How does the military train the solider of tomorrow? Video games. The most popular games are those that replicate as close as possible the war events as seen on the news. Such games now far outpace the biggest Hollywood blockbuster movies, popular music, and best-selling books, combined. What does this complete immersion in high-tech war mean for our political culture? As well as those directly affected by state violence? What does it mean when the technological sophistication of modern militarism become forms of mass entertainment? Returning Fire profiles three artists and activists that decided these questions needed to be answered. We see how Anne-Marie Schleiner, Wafaa Bilal, and Joseph Delappe moved dissent from the streets to the screens, infiltrating war games in an attempt to break their hypnotic spell. The results ask all of us—gamers and non-gamers alike—to think critically about what it means when drones and remote warfare become computer games and visa versa. Can we reflect on our capacity to empathise with people directly affected by the trauma of real war?
For years, the Earth Liberation Front—autonomous individuals operating in separate anonymous cells without any central leadership—carried out spectacular direct-actions against businesses that destroy the environment. Some of the targets were logging corporations, SUV dealerships, ranger stations, a slaughterhouse and a multi-million dollar ski-lodge at Vail, Colorado that was expanding into national forest. As authorities were not able to crack the case and disbanded many years later, the FBI got lucky when they were led to a former activist who agreed to co-operate with them and become an informant. If A Tree Falls provokes hard questions about environmentalism, activism, and the way ‘terrorism’ is defined by following the story of the activists who were turned over to the FBI, and their fate…
China’s factories provide low cost products such as computers and cars to the rest of the world, but the real cost is high with heavy air pollution, contaminated waterways, decimated land, terrible working conditions, widespread cancer and incidences of deaths. China’s Dirty Secrets travels across the country to follow workers at factories that assemble computers, then to e-waste dumps, and finally an industrial incinerator burning medical waste, all showing first-hand the extensive environmental impacts of so-called “economic growth.”
Transhumanists claim a beautiful and apparently now-not-so-distant utopian future made possible by artificial intelligence, life extension and cybernetic technologies. But upon examining the convergence of these technologies and the history behind them, Age Of Transitions details how this movement of “transcending human limits” was born out of pseudo-science eugenics, and what the implications are for a world divided by the have’s and have-not’s.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the great natural wonders of the world. But now the area faces threats not only by changes to the climate, but by direct assaults from industry going to any lengths to extract Coal Seam Gas. This report travels to Queensland to show how at least six major port developments — either being planned or currently underway — are directly putting The Great Barrier Reef in jeopardy…
American Call-Girl is an undercover investigation into the escort industry in Las Vegas, where prostitution is illegal on paper but alive and well in practice, with the industry making use of clever ways for the John to “read between the lines” while everyone else turns a blind eye. With the Internet the backbone of the 21st century sex industry, thousands of escort websites are carefully worded, but if you look closely, many appear to clearly sell sex in a fiercely competitive ‘market.’ American Call-Girl goes behind the scenes to meet escorts and see what life is really like for them. What is exposed along the way, is the rampant and abusive underworld where supposedly independent girls are actually made beholden to pimps by way of violence, extortion and trafficking. Others fight for the freedom to simply work, being on top of their own marketing and advertising. The escort industry thrives in cities throughout the United States, but Las Vegas is a ground zero, a thriving black market.
Trafficked is a set of two films that follow a former-police officer’s quest to find the man who enslaved a young Thai girl in a Sydney brothel. The series explores the trafficking of women and children for prostitution as a global problem. The United Nations estimates that more than one million children are forced into sexual slavery each year. Some of them are trafficked into Australia.
The Purity Myth takes a look at the resurgence of a movement of abstinence, brought about by a powerful alliance of religious ideologues, right-wing politicians, conservative media pundits and policy intellectuals who have been exploiting irrational fears about women’s sexuality. From daddy-daughter “purity balls,” taxpayer-funded abstinence-only curricula, and political attacks on ‘Planned Parenthood,’ to recent attempts by legislators to de-fund women’s reproductive healthcare and narrow the legal definition of rape, The Purity Myth identifies the single false assumption underlying this huge push: that the worth of a woman depends on what she does—or does not do—sexually. This film also argues that the health and well-being of women is too important to be left to figureheads bent on vilifying feminism and undermining women’s autonomy.
With the Internet surpassing print as the main news source, and newspapers going bankrupt, Page One chronicles the mainstream-media industry’s transformation, while commenting on what it views as the high stakes for democracy and informedness as told from inside the newsroom at The New York Times. For a year, this film follows journalists at the paper’s Media Desk, a department created to cover the transformation of the media industry. Through this prism-within-a-prism, a complex view emerges of a media landscape fraught with both decline and opportunity, as writers like David Carr track print journalism’s metamorphosis even as their own paper struggles to stay vital and solvent, publishing material from WikiLeaks and encouraging writers to connect more directly with their audience. Meanwhile, rigorous journalism is still alive, but is facing perhaps the most tumultuous time in generations.
The Brain — A Secret History is a series about how various theories and experiments on the human mind over decades have led to profound insights into how the human brain works, but also have involved great cruelty and pose terrible ethical dilemmas. Historical experiments such as severe maternal deprivation, brainwashing and other experiments in mind control such as MKULTRA are covered, along with physical interventions such as the history of electric shock ‘treatment’, behaviour modification, experimental psychology, and the Milgram experiment.
Girl Model offers a glimpse into the hall of mirrors that is the modelling world as it interfaces with other industries and other countries. The film follows Ashley—a deeply ambivalent former-model who is now a scout and scours the Siberian countryside looking for ‘fresh faces’ to send to the Japanese market; and one of her ‘discoveries,’ Nadya, a thirteen year-old plucked from the Siberian countryside and dropped into the centre of Tokyo with promises of a profitable career. What entails is the opening of a can of worms that isn’t easily solved in one sitting—a thriving and curiously sinister modelling industry that spans the globe, luring everywhere with pretences of wonder, success and riches. But the realities are harsh. The fashion industry can look glamorous from the outside, but its insides are, at the very least, deceptive and sinister; and the myths run deeply entrenched in the culture, constantly promulgating new, young recruits. This ‘meat market,’ a prelude to sex trafficking, is creepy, ugly, and preys on the young and vulnerable. Can the spell be broken?
A group of conservation photographers travel to British Columbia, Canada, to capture the region in response to plans by several oil companies who want to build a pipeline for export from the Alberta tar sands, across British Columbia to the coast of the Great Bear Rainforest. The tar sands in northern Alberta are the largest, most destructive industrial projects in human history. The proposed pipeline not only threatens this area, but many others across Canada and indeed the world. Spoil follows several renowned photographers and videographers who show the Great Bear Rainforest’s landscapes, wildlife, and indigenous culture; calling to act before it’s too late…
Permaculture In Practice shows how the design of ecologically sustainable ways of living can be practised in four very different settings around the UK: A Hampshire back garden including fruit trees, vegetables, bees, chickens and ducks; in the city at Bradford close to a housing estate with 10,000 residents; a community co-op in Devon, which involves a café, allotments and local composting scheme; and a small farm in the Forest of Dean where local distribution schemes ensure a close link between grower and eater, including meat production, a vegetable box scheme and locally produced charcoal.
The Society of the Spectacle is a film based on the 1967 book of the same name by French political theorist and philosopher, Guy Debord. The work traces the development of modern society, in which Debord argues that authentic social life has been replaced with representations, and that the history of social life can be understood as “the decline of being into having, and having into merely appearing.” This emerges from and gives rise to a pervasive and all encompassing spectacle in which relations between commodities have supplanted relations between people, in which “passive identification with the spectacle supplants genuine activity.” The film weaves the text of the original book with modern-day imagery, illustrating many elements of the spectacle, including that “the spectacle is not a collection of images, rather, it is a social relation among people, mediated by images.” This makes the material hard to decipher at times, especially with conflicting subtitles between languages: but this is part of Debord’s goal, to “problematise reception” and force the viewer to be active rather than passive. In addition, the words of some of the authors are “détourned” (hijacked) through deliberate misquoting. The result is a foundational work on the concept of the spectacle and its characteristics, to encourage critical thinking, to build and extrapolate critiques to apply to the wider social scale.
We Will Not Be Moved documents the unpredictable reality for thousands of Cambodia’s poor that are being forcibly evicted from their houses in the name of urban development. Cambodia’s land ownership was thrown into chaos when Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge extinguished private title but now money and corruption are playing havoc with the country’s attempts to bring back private property. There is one brave group known as the BK13—a group of 13 women—that are not prepared to let greedy developers take the very, very little they have. But with half a million residents forcibly evicted in recent years, it’s an enormous fight they have on their hands…
Combining graphs and other visual examples in animation, this short film goes through the issues surrounding the collapse of industrial civilisation—by collating the interconnectedness of energy depletion, carrying capacity, population growth, peak natural resource extraction, and other issues with the problems of exponential economic growth on a finite planet. Can this current way of life continue? The film takes us through these problems and also examines some of the many flaws inherent in some proposed solutions, such as ‘change-by-personal-consumer-choice’, or the vague belief in technology as the deus ex machina to save the day. These serious problems need serious solutions and require a radical rethinking of this current way of life that cannot continue indefinitely. Time is short…
Climate Of Doubt is an investigation into the growing forces manipulating public opinion on the scientific consensus of impacts to global climate by industrial civilisation. A massive disinformation campaign is growing from the fronts of government and corporate interests to undermine scientific processes and reshape public perceptions. Climate Of Doubt ventures inside these organisations to demonstrate the strong influence of the global politick on maintaining established denial, and ignoring culpability on the issue of anthropogenic climate change.
Cypherpunks is a movement originating from the 1980s aiming to improve Internet privacy and security through proactive use of cryptography. With WikiLeaks being a recent offshoot of the many projects derived from the Cypherpunk movement, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange talks with three activists from the Cyberpunk world to cover the topics of mass surveillance and social control being tied directly into technology as modern society progressively intertwines with technological progress…
John Pilger talks about the various mainstream media commonalities of today—censorship by omission, information management, Public Relations and the ‘massaging of information’, as well as the clever distractions such as the election of Obama as a war monger in the land of slavery, alongside figures such as Hillary Clinton and Julia Gillard as a false win for so-called ‘feminist ideals.’ Amongst the ongoing wars played by the United States, Britain and Australia, Media And War — Challenging The Consensus is a renewed call to unravel complex propaganda and cut through distractions.
Over the past decade, the United States military has shifted the way it fights its wars, deploying more technological systems in the battlefield than human forces. Today there are more than 7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots in use by all branches of the military. These systems mean less deaths for US troops, but increased killings and precision elsewhere for the United States war machine. With lethal drone strikes being carried out in secret by the CIA and occurring outside of officially declared war zones such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the secret use of robots and drones in this way evokes serious questions about the operations of the United States and what this means for the rest of the world as more and more autonomy is developed for these technologies.
On 20th April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded off the Gulf of Mexico in the United States, killing eleven workers, and spewing millions of barrels of oil into the ocean for weeks. Dirty Energy brings to light the personal stories of the Louisiana fishermen and local residents directly impacted by one of the worst environmental disasters in recent history, as they struggle to rebuild their lives and contend with emerging health crises related to the toxic dispersants used to clean up the explosion.
Fracking In America takes a look at the continuing instances of water contamination and environmental damage occurring throughout the United States as a result of hydraulic fracturing—an industrial process used to fracture rock in the search to exploit natural gas deposits. As the frantic effort to extract gas accelerates, the impact of fracking expands also, with increasing pressures on fresh water supplies, continuing threats to health and wider ecosystems…
When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, the gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leading the most powerful death squad in North Sumatra. In The Act of Killing Anwar and his cohorts recount and gruesomely re-enact their experiences and some of their killings for the cameras, making horrific scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. But as they begin to dramatise Anwar’s own nightmares, the scenes begin to take over as artforms, leading to confrontations of memories of historical reality. Can the horrific imagination succumb to moral catastrophe in this case? And if sociopaths are not reachable people anymore, the question becomes what we must do to stop them.
Over half a century, Rupert Murdoch’s rapacious business audacity has built one of the world’s most powerful and ubiquitous media empires. But with revelations of bribery, blackmail, collusion with police and government, wiretapping and other invasions on privacy, the empire seems to be showing cracks. The scandal has prompted criminal investigations on both sides of the Atlantic and also broken open the insular world of the Murdoch family, its news executives, and the vast political elite who court their favour. Murdoch’s Scandal tells the story of the battle over the future of News Corporation and the challenging of the extensive media empire…
With the United Nations laying out a deadline for 2013 on claims to the Arctic seabed to be exploited for oil, minerals and gas; countries such as Canada, the United States, Russia, Norway and Greenland are all attempting to stake a claim. As the beginning battle for territory intensifies, the rapid disappearance of the Polar ice caps opens up potential shipping routes, which further fuels the blood lust by those in power to exploit the region. The Battle For The Arctic heads to the Far North to see first-hand who and what is threatened, and exactly what is at stake with these final grabs for energy, territory, and power.
Away from its busy capital city and famous canal, Panama is one of the world’s most ecologically diverse nations. Yet huge new hydroelectric dam projects now underway are seeing pristine rivers damned and virgin rainforest flooded. The government says it is vital for ‘economic growth’, with international corporate interests rushing into the country, and even the United Nations awarding ‘carbon credits’ on the basis that the resultant energy will be “sustainably produced”. But for the indigenous Ngabe people—whose homes are vanishing under water—it is a catastrophe, and they are fighting back…
Martin Daubney walks away from his position as editor of a renowned porn magazine after becoming a father. With his son, now four years old amongst the confusion by contradictory headlines, and driven by the knowledge that his boy will soon reach the age at which most children first see porn—10 years old—Daubney wants to find some answers. How does pornography effect kids? Where is the evidence? Porn on The Brain takes us through the journey, and Daubney discovers that porn has changed from what he remembers as a teenager—today’s porn is extreme, it’s free, it’s pervasive and only one click away, and Daubney is shocked by the content. Porn on The Brain reviews internationally-renowned neuroscientists, leading therapists and educators who are all concerned about the effects on vulnerable teenage brains today of free and easy access to hardcore pornography. The film includes the shocking results of a specially-commissioned survey of teen porn habits, conducted for the documentary by the University of East London; and collaborates with the University of Cambridge to conduct the first study of its kind, scanning the brains of men who feel they are addicted to porn. When will we acknowledge that there is a problem?
As nations around the globe attempt to fight sex trafficking, many consider legalising prostitution. Two filmmakers travel across ten countries to explore the issue, attempting to answer the question: “How can we prevent sexual exploitation before it happens in the first place?” Though governments are getting better at prosecuting traffickers and providing aftercare to victims, it is time we begin to ask the question of what lies at the root.
In 2002, quietly and behind closed doors, the Internet giant Google began to scan millions of books in an effort to create a privatised giant global library, containing every book in existence. Not only this, but they claimed they had an even greater purpose—to create a higher form of intelligence, something that HG Wells had predicted in his 1937 essay “World Brain”. Working with the world’s most prestigious libraries, Google was said to be reinventing the limits of copyright in the name of free access to anyone, anywhere. But what can possibly be wrong with this picture? As Google and the World Brain reveals, a whole lot…
The Tax Free Tour travels the globe to expose the workings of offshore tax havens and the elite banking systems of the world’s billionaires which operate in extreme secrecy. Using examples from multi-national corporations such as Apple Computer and Starbucks, the film traces sizeable capital streams that travel the world literally in milliseconds—all to avoid local laws and paying tax. Such routes go by resounding names like ‘Cayman Special’, ‘Double Irish’, and ‘Dutch Sandwich’. The Tax Free Tour is a sobering look at how the world’s rich live in an entirely different world than the rest of us…
The War Around Us tells the story of the only two international journalists on the ground in Gaza during Israel’s bombardment and invasion of the troubled Palestinian territory over a three-week period in 2008. With never-before-seen footage and gripping personal testimonies, the film bears witness to Israel’s ongoing siege of Gaza in the wake of its withdrawal in 2005, and pays tribute to the power of journalism and friendship under conditions of enormous conflict and stress. The result is a human glimpse into wartime reporting and life in one of the most besieged places on Earth.
During the summer of 2013, a new area of occupied Sápmi (the northern parts of Fennoscandia in Europe) were under attack from the mining industry. If it were not for groups of brave resisters, the test blasting outside Jokkmokk in Lapland, Sweden, would have gone by without incident. The local Sámi people would have once again been exploited, and future generations poisoned without even a debate. But this time, something happened. The Gállok Rebellion tells the story of the resisters in Gállok, and shines a light on views which are not often televised. The film collates the efforts of many groups working together and serves as a call to action, to continue to protect the natural world which is under siege.
Obey is a video essay based on the book “Death of the Liberal Class” by author and journalist Chris Hedges. The film charts the rise of corporatocracy and examines the trending possible futures of obedience in a world of unfettered capitalism, globalisation, staggering inequality and environmental crisis — posing the question, do we resist or obey?
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.
Over the past three decades, obesity rates in the United States have more than doubled for children and tripled for adolescents, and a startling 70% of adults are now obese or overweight. The result has been a widening epidemic of obesity-related health problems. But while discussions about this crisis tend to focus solely on the need for individual responsibility and more exercise, Feeding Frenzy turns its focus squarely on the responsibility of the processed food industry and the outmoded government policies it benefits from. It lays bare how government subsidies designed to feed the hungry during the Great Depression have enabled the food industry to flood the market with a rising tide of cheap, addictive, high calorie food products, and offers an engrossing look at the tactics of the multi billion-dollar advertising industry that makes sure that everyone keeps consuming.
Persons of Interest is a four part series where former activists and political dissidents are given their previously secret ASIO files and asked to explain the allegations contained in them. As a result, the series unravels the hidden political and cultural history of Australia that is still being unmasked today in a world gripped by confirmations of mass surveillance abuses by ASIO and other intelligence agencies such as the NSA in the United States. Using the content of the ASIO records themselves along with genuine surveillance footage, this series tells the story of spies, traitors and intelligence intrigue in Australia against a backdrop of the big political events of the 20th century; at a time when fear of Communism, outsiders and threats to the established order fostered the construction of a vast and secret network of surveillance on ordinary people.
A behind the scenes look into what happens when you buy from the world’s biggest online retailer: Amazon. Through testimonials of ex-employees and an undercover employee with a camera, the tough conditions for workers are revealed. The film exposes the immense pressure the workers go through, such as racing a computerised clock every step of their shift, and having to walk up to 11 miles a day inside the distribution centres. As more people around the world turn to online shopping with a click of a button, staff members working at Amazon are put under mental and physical stress to deliver out of sight, out of mind.
Admit it—you don’t really read the endless pages of terms and conditions connected to every website you visit or phone call that you make do you? Of course not. But every day billion-dollar corporations are learning more about your interests, your friends and family, your finances, and your secrets—precisely because of this; and are not only selling the information to the highest bidder, but freely sharing it with the government. And you agreed to all of it. With plenty of recent real-world examples, Terms And Conditions May Apply covers just a little of what governments and corporations are legally taking from Internet users every day—turning the future of both privacy and civil liberties into serious question. From whistleblowers and investigative journalists to zombie fan clubs and Egyptian dissidents, this film demonstrates how all of us online have incrementally opted-in to a real-time surveillance state, click by click.
For the past 40 years, the war on drugs has resulted in more than 45 million arrests, one trillion dollars in government spending, and the arrival of the United States as the world’s largest jailer with almost 2.3 million individuals incarcerated. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available than ever. Filmed across the country, The House I Live In provides the experience firsthand of those on the front lines—from the dealer to the grieving mother, the narcotics officer to the senator, the inmate to the federal judge—and offers a penetrating look at the profound human rights implications of the so-called war on drugs.
Based on interviews conducted with hundreds of young women, Flirting With Danger examines how the wider culture’s frequently contradictory messages about pleasure, danger, agency, and victimisation enter into women’s most intimate relationships. The result is a candid and nuanced look at how women are forced to grapple with deeply ambivalent cultural attitudes about sexuality and relationships. These interviews are essential viewing for tackling the problematic issues surrounding consent, coercion and sexual violence throughout the culture.