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.
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.
Produced while the invasion was in full swing, Iraq for Sale investigates some the many private contractors and consultants that were brought into to Iraq as part of the United States military machine. Four major contractors are profiled: Blackwater, K.B.R.-Halliburton, CACI and Titan, along with investigations of human rights violations, systemic misconduct, corruption, and profiteering. The film posits what damage is done to the ‘average citizen’ when corporations decide to wage war. For those in opposition to war and corporate power, the connection between the invasion of Iraq and the private corporations who profit from the fighting is plain to see. For those who still may not be so easily convinced, the film not only explores the questionable motivations of the corporate decision-makers whose wartime profiteering has affected the lives of countless soldiers and their families, not mention the lives of millions of civilians, but also the increasingly negative international reputation of the United States as a result.
Pretty Slick reveals the untold story of BP’s coverup following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico. The explosion is known as one of the largest environmental catastrophes in the history of the United States, but what is not well-known is that BP, along with government approval, used toxic chemicals to sink the oil in the water rather than clean it up, using a controversial chemical dispersant called Corexit. Because of this, it is estimated that approximately 75% of the oil, or over 150 million gallons, is still unaccounted for. When filmmaker James Fox learned of this, he began a three year investigation to find out about the dispersant use and its coverup. Pretty Slick reveals how public safety and environmental health took a backseat to restoring the economy, and along the way exposes the collusion between big oil and the United States government in these happenings.
The Secret Government, as its title suggests, is essentially an investigation into the processes, plans, operations and persons responsible for systemic abuses of power at senior levels of the United States government during the 1980s. The film covers multiple covert operations and secret projects, but takes a particular focus on the Iran–Contra affair of 1986, where Ronald Regan secretly facilitated the illegal sale of arms to Iran—which was the subject of an arms embargo at the time—to support a right-wing terrorist group called “The Contras,” and also make obscene profits from the sale of such weapons. Transported to the political happenings of today, The Secret Government is a call to remember history, and see that mass profits from weapons dealing running covert/secret wars were a reality then, and now, as well as to reveal just how far institutionalised propaganda and obfuscation works to conceal these home truths, still generations later.
A Good American chronicles the work of whistleblower William Binney, a former official of the National Security Agency who specialised in cryptography and signals intelligence analysis for over three decades. The film focuses on the lead up to the events of the 1990s where Binney was instrumental in the creation of a secret intelligence program called ThinThread, in which mass surveillance of global communications data was carried out and had sophisticated analysis applied to it in search for threats in real time. However, three weeks prior to the September 11th 2001 attacks, Michael Hayden, director of the NSA, ends the ThinThread program to instead run with another called Trailblazer which lacks privacy protections. Not long after this, Binney resigns. What the NSA does to Binney after this turn of events is the story of the transformation where Binney and his colleagues Kirk Wiebe, Ed Loomis, Thomas Drake, and Diane Roark blow the whistle on a corrupt and brutal agency.
Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God examines the systemic abuse of children in the Catholic Church told through the story of four deaf men who set out to expose the priest who abused them during the mid-1960s. Each of the men brought forth the first known case of public protest against clerical sex abuse, which later lead to the sex scandal case known as the Lawrence Murphy case. Through their case, the film follows a cover-up that winds its way from the row houses of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, through to Ireland’s churches, and all the way to the highest office of the Vatican.
On April 20th 2010, a massive oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. It was called the Deepwater Horizon rig, operated by the BP corporation. The resulting fire claimed the lives of eleven workers, while the exploding oil well spewed over 4.2 million barrels of oil into the sea over 82 straight days, killing the ocean and millions of animals. The disaster is considered the worst environmental catastrophe in the history of the United States. Ecocide profiles the disaster through the residents of Grand Isle, the last inhabited barrier island off the coast of Louisiana, United States, who thought they were living in paradise until the BP oil explosion hit their shores. Through the lived experiences of this island community, we see the devastating repercussions of the explosion, several years later, that continue to this day.
The Murder of Fred Hampton is a film which began with the intention of documenting Fred Hampton and the Illinois Black Panther Party during 1971, but during the film’s production, Hampton was murdered by the Chicago Police Department and FBI. The film project then quickly split into two parts: the portrait and biography of Fred Hampton, and an investigative report into his murder. The result chronicles important historical context. Hampton was a radical activist and deputy chairman of the national Black Panther Party, during the civil rights and black power movements in the United States. Hampton was killed as part of COINTELPRO—the illegal “counter-intelligence program” run by the FBI, aimed at destroying domestic political organisations through surveillance, infiltration, disruption, threats, violence and assassinations.
Peace Officer explores both the militarisation and increasingly violent culture of police forces, as told through the career of William Lawrence, a former sheriff of Davis County in Utah United States, who established and trained the state’s first SWAT team. As a gifted investigator, Lawrence’s savvy skills help break the Ted Bundy case. He also sees SWAT enter the public consciousness and transform the culture of policing throughout the 1970s, along with the convergence of the War on Drugs on policing attitudes and police violence. He eventually leaves public office, concerned, when soon after, his son-in-law is killed in an emergency call gone awry by the very same SWAT unit he created 30 years ago. An internal investigation of course finds no police wrongdoing, so Lawrence turns to his own renowned investigative skills. He sets out to not only uncover the truth of his son-in-law’s homicide, but to tackle the culture and attitudes of modern-day policing on a national level.
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 forestall governmental action in regards to global climate change today.
At the Heart of Gold: Inside the USA Gymnastics Scandal reveals a dangerous athletic culture that prioritised winning over everything else, including protecting young female athletes. For more than 30 years, Larry Nassar worked with gymnasts, as a respected trainer and doctor. He was charming, taught at church, volunteered in the community, and was seemingly well-liked throughout. He treated girls’ aches and pains, becoming a friend and confidant to many along the way, while also sexually abusing them during sessions for many years. When some girls began to speak up about their experiences, they were silenced, gaslighted or denied, all the way up to the highest levels of management, across multiple sporting institutions. After many complaints and eventually a cumulative legal investigation, Nassar ends up exposed as a serial sex offender. This film unpacks the scandal, its cover-up, and aftermath, through interviews with dozens of survivors, as well as coaches, lawyers and journalists, as one of the most high-profile paedophile trials in recent years. It documents the grooming, methods, and psychology of a charismatic sexual abuser, as well as the culture that enables and perpetuates it.
In 2010, the United States announced the construction of the first new nuclear power plant in more than 30 years. But a year later in Japan, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit, preceding a cataclysmic meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant bringing the reality of nuclear power back into public consciousness across the globe. For some. Both political parties of the United States ignored this and continued a pro-nuclear agenda, while others, forgetting more of the past, didn’t realise the history of home. The Atomic States of America serves to break this forgetting by travelling from the gates of Three Mile Island, to the cooling ponds of Braidwood to document just some of what has happened and is happening with nuclear power in the United States today. By speaking with communities throughout the country, this film documents arrays of stories of polluted drinking water, government collusion with industry, cover-ups, cancer epidemics and other suppressed stories. Begun more than a year before the disaster in Japan, this film gains a unique before and after perspective, seeking to inspire an honest remembering about just what this culture has done and continues to do for power at the expense of the world.
Zero: An Investigation into 9/11 posits that the official narrative of the events surrounding the attacks of September 11 cannot be true. The film explores the various facets of that premise by testing scientific evidence and dramatic witness testimony against the official account to demonstrate its many shortcomings, contradictions, gaps and omissions. The question is posed that if the thesis of this film is correct, and the official narrative is false, then the entire justification for the ensuing wars of terror, rampant human rights abuses, and the curtailment of civil liberties, is built on a complex series of outrageous lies.
Using Oliver Stone’s epic film “JFK” as a springboard, Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy brings together extensive research around the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963, to challenge serious flaws in the official narrative. Featuring interviews with Jim Garrison, the District Attorney who brought the conspiracy case of Clay Shaw in 1969, as well as interviews with his staff, Numa Bertel, Lou Ivon and Perry Russo; in addition to numerous reporters, eyewitnesses, archivists, and others, Beyond JFK is a cumulative look into the huge amounts of public research that went into the counter-narrative of the JFK assassination, forming the basis of the production of the JFK movie as a way of presenting the research to the public through pop-culture.
Ninety percent of American media is controlled by five big, for-profit-conglomerates, creating a media monopoly of informational and social control never before possible. The overwhelming collective power of these firms raises troubling questions about democracy. Using a handful of in-depth cases out of a vast array of examples, speaking with renowned journalists, activists, and others, Shadows of Liberty reveals the hidden machinations of the news media, drawing into focus the vast mechanisms of censorship, cover-ups, and corporate control that have been built up over many decades. Journalists are prevented from pursuing controversial news stories, people are censored for speaking out against abuses of government power, and individual lives are shattered as the arena for public expression has been turned into a vessel for advertising, warmongering and distraction. Will the Internet remain ‘free’, or succumb to the same control by the same handful of powerful, monopolistic corporations—as we see?
Salmon Confidential follows renowned biologist Alexandra Morton as she finds that wild salmon are testing positive for dangerous European salmon viruses associated with industrial salmon farming worldwide, and then, how a chain of events is set off by the Canadian government to suppress the findings. Scientists are gagged, research suppressed, evidence not allowed. With the industrial fish farms having moved into Morton’s neighbourhood in the late 1980s, since then, there has been a serious decline in wild salmon in the region. So, tracking her findings, the film follows Morton and her team as they move from courtrooms, to Canada’s most remote rivers, Vancouver grocery stores and sushi restaurants, providing insights into the workings of government agencies tasked with managing the ‘safety of fish and food supply,’ that always seem to put industry and the needs of corporations over the natural world, time and time again. Salmon Confidential becomes a call to action to help save the wild salmon from these atrocities, before they’re completely wiped out forever.
The Tall Man is the story of an Aboriginal man, Cameron Doomadgee (tribal name: Mulrunji) who in 2004 was arrested by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley (the so-called ‘Tall Man’) in Palm Island, a tropical paradise in Australia’s Far North. 45 minutes after the arrest, Mulrunji was found dead in the Palm Island police station. His injuries were like those of someone who’d been in a fatal car crash. The police claimed he had “tripped on a step,” but the community knew this was bullshit. The Palm Islanders protested for truth and burnt down the police station. The subsequent trial of Hurley—who had been decorated for his work in Aboriginal communities—made headlines day after day, shadowed by Queensland police threatening to strike. The police officer was acquitted for the death by the Attorney General. The Tall Man follows these stories by delving into the courtroom, the notorious Queensland police force, and speaking with the Indigenous community of Palm Island, where this tale is sadly still indicative of many of the continuing atrocities of Aboriginal deaths in police custody.
The oil industry giant Chevron began operating in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest in 1964, and by the time the corporation fled the area in 1992, their toxic footprint had brought about 1,700 times more damage than the infamous Exxon Valdez oil spill in the United States in 1989. Chevron vs. The Amazon visits the scene of this epic and enduring crime, to uncover the acts that have killed the riches of the world’s tropical paradise. The Amazon is home to hundreds of thousands of unique species of plants, animals, insects, landscapes, as well as an equally diverse human population—all under severe and continued stress and threat. Chevron dumped 17 billion gallons of crude oil and 19 billions gallons of contaminated waste water into the Amazon. Prior to fleeing, they attempted to hide this by covering the areas with dirt or setting the toxic dumps on fire. This film shows the totality of these crimes, and how the land and its people have suffered from devastating impacts over the ensuing decades, as the first step to holding corporate criminals to account, for justice and the survival of the Amazon and its peoples.