Ten years on from his previous film, Advertising & the End of the World, renowned media scholar Sut Jhally follows up by exploring the since-escalating devastating personal and environmental fallouts of advertising and the near-totalising commercial culture. The film tracks the emergence of the advertising industry in the early 20th century to the full-scale commercialisation of the culture today, identifying the myth running throughout all of advertising: the idea that corporate brands and consumer goods are the keys to human happiness and fulfilment. We see how this powerful narrative, backed by billions of dollars a year and propagated by clever manipulative minds, has blinded us to the catastrophic costs of ever-accelerating rates of consumption. The result is a powerful film that unpacks fundamental issues surrounding commercialism, media culture, social well-being, environmental degradation, and the dichotomy between capitalism and democracy.
Jeff Bezos is not only one of the richest men in the world, the vast corporate empire he has built is unprecedented in the history of capitalism. The corporate power to shape everything from the future of work to the future of commerce to the future of technology is unrivaled. The company’s reach into the everyday life of citizens, manipulating their experience and extracting extreme profits, is profound. It’s extraction of labour and giant streams of data is cataclysmic. It’s reach into culture, media, law enforcement, even a deal with the CIA, is indicative. But despite all of this, the company contradictorily claims it is “just a speck.” As regulators around the world tardily start to consider the global impact of Amazon and how to rein in its extreme corporate power, filmmakers Anya Bourg and James Jacoby reveal how Bezos’s plan to build one of the most influential economic and cultural forces in the world has already transpired, and how the job of reining in this pervasive corporate power will be testing in the extreme.
In recent years, nature conservation has become a booming business where huge sums of money change hands, and endangered species become exotic financial products. Banking Nature, delves into this hidden world of so-called environmental banking, where huge corporations such as Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase buy up the land and habitat of endangered species, and then sell them in the form of shares. Companies that inevitably harm the environment are then obliged to buy credits to offset the damage that they have caused. In Uganda, we meet men who measure trees to determine how much carbon they store and then a banker from the German firm that sells the resulting carbon credits. In Brazil, the steel giant Vale destroys the rainforest, replaces it with a monocrop tree plantation, and reaps the benefits of environmental credits as if the rainforest was still standing. Banking Nature posits that we disallow the same corporate criminals responsible for the global financial crisis from turning what’s left of the natural world into their final corrupt commodities market.
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.
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.
The 2008 ‘financial crisis’ was a systemic fraud in which wealthy finance capitalists stole trillions of public dollars all over the world. No one was jailed for this massive crime, the largest theft of public money in history. Instead, the rich forced working people across the globe to pay for their ‘crisis’ through punitive austerity programs that gutted public services and repealed workers’ rights. Capitalism Is The Crisis shows and explains this fundamental functioning of the global economy, while visiting protests from around the world against it, revealing revolutionary paths for the future. Special attention is devoted to the current situation in Greece, the 2010 G20 Summit protest in Toronto Canada, and the remarkable surge of solidarity in Madison, Wisconsin.
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is a presentation by John Perkins, based on the book by the same name published by him in 2004. Perkins describes the role: “Economic hit men are highly-paid professionals who cheat countries around the globe out of trillions of dollars. They funnel money from the World Bank, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), and other foreign “aid” organisations into the coffers of huge corporations and the pockets of a few wealthy families who control the planet’s natural resources. Their tools included fraudulent financial reports, rigged elections, pay-offs, extortion, sex, and murder. They play a game as old as empire, but one that has taken on new and terrifying dimensions during this time of globalisation.”
Consumer capitalism dominates the economy, politics, and culture of our age, despite a growing trove of research showing that it is a failed system. In this illustrated presentation, media scholar Justin Lewis makes a compelling case that capitalism can no longer deliver on its myth of the dream and its promise to enhance the quality of life. He argues that changing direction will require changing our media system and our cultural environment, as capitalism has become economically and environmentally unsustainable. This presentation explores how the media and information industries make it difficult to envision other forms of life by limiting critical thinking and keeping us locked in a cycle of consumption, and shows us that change will only be possible if we take culture seriously and transform the very way we organise our media and communications systems.
Tracing the Internet’s history as a publicly-funded government project in the 1960s, to its full-scale commercialisation today, Digital Disconnect shows how the Internet’s so-called “democratising potential” has been radically compromised by the logic of capitalism, and the unaccountable power of a handful of telecom and tech monopolies. Based on the acclaimed book by media scholar Robert McChesney, the film examines the ongoing attack on the concept of net neutrality by telecom monopolies such as Comcast and Verizon, explores how internet giants like Facebook and Google have amassed huge profits by surreptitiously collecting our personal data and selling it to advertisers, and shows how these monopolies have routinely colluded with the national security state to advance covert mass surveillance programs. We also see how the rise of social media as a leading information source is working to isolate people into ideological information bubbles and elevate propaganda at the expense of real journalism. But while most debates about the Internet focus on issues like the personal impact of Internet-addiction or the rampant data-mining practices of companies like Facebook, Digital Disconnect digs deeper to show how capitalism itself turns the Internet against democracy. The result is an indispensable resource for helping viewers make sense of a technological revolution that has radically transformed virtually aspect of human communication.
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.
Would any sane person think dumpster diving would have stopped Hitler, or that composting would have ended slavery or brought about the eight-hour workday; or that chopping wood and carrying water would have gotten people out of Tsarist prisons; or that dancing around a fire would have helped put in place the Voting Rights Act of 1957 or the Civil Rights Act of 1964? Then why now, with all the world at stake, do so many people retreat into these entirely personal “solutions”? Why are these “solutions” not sufficient? But most importantly, what can be done instead to actually stop the murder of the planet?
Generation Wealth is a visual history of the materialistic, image, and celebrity-obsessed culture, explored through the work of photographer and filmmaker Lauren Greenfield. Part historical essay, part autobiographical, Greenfield puts the pieces of her life’s work together to reveal the pathologies that have created the richest and most unequal society the world has ever seen. Spanning consumerism, beauty, gender, body commodification, aging, and sex, Generation Wealth unpacks the global boom-bust economy, the corrupt American Dream and the human costs of capitalism, narcissism and greed.
2009, pornography has grown into a $10 billion business, and some of the world’s most-known corporations are silently sharing in the profits. Companies like Time Warner, Marriott, and Vodaphone earn huge amounts of revenue by piping pornography into homes and hotel rooms, but you won’t see anything about it in their company reports. Even the Catholic Church invests in companies that distribute pornography, along with pension funds that earn huge profits from investing in ventures that relate to porn. Hardcore Profits is a two part television series that explores how in the 21st century, pornography has never been more profitable, nor more pervasive.
How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can’t Change travels the globe, from New York City to the Marshall Islands and China, to meet with people who are committed to reversing the tide of global warming. The film examines the intricately woven forces that threaten the stability of the climate and the lives of the world’s inhabitants.
AI, or Artificial Intelligence, is spouted as the ability of machines to “think” [sic] at a speed and depth far beyond the capacity of any human. Proponents of these digital technologies claim their systems are used in ways that are beneficial for society. But as we see, the current use of AI isn’t necessarily aligned with the goals of building a better society. There still remain escalating concerns about labour, the future of work, privacy, the surveillance society, and social control—all valid criticisms that go back many decades—while the rivalry for technological supremacy between the United States and China mirrors the dynamics of the cold war. In the Age of AI is an investigation that touches on these areas, providing a platform to ask fundamental questions about unrestrained technological escalation.
Let’s Make Money investigates the development of the world-wide financial system, showing that elitists economically exploit the rest of society, especially in the developing world, but also in western nations. Using the savings of a typical depositor as a case study, the film moves around the global system, showing exploitation at many levels. There are several interviews with investment managers, politicians, economists as well as homeless people and workers who give their take on the system and its impacts…
Merchants of Doubt looks at the well established Public Relations tactic of saturating the media with shills who present themselves as independent scientific authorities on issues in order to cast doubt in the public mind. The film looks at how this tactic, that was originally developed by the tobacco industry to obfuscate the health risks of smoking, has since come to cloud other issues such as the pervasiveness of toxic chemicals, flame retardants, asbestos, certain pharmaceutical drugs and now, climate change. Using the icon of a magician, Merchants of Doubt explores the analogy between these tactics and the methods used by magicians to distract their audiences from observing how illusions are performed. For example, with the tobacco industry, the shills successfully delayed government regulation until long after the health risks from smoking was unequivocally proven. Likewise with manufacturers of flame retardants, who worked to protect their sales after the toxic effects and pervasiveness of the chemicals were discovered. This is all made analogous to the ongoing use of these very same tactics to stall governmental action in regards to global climate change today.
Money is a new form of slavery and is only distinguishable from the old slavery simply by the fact that it is impersonal—that there is no human relation between master and slave. Debt in government, corporate and household has reached astronomical proportions. Where does all this money come from? How could there be that much money to lend? The answer is that there isn’t…
With a lens of torturous mechanistic science, as well as the commercial perspective from farmers and commodity bee-keepers alike, More Than Honey is a film about the insanity of industrial agriculture and the consequential collapse of honeybee populations throughout the world. By looking through some of the industrial operations in California, Switzerland, China and Australia, More Than Honey is a visual exploration of colony collapse, drawing attention to the many symbiotic relationships that go unrecognised and uncared for by industrial operations and commercial food practices. If bees are so important to the health of so many other species of animals and plants and foods, how can we stand by and allow them to be killed?
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?
Exploring the collusion between the richest people in the United States and the figureheads of political power in government, this film focuses on Park Avenue in New York which is currently the home to the highest concentration of billionaires in the United States. Across the river in Manhattan, less than five miles away, Park Avenue runs through the South Bronx which is home to the countries’ poorest. The disparity of wealth has never been so stark and has accelerated extraordinarily over the last 40 years. As of 2010, 400 people controlled more wealth than the bottom 50 percent of the population—150 million people—as well as seizing political power. Park Avenue travels through this to illustrate why the concept of so-called “upward mobility” is a myth perpetuated by the rich, and also to unpack the workings of plutocracy and capitalism—the current-day rule by the rich, and the implications of this collusion of power and control.
Plutocracy: Political Repression in the United States is a series of films that comprehensively examine early North American history through the lens of class, to enable a wider critique of the social order in contemporary United States. The series not only documents and exemplifies individual strikes and labour movements throughout the centuries, but also serves to connect the narratives and political lessons of an entire era from a working-class viewpoint, forming a solid base of analysis for class struggle.
Housing is fundamental human right. But in cities all around the world, housing affordability is decreasing at record pace. The local working and middle classes have become unable to afford housing in major cities: London, New York, Berlin, Hong Kong, Toronto, Tokyo, Valparaiso, Sydney, Melbourne, Caracas, Barcelona, Paris, Amsterdam, Stockholm… the list seems endless. People are being pushed out of their very own homes—because living in them has rapidly become unaffordable. Told through the eyes of Leilani Farha, a United Nations special rapporteur on housing, Push touches on the foundations of the crisis, as we follow the rise of abstract finance and the pervasive influence of neoliberalism that conjures a perfect storm: the global financial crisis of 2008—where houses packaged as “complex financial instruments” were the core of the crisis. Then, once the financial industry was bailed out by the public to the tune of trillions of dollars, financiers bought up millions of houses around the globe for cents on the dollar, and their power and influence has only increased in the subsequent decades. Farha travels all around the world, speaking to people that now spend 90% of their income on rent, after wages have stayed stagnant since 1970s, and how large corporations swallow up entire communities, guided by the same politik. She says we still need to confront those old ideas—the financialisation of the housing ‘market.’ “There’s a huge difference between housing as a commodity and gold as a commodity.” These systems don’t consider the people they extract from.
“Quants” are the mathematicians, software developers and computer programmers at the centre of the global economy. These are the people who designed the “complex financial products” that caused the financial crisis of 2008. Here they speak openly about their game of huge profits, and how the global economy has become increasingly dependent on mathematical models that quantify commodified human behaviours to the point of insanity. But things don’t stop there. Through the convergence of economy and technology, the Quants have now brought this model into the world of the machines, where trades are done at the speed of light, far from the realm of human experience. The machines are in charge. Some Quants are even now worried. What are the risks of this complex machine? Will the Quants be able to keep control of this financial system, or have they created a monster?
In Requiem for the American Dream, renowned intellectual figure Noam Chomsky deliberates on the defining characteristics of our time—the colossal concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few and fewer, with the rise of a rapacious individualism and complete collapse of class consciousness. Chomsky does this by discussing some of the key principles that have brought this culture to the pinnacle of historically unprecedented inequality by tracing a half century of policies designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority, while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. The film serves to provide insights into how we got here, and culminates as a reminder that these problems are not inevitable. Once we remember those who came before and those who will come after, we see that we can, and should, fight back.
We live in a world of screens. The average adult spends the majority of their waking hours in front of some sort of screen or device. We’re enthralled, we’re addicted to these machines. How did we get here? Who benefits? What are the cumulative impacts on people, society and the environment? What may come next if this culture is left unchecked, to its end trajectory, and is that what we want? Stare Into The Lights My Pretties investigates these questions with an urge to return to the real physical world, to form a critical view of technological escalation driven rapacious and pervasive corporate interest. Covering themes of addiction, privacy, surveillance, information manipulation, behaviour modification and social control, the film lays the foundations as to why we may feel like we’re sleeprunning into some dystopian nightmare with the machines at the helm. Because we are, if we don’t seriously avert our eyes to stop this culture from destroying what is left of the real world.
Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine is not just another celebratory biographical film about the life of a business man that many around the world grieved in 2011. It’s a full rounded critical examination into the fundamentals of a person revered as an iconoclast, a barbed-tongued tyrant, a business sociopath. The real Steve Jobs is revealed like this through candid interviews from those who had close relationships with him at different stages of his life, including the mother of his child, Lisa, that Jobs refused he had, but named a computer after instead. The film also takes us through the evocative essence of the brand of Apple Computers which has captured the population like zombies, and asks the question: What is the legacy of this industry, and the truth of this kind of person that the culture celebrates so much, completely ignoring the darkness?
Sweet Crude is the story of how large oil corporations such as Shell and Chevron have absolutely decimated the Niger Delta, but the people are fighting back. The film shows the human and environmental consequences of 50 years of oil extraction against an insurgency of people who, in the three years after the filmmakers met them as college students, became the young of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND). The movement is born after series of non-violent protests, and what the corporations and colonisers don’t understand is that these people will fight for their land and emancipation until the end. Sweet Crude is their story of survival and armed resistance against corrupt governments and rapacious corporate power, amongst a complicit and collusive mainstream media.
For millions of people, the global economic collapse has generated curiosity about how money systems actually work, as opposed to how they’re portrayed, especially when so many financial pundits seem to be baffled. In The Ascent of Money, economist Niall Ferguson works through some history that created today’s money system, visiting the locations where key events took place and poring over actual ledgers and documents, such as the first publicly traded share of a company. Viewed with a critical eye, this series aims to show how the history of money is indeed at the core of civilisation, with economic strength determining political dominance, wars fought to create wealth and individual financial barons determining the fates of millions.
The Big Sellout reveals the reality of privatisation and globalisation by examining the corporate takeover of basic public services throughout the world, such as water supply, electricity, public transportation, and public health care. In South America, Asia, Africa, but also in Europe and the United States, filmmaker Florian Opitz talks to the architects of the new economic world order, as well as to ordinary people who have to deal with the real direct effects. The result is a tapestry of narratives the world over that show where the dogma of privatisation cames from, who profits from it, what societies lose, and why resistance is so important.
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 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.
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.
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.
The Power of the Fed investigates how the United States central bank’s actions have played out over the years on Wall Street versus Main Street, since the last financial crash of 2008. The film traces how the experiment the Fed began in 2008 has been dramatically ratcheting up, peaking with the COVID-19 crisis in 2020. But, of course, rather than help correct from the huge corruption and financial abstractions that caused the 2008 crash, the fed has doubled down on its policies of “quantitative easing” which have gone on to help widen the greatest inequality of wealth in history, pushing financial products even further removed from the economy, driving inflation, automation, and worsening the impending cycles of boom and bust. The rise of speculative cryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens (NFTs) has only fueled the mania, as economic volatility increases.
“Supermarkets have bulked up. These days they’re retail superpowers who make money not just when we eat or drink but increasingly when we fill the petrol tank, play pokies or buy a hammer from the local hardware – and they’re quietly stalking pharmacies, newsagents and florists. Coles and Woolworth’s sell 70 percent of the dry groceries and half the fresh food that Australians consume – among the highest concentrations of market power in the developed world”…
If a crime is committed in order to prevent a greater crime, is it excusable? Is it, in fact, necessary? The Reluctant Radical follows Ken Ward as he confronts his fears and acts on these questions to stop climate change. After twenty years leading some of the most renowned mainstream environmental organisations, Ken witnesses first-hand how ineffective and unthreatening they are. As their efforts fail, and environmental collapse increases in scope and speed, Ken comes to see how direct action civil disobedience is the most effective political tool to deal with catastrophic circumstances. Ken breaks the law, to fulfil his obligation to future generations, to stop the oil economy. By following Ken for a year and a half through a series of direct actions, this film culminates with his participation in the coordinated action that shut down all the tar-sands oil pipelines in the United States on October 11, 2016. The film reveals the personal costs but also the true fulfilment that comes from following one’s moral calling, even if that means breaking the law and its consequences. Ken has no regrets.
Your retirement plan, if you’re even lucky enough to have one, is a gamble. Fees, self-dealing, kickbacks, deregulation and/or no regulation at all brings great profits to the financial system, while imperiling the future of individuals who provide 100% of the funds, take 100% of the risks, but only get 30% of the returns. Even the privileged Baby Boomer generation now faces uncertainties, to say nothing of those who come after and face an even more staggering wealth inequality. The paternalistic “American dream” of the 1950s has long been over. Now, thanks to decades of neoliberalism, with a financial system geared towards short term profits and externalising risks and costs, the retirement fund industry is a ten trillion dollar industry, protected by obfuscation and complexity. The Retirement Gamble offers a window into this racket, raising just some of the troubling questions about how this supposed system claims to “work for everyone” when it does nothing of the sort, by design.
The Secret History of the Credit Card uncovers the deceptive techniques and tactics used by banks and financial corporations to get citizens to take on ever more debt, while earning record profits. Penalty fees, defaulting, changing contracts, increasing rates retrospectively—these are some of the ways credit card companies gouge their users, and increase influence. The film shows how such profitability of credit cards began in the 1980s, when the banking industry successfully eliminated the limit on the interest rate a lender can charge a borrower. This deregulation, coupled with real-time tracking of personal financial information, facilitated the widening availability of credit cards. Despite a growing number of consumer complaints, the ability of state and local governments to investigate the credit card companies has virtually been eliminated, due to companies incessant lobbying and litigation that has created a jurisdictional “turf battle.”