks at voting irregularities in the controversial presidential election in the United States from the year 2000. With a focus on the swing state of Florida, the recount, the ensuing supreme court decision in December, and future elections; the film also shows how fundamentally, many people—the majority being African-American—have outright been refused the ability to vote by a clever mix of legalese, electronic voting machines, political maneuvering and simple racism. A 1868 law prevented felons from voting—originally crafted to keep blacks from the polls in the wake of the Civil War—was resurrected in 2000, used to create a computerised list of people supposedly illegible to vote. The list had weird parameters and included as many as 57,000 to 91,000 non-felons; overwhelmingly targeting people of colour. On election day, these people were turned away at the polls. The role of electronic voting machines is also examined, as they are totally unaccountable and do not allow audits. The argument is made because of copyright over the software and trademarks. The machines also do not give paper receipts, so there is no physical evidence in case of the need for a recount. How does the United States—the so-called and self-proclaimed world-famous democracy—fair as one in light of this?
In the aftermath of the events of September 11th, 2001; MIT linguist and political philosopher Noam Chomsky found himself called upon to provide much-needed analysis and historical perspective regarding this moment in American history. In the months following, Chomsky gave dozens of talks on four continents, conducted scores of media interviews, and published a book called ’9-11.’ In this film and in his book, Chomsky places the events of September 11 in the context of American foreign intervention throughout the postwar decades—in Vietnam, Central America, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Beginning with the fundamental principle that any exercise of violence against civilian populations is terrorism—regardless of whether the perpetrator is a well-organized band of Muslim extremists or the most powerful nation-state in the world—Chomsky challenges the United States to apply the moral standards it demands of others to its own actions.
The Life of Mammals is a ten part series that follows the evolution and habits of various mammal species around the world. Each episode looks at one or several closely related mammal groups and discusses the different facets of their day-to-day existence and evolutionary origins.
To many in both business and government, the triumph of the self is the ultimate expression of democracy, where power is truly moved into the hands of the people. Certainly the people may feel they are in charge, but are they really? The Century of the Self tells the untold and controversial story of the growth of the mass-consumer society. How is the all-consuming self created, by whom, and in whose interest?
Mainstream media regularly uses public opinion polls in the reporting of news and political analytics. But how do media outlets report polls and to what end? In this interview, author and academic Justin Lewis demonstrates the way in which polling data is used by the media to not just reflect what populations supposedly think, but instead to construct public opinion itself.
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.
At the turn of the millennium, a group of eleven girls aged 8 to 16 from a variety of socio-economic backgrounds were interviewed about their views on media culture and its impact on their lives. Their insightful and provocative responses reveal how the attitudes and expectations of young girls are influenced by a saturated media culture. Using excerpts culled from a typical week of television broadcasting alongside the interviews, What a Girl Wants aims to provoke debate about the effects of media culture and, ideally, act as a catalyst for change in media content.
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…
Behind the Screens explores how Hollywood movies have largely become vehicles for the ulterior motives of advertising and marketing by the studios and media owners, rather than genuine storytelling or simple entertainment in their own right. By showing examples from popular movies such as Wayne’s World, Forrest Gump, The Lion King, Summer of Sam, and Toy Story, this documentary demonstrates how this trend toward hypercommercialism—through product placement, tie-ins, merchandising and cross-promotions—comes to define the modern movie. What are the problems with this, as well as the cultural and social impacts? Combined with analysis from film scholars, critics, political economists, and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Behind the Screens presents accessible arguments to these questions.
We tend to think of slavery as one of the points in Colonial History’s dark past—an offence against humanity that was abolished in the 18th century. But slavery is rampant like never before. It’s just that today the slaves are well hidden in plain sight. The global economy has enabled the immense wealth of the West, giving rise to strengthening a sinister market in slaves throughout Africa, Asia, South America, Britain and the United States. This film sets out to discover where slavery is flourishing, why it’s touching all of our lives, and how we can challenge it.
Fight For Country tells the story of one of Australia’s largest ever land rights and environmental campaigns, to stop the building of a second uranium mine within the World Heritage listed Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory, Australia. In 1998 the issue came to a head when Indigenous elders and activists called on people to come from around Australia and the world to blockade the construction of the mine and proposed ‘uranium deposits’, collectively called Jabiluka. The film follows activists and speaks with Aboriginal people about the impacts of the mine, following the community response and protest actions against the mines development, where over 500 people were arrested in the course of the eight-month blockade.
Over three programmes David Attenborough travels from Kenya to California to investigate the contesting claims about the current state of our planet. In the first programme he examines the extinction crisis, measuring the disappearance of some species against the mass of life that still remains undiscovered. Then the crisis is explored further by looking at the root causes, where finally, the last programme asks: What are the possible courses of action open to us to sustain the future of life?
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.
At the time of making this film, the year 2000, computer games represented a $6 billion a year industry, and one out of every ten households in the United States owned a Sony Playstation—numbers that have no-doubt since skyrocketed. Back then, children played an average of ten hours per week—a stat also since to have increased today—and yet, despite capturing the attention of millions of these kids, video games remain one of the least scrutinized cultural industries. Game Over seeks to address this fastest growing segment of the media, through engaging questions of gender, race and violence. Game Over offers a much needed dialogue about the complex and controversial topic of video game violence, and is designed to encourage viewers to think critically about the games they play.
Director Dag Yngvesson begins making a documentary about the porn industry, until he is asked by a desperate director to shoot film for him and his next porn movie. After Yngvesson agrees, he is led deeper and deeper into the world of porn, speaking frankly with many of the industries most famous icons, such as Jeanna Fine, Bill Margold and a 19-year-old newcomer named Selena who discusses her career choice on film with her mother. Viewers are invited into many areas of the industry previously unseen, let alone discussed, including the real lives of the performers and the inner workings of the industry…
The Mayfair Set is a four part series that studies how capitalists overtly and surreptitiously came to prolifically shape governments during the 1980s, epitomised by the Thatcher government in Britain at the time. But the corporate influence of political power doesn’t simply arrive, it rather culminates after decades of engineering rooted in the economic collapse from the aftermath of the Second World War. This series focuses on the unreported and almost unseen approach that capitalists have taken since the 1940s to gradually take control of the political systems of not only the United States and Britain, but elsewhere around the world—exemplified by the boom of globalisation.
During a ten-hour period in January 1995, Annabel Chong had sex with 251 men in front of cameras. The event was a world record and the resulting video sold more than 40,000 copies, starting a trend of record-breaking gang-bang pornography. Chong states that she intended for this act to “challenge the notion of women as passive sex objects,” and added, “I wanted to take on the role of the stud. The more [partners], the better.” Sex: The Annabel Chong Story revisits the story of that day and connects it to Chong’s life as a student and as the daughter of a middle-class Chinese couple in Singapore. She talks about her decisions, and the film also follows her to an AIDS test after the world-record-setting recording where she also self-harmed and was never paid the $10,000 she was promised. The film closes on route home to Singapore, where Chong visits her parents who do not know about her dealings with the porn world, while friends and professors do. Should she tell her mother?
In the early 1940s, hundreds of thousands of people unknowingly became test subjects in toxins experiments and biological weapons tests conducted by the United States government. LSD tested on civilians, nerve gas sprayed into suburbs, hospital patients injected with plutonium, children exposed to biological and chemical agents just to see what would happen…the list goes on. And in most if not all cases, tests were carried out without the knowledge or consent of those involved. In 1996, evidence of these secret operations hit the news, uncovering a history of secret operations and covert projects that cast a large shadow over the operations of US military and intelligence agencies, to this day. Experiments with biological weapons and the testing of chemical warfare were only part of the story…
War Zone is a short film about street harassment. Filmmaker Maggie Hadleigh-West walks crowded urban streets armed with a camera and microphone, trailed by one or two women also with cameras. Whenever a man harasses her, with ogling or words, she turns the camera on him, moves in close, and questions his behaviour. The questions are not usually for dialogue but more for making him as uncomfortable as he’s made her. More than 50 such encounters are included: the men react with bravado, embarrassment, or anger. None apologise. Interspersed are the filmmaker’s voice-over stories of growing up and dealing with men, as well as interviews with several women who talk about how they handle similar street harassment and what they feel about it. What does it feel like to be a woman on the street in a cultural environment that does nothing to discourage men from heckling, following, touching or disparaging women in public spaces?
This film examines the forces of culture influencing young people’s decisions about sex: media, family, religion, alcohol, and so on. By examining the cultural environment in this way, this film becomes a tool for facilitating informed discussions about the myriad influences facing young people. Filmmaker Dan Habib features the stories of eight young people, ages 16-24, and weaves them with observations about the messages young people get from popular culture.
Produced twenty years ago, and even several years before the rise of Fox News, The Myth of the Liberal Media is possibly relevant now more than ever. The film dissects how news content gets shaped within a narrow and ultimately conservative institutional framework that marginalises other perspectives, filtering news events through a lens that serves power. Featuring scholarly analysis from Justin Lewis, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky, The Myth of the Liberal Media asks: If you want to understand the way a system works, you look at its institutional structure. How it is organised, how it is controlled, how it is funded. The documentary examines the relationship advertising has in funding the media, and how this sets agendas, as well as exploring certain narratives that are propagated through a number of case studies that reveal how these mechanisms ultimately serve power instead of public interest.
Globalisation has gone to great lengths to coerce many countries around the world to open ‘free trade zones’ for Western markets, where businesses receive special tax benefits and other rewards for operating factories and exploiting cheap labour. The argument, as is always cited, is for growth of the global economy. Free Trade Slaves sets out to examine these ideas by looking at the realities of such practice. Told from the perspective of the workers in Sri Lanka, El Salvador, Mexico and Morocco; the film exposes systemic human rights abuses, harrowing environmental destruction, birth defects and other long lasting health problems and social issues. The filmmakers suggest that workers around the world need to assert the right to unionise and organise together to demand and retain decent conditions, and that consumers should do their part by boycotting companies that continue to abuse people and the environment.