Since the late 1980s, BBC news crews have filmed all across the Soviet Union and Russia, but only a tiny portion of their footage was ever used for news reports. The rest was left unseen on tapes in Moscow. Filmmaker Adam Curtis obtains these tapes and uses them to chronicle the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise of capitalist Russia and its oligarchs, and the effects of this on Russian people of all levels of society, leading to the rise to power of Vladimir Putin, and today’s invasions of Ukraine. The films take you from inside the Kremlin, to the frozen mining cities in the Arctic circle, to tiny villages of the vast steppes of Russia, and the strange wars fought in the mountains and forests of the Caucasus.
Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World is a six-part series that explores how modern society has arrived to the strange place it is today. The series traverses themes of love, power, money, corruption, the ghosts of empire, the history of China, opium and opioids, the strange roots of modern conspiracy theories, and the history of Artificial Intelligence and surveillance. The series deals with the rise of individualism and populism throughout history, and the failures of a wide range of resistance movements throughout time and various countries, pointing to how revolution has been subsumed in various ways by spectacle and culture, because of the way power has been forgotten or given away.
HyperNormalisation wades through the culmination of forces that have driven this culture into mass uncertainty, confusion, spectacle and simulation. Where events keep happening that seem crazy, inexplicable and out of control—from Donald Trump to Brexit, to the War in Syria, mass immigration, extreme disparity in wealth, and increasing bomb attacks in the West—this film shows a basis to not only why these chaotic events are happening, but also why we, as well as those in power, may not understand them. We have retreated into a simplified, and often completely fake version of the world. And because it is reflected all around us, ubiquitous, we accept it as normal. This epic narrative of how we got here spans over 40 years, with an extraordinary cast of characters—the Assad dynasty, Donald Trump, Henry Kissinger, Patti Smith, early performance artists in New York, President Putin, Japanese gangsters, suicide bombers, Colonel Gaddafi and the Internet. HyperNormalisation weaves these historical narratives back together to show how today’s fake and hollow world was created and is sustained. This shows that a new kind of resistance must be imagined and actioned, as well as an unprecedented reawakening in a time where it matters like never before.
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.
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…
As we wait to see whether Rupert Murdoch will fall from power and lose control of News International, Every Day is Like Sunday tells the forgotten story of the dramatic downfall of Cecil King—the newspaper mogul who used to dominate British media in the 1960s, before Rupert Murdoch arrived.
All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is a series of films about how this culture itself has been colonised by the machines it has has built. The series explores and connects together some of the myriad ways in which the emergence of cybernetics—a mechanistic perspective of the natural world that particularly emerged in the 1970s along with emerging computer technologies—intersects with various historical events and visa-versa. The series variously details the interplay between the mechanistic perspective and the catastrophic consequences it has in the real world.
This short film uses the story of Richard Nixon’s paranoia to explore how a similar outlook has been perpetuated on the larger social scale by the new media age. Skimming through the evolution of the mainstream media via television and newspapers, this short film comments on how politics has been paralysed by a media that has taken serious threats and sensationalised them, resulting in political cynicism and disengagement, which in-turn feeds a viscous cycle of nihilism and further sensationalist politics and media.
This short film uses the history and figure of the Murdoch media empire as a vast invasive machine, to draw parallels to new media machines such as Google that are not only more invasive, but more pervasive than anything the Murdoch media empire has managed. Why are we not more concerned about this?
Based on the immersive theatre production and experimental work by Adam Curtis, It Felt Like A Kiss is a visual exploration of the story of an enchanted world that was built by the rise of the United States as supreme power after the Second World War, and how those living in that dream world responded to this. Using extensive archive footage from throughout the 1960s, this experimental film sets out to explore the themes and consequences of how power really works in the world since the beginning of the post-world-war era, and how the perspective of the way society is organised since that time is a political product of the ideas of that time.
As the mainstream media attempts to create a simple narrative from hugely complex events, much is obviously lost in the translation—most often purposefully. This short film attempts to contrast the character of this narrative in the 1990s, where events were almost universally portrayed as ‘the little guy versus the big guy’ to the post Rwanda narrative of ‘scattered terrible things happening everywhere, Oh Dear.’ It is not that we can’t actually do anything about these events, it is only that mainstream media presents these events within a framework that makes it seem that way and that in itself is a very powerful way to control society.
This short film chronicles a metamorphosis of mainstream media and political power throughout the last decades, by looking at the role of the television journalist. In the early 1950s, not long after the invention of television itself, TV journalists essentially served as prompters for government figureheads and official viewpoints. This function changed somewhat however, with the political scandals of the 1960s and 70s, exemplified by Watergate, where some journalists joined the mainstream shift in society of questioning political power, big business and bureaucracy. Out of this boomed a new era of investigative journalism. But this ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall as the old certainties of “good and bad” and “right and left” were blurred and no longer simple. But rather than working to make sense of the complexity, journalism turned from moral principles to a simple reporting of experience, devoid of context. TV journalists now plead with the audience to send in photos and videos as a kind of so-called “democratised” media, but what actually functions as a vast echo-chamber of uncertainty and unaccountability.
If one steps back and looks at what freedom actually means in the West today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom. The United States and its empire self-describe fighting the Cold War for “individual freedom,” yet it is still something that the leaders of our so-called democracies continually promise to give us. Abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to force “freedom” on to other people has led to more than just bloody mayhem, and this, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain and elsewhere. In response, the government has dismantled long-standing laws that were designed to protect individual freedom and civil liberties.
Is the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction—specifically in the form of al-Qaeda—a myth perpetrated by politicians across the globe, but particularly the American neo-conservatives, in order to unite and justify empire? This series of films charts the rise of both groups and movements, drawing comparisons between them and their origins, to provide much-needed and missing context to the War of Terror.
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?
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.
The Way of All Flesh traces the story of Henriettta Lacks as she dies of cancer in 1951. Before she died cells were removed from her body and cultivated in a laboratory by scientists in the hope that they could find a cure for cancer. The cells known as the HeLa line have been growing ever since, and the scientists found that they were growing in ways they could not control. The cells transformed modern medicine, the Polio vaccine, but they also became caught up in the politics of our age, shaping the policies of countries and of presidents, and even becoming involved in the cold war, as scientists were convinced that in her cells lay the secret in how to conquer death.
25 Million Pounds details the collapse of Barings Bank in the mid 1990s primarily by a broker called Nick Leeson, who lost £827 million ($1.3 billion) by speculating on futures contracts. The film contextualises the downfall as the history of Barings Bank was one of the oldest and most prestigious merchant banks in Britain, run by the same family for decades with extensive ties to Britain’s elites. But in the late 19th century Barings almost went bankrupt after investing heavily in South American bonds, including backing the construction of a sewer system in Buenos Aires. The bank was saved by The Bank of England, but Edward Baring, the head of the bank, was financially ruined and never recovered. This film explores the culture of Barings and of the financial markets during the 1990s, and how Nick Leeson was able to cause another huge loss of money to the bank, this time bankrupting the company. He did this by claiming fictitious profits on the Singapore International Monetary Exchange and using money requested from London as margin payments on fictitious trades to finance his loss-making positions. It’s also the profile of a stereotypical corporate psychopath, as Leeson himself explains how he was able to manipulate those around him to achieve his ends and rationalise his actions.
Pandora’s Box — A fable from the age of science, is a six part series examining the consequences of political and technocratic rationalism, tying together communism in the Soviet Union, systems analysis and game theory during the Cold War, economy in the United Kingdom during the 1970s, the insecticide DDT, Kwame Nkrumah’s leadership in Ghana during the 1950s and 1960s and the history of nuclear power.