The Illusionists examines how global advertising firms, mass media, and the beauty, fashion, and cosmetic-surgery industries have together colonised the way people all around the world define beauty and see themselves. Taking us from Harvard to the halls of the Louvre, from a cosmetic surgeon’s office in Beirut to the heart of Tokyo’s Electric Town, The Illusionists shows how these industries saturate our lives with narrow, Westernised, consumer-driven images of so-called beauty that show little to no respect for biological realities or cultural differences. Featuring voices from prominent sociologists, magazine editors, scientists, artists, and activists, The Illusionists documents a truly global phenomenon, with hegemonic results.
Every day, billions of people are unwittingly taking part in what is the largest most comprehensive psychological experiment ever conducted. The old marketing and advertising world using billboards, advertisements and TV commercials to persuade us, has been comprehensively augmented by an entirely new field of “user experience architects” and “online persuasion agents.” These forces are given tremendous power from the proliferation of digital technologies. So how do these powerful forces ensure that we fill our online shopping carts to the brim, or stay on websites as long as possible? Or vote for a particular candidate? What Makes You Click examines how these prolific entities collectively and individually use, shape, and manipulate our experiences via an online world, not just when it comes to buying things, but also with regards to our free time and political perspectives. The manipulation has become so good that these powerful controllers, former Google employees among them, are themselves arguing for the introduction of an ethical code. What does it mean when the grand conductors of these huge experiments themselves are asking for their power, influence and possibilities to be restricted?
Stuxnet is a malicious computer virus, first identified in 2010, that targets industrial computer systems and was responsible for causing substantial damage to Iran’s nuclear program, as well as spreading across the world. The virus is believed by many experts to be a jointly built American-Israeli cyberweapon, although no organisation or state has officially admitted responsibility. Zero Days covers the phenomenon surrounding the Stuxnet computer virus and the development of the malware software known as “Olympic Games.” It also examines the follow-up cyber-plan entitled ‘Nitro Zeus,’ showing how the United States has opened the Pandora’s Box of cyberwarfare.
Facebook is an enormously powerful corporation, harnessing both the self-disclosed and gleaned personal data of over 2 billion people. Its user-base is larger than the population of any country. The company is all pervasive online, tracking and profiling users and non-users alike. Cracking the Code looks at the insides of this giant machine and how Facebook turns your thoughts and behaviours into profits—whether you like it or not. And it’s not just a one-way transaction either. Cracking the Code also explains how Facebook uses vast troves of web data to manipulate the way you think and feel, as well as act—all in the sole interests of Facebook, masquerading as “community.” What are the social implications of this—when one company basically controls the insights and experiences of the entire online world, with extremely personalised and targeted social and behavioural engineering on a scale never before seen?
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.
This short video explores how the online world has overwhelmingly become the popular outlet for public rage by briefly illustrating some of the many stories of everyday people which have suddenly become public enemy number one under the most misunderstood of circumstances and trivial narratives. With the web acting like a giant echo-chamber, amplifying false stories and feeding on the pent-up aggression of the audience watching the spectacle, The Outrage Machine shows how these systems froth the mob mentality into a hideous mess, as a good example of where the spectacle goes and how its intensity has to keep ratcheting up in order maintain the audience attention, in a culture of dwindling attention spans, distraction and triviality.
Cornered in the tiny building of the Ecuadorian embassy in the United Kingdom for half a decade, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his team are undeterred, continuing to release troves of important documents, even as the personal legal jeopardy he faces threatens to undermine the very organisation he leads and fracture the movement it inspired. Filmmaker Laura Poitras finds herself caught between the motives and contradictions of Assange and his inner circle. Filmed over six years, Risk is a complex and volatile character study of the forces that crescendo with a high-stakes election year in the United States and its controversial aftermath. In a world order where a single keystroke can alter history, Risk is a nuanced and curious portrait of power, betrayal, truth, and sacrifice. How much of your own life are you willing to risk?
A secret illegal project from the 1950s, 60s and 70s called COINTELPRO, represents the state’s strategy to prevent resistance movements and communities from achieving their ends of racial justice, social equality and human rights. The program was mandated by the United States’ FBI, formally inscribing a conspiracy to destroy social movements, as well as mount institutionalised attacks against allies of such movements and other key organisations. Some of the goals were to disrupt, divide, and destroy movements, as well as instilling paranoia, manipulation by surveillance, imprisonment, and even outright murder of key figures of movements and other people. Many of the government’s crimes are still unknown. Through interviews with activists who experienced these abuses first-hand, COINTELPRO 101 opens the door to understanding this history, with the intended audience being the generations that did not experience the social justice movements of the 60s and 70s; where illegal surveillance, disruption, and outright murder committed by the government was rampant and rapacious. This film stands to provide an educational introduction to a period of intense repression, to draw many relevant and important lessons for the present and the future of social justice.
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?
Sugar Coated investigates a once secret public relations campaign, dating back to the 1970s, where the sugar industry deflected threats to its multi-billion dollar empire from scientific research emerging implicating processed sugar with adverse health effects. In order to continue sweetening the world’s food supply, thus securing continued profits, the sugar industry turned to the very same deceptions and tactics lifted from the tobacco industry. Using big sugar’s own internal documents on this strategy, Sugar Coated reveals the well-oiled tricks of the trade to confuse the public about what is really driving the global pandemic of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Will we be fooled again?
Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief profiles eight former-members of the cult of Scientology, leading to a series of revelations of the history of systematic abuse, manipulation, and betrayal in the organisation by Scientology officials and celebrity figures. The film highlights the origins of Scientology, from its roots in the mind of founder L. Ron Hubbard and successor David Miscavige, to its rise in popularity in Hollywood and beyond. The result is a record of great harm, paranoia, abuse, the vast accumulation of wealth, and a lust for power and control.
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…
By examining the people and practices of the media and entertainment industries, The Fourth Estate illuminates not only specific incidences of corruption by press groups, but how the wider model of mainstream journalism itself as a for-profit entity has a huge amount to answer for in terms of democracy and the state of politics throughout the world. Filmed over two years throughout the UK on no budget, the filmmakers profile journalists, organisers and critics of industrial media practices, stemming from the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 which was set up to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandals of the Murdoch media empire. While the phone hacking scandal illuminated the depth and breadth of the culture of British journalism, the media’s focus at the time quickly diverted from a brief period of self-examination, back to business as usual. This film instead continues the analysis by looking at the larger implications of a for-profit media model and its connections to ideology, entertainment, and hence the resulting political framework that’s in crisis.
In Mediastan, an undercover team of journalists drive across central Asia interviewing editors of local media outlets to publish secret US diplomatic cables that were provided to WikiLeaks in 2010. Success is varied. And so, after regrouping with Julian Assange in England, questioning the editor of the Guardian, and obtaining candid footage of the New York Times editor and its publisher Arthur Sulzberger, Mediastan closes by leaving the viewer with an informative first-hand overview of the machinations of mainstream media. By venturing into the minds—and actions—of the people and institutions who shape the news, Mediastan shows the system for what it’s worth, and reveals its true motivations…
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.
What do popular television programs like What Not to Wear, The Biggest Loser, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, and The Swan tell us about how to look and feel? What do they tell us about what a good life is supposed to look like? Brand New You explores these questions, and also asks what it means to be an authentic self in an extensively mediated world. It shows how the interventions featured in makeover shows—from weight loss to cosmetic surgery to rearing competitiveness—create, perpetuate and reproduce conventional norms of physical attractiveness and success. By taking a wider social and cultural view, Brand New You also shows how these programs have become tools of rampant individualism, consumerism and inner self-transformation at precisely the same time that collective awareness of social issues has dissipated.
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?
Project Censored explores the inner workings of mainstream media in the United States—a media which is often claimed as a free press in a democratic society. But is this really true? Instead what is revealed is a widespread and systemically entrenched culture of censorship and omission throughout the corporate media, as well as a gripping control over media content by centralised corporate control. Project Censored brings to light stories that have been deliberately suppressed, or at the very least obscured and ‘hollowed-out’ by entertainment values over real news content or discourse. Citing a range of examples and modern mainstream media techniques, Project Censored takes a critical view of this information arrangement that has huge implications for real democracy…
From the courtroom to the lounge room—helped extensively by television and the infamous series “CSI”—forensic science brims with flash and glamour, where cutting-edge technology always reveals the “truth,” and is routinely called on to solve the most difficult criminal cases with ease and “objectivity.” But how reliable is the science behind forensics and its methods as they interface with the legal system? The Real CSI investigates these questions and finds serious flaws in some of the best-known tools of forensics, with systemic inconsistencies in how evidence is presented in the courtroom, along with how the culture of entertainment of this sort can seriously skew a jury’s perceptions. From the sensational murder trial of Casey Anthony, to the FBI’s botched investigation of the Madrid bombing, to capital cases in rural Mississippi of the United States; The Real CSI documents how a field with few standards and unproven science can seriously undermine the concept of justice, and what this means for a future of continued technological escalation…
Social media networks purport the ability to interact with culture—talking directly to artists, celebrities, movies, brands, and even one another—in ways never before possible. But is this real empowerment? Or do marketing companies still hold the upper hand, as before? Generation Like explores how the perennial quest for identity and connection is usurped in the pervasive game of cat-and-mouse by vast corporate power in the extensive machine for consumerism that is now the online environment. The audience becomes the marketer; buzz is subtly controlled and manipulated by and from real-time behavioural insights; and the content generated is sold back to the audience in the name of participation. But does the audience even think they’re being used? Do they care? Or does the perceived chance to be the ‘next big star’ make it all worth it?
InRealLife asks: What exactly is the Internet and what is it doing to our children? Taking us on a journey ranging from the bedrooms of British teenagers to the explosive world of Silicon Valley, filmmaker Beeban Kidron suggests that rather than the promise of free and open connectivity, young people are increasingly ensnared in a commercial world. And as this is explained, InRealLife asks if we can afford to stand by while our children, trapped in their 24/7 connectivity, are being outsourced to the web.
The Internet’s Own Boy is a biographical documentary of the programmer and activist Aaron Swartz, who died at age 26. From his help in the development of the basic Internet protocol RSS at age 14, to the co-founding of the social network website Reddit in 2006, Swartz becomes disillusioned with the grooming of academia to the corporate life presented to him, and turns instead to work on issues of sociology, civic awareness and activism. It then becomes Swartz’s work in social justice issues and political organising, combined with an open and sharing approach to information access that ensnares him in a two year legal battle, in which authorities seek to make an example of him and the work. The battle sadly ends with Swartz taking his own life. This film is a personal story about what we lose when we are tone deaf about technology and its relationship to the political system, civil liberties and human relationships.
This film explores what affect the web is having on our society, as seen through the eyes of “the greatest Internet pioneer you’ve never heard of.” Josh Harris—often called the “Andy Warhol of the Web”—founded a website during the infamous dot-com boom of the 1990s which was the world’s first Internet television network. This concept was way ahead of its time, before broadband, but would go on to become commonplace in the years to come. Using this platform, a vision of that future was also exemplified at the time—an underground bunker in New York City where over 100 people lived together completely on camera, non-stop and unedited for 30 days over the millennium. The irony in which this speaks to future events doesn’t end there though. As the experiment and the film shows, We Live In Public serves as a powerful analogy for the Internet as it’s now known today and the price we pay for living in its ‘public,’ showing just what the costs of willingly trading privacy and sanity for a constant voracious audience, attention, the pursuit of the cult of celebrity—but above all, the mimic of real human connection mediated by technology—can be.
Peter Francis, a former undercover police spy turned conscientious whistleblower, breaks ranks by speaking to the media after becoming troubled by the unaccountable culture of secret police operations throughout the United Kingdom targeting peace activists for decades. Tactics included undercover police officers having sexual relationships with activists, even going as far as commonly having children with the women they were spying on. Undercover agents also often assumed the identities of dead children in order to have “solid cover stories.” We also see how undercover police were asked to look for intelligence that could be used to discredit the family of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence and their campaign. The Lawrence family both speak of their shock at hearing about that the police did this to them. This short investigation opens a flood of questions about the secret history of covert police operations, and indeed the future of them in the context of the sprawling surveillance state of today.
Informant follows the story of Brandon Darby—a radical-left activist turned FBI informant through a series of events starting with community support work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, to the Republican National Convention in 2008. Brandon ends up turning fellow activists to the FBI for making Molotov cocktails in circumstances described by fellow activists as entrapment. So what happened? Did Brandon manipulate fellow activists into doing things they didn’t want to do, or were some activists simply not engaging in a full analysis of the effectiveness of their strategies and tactics? In any event, was turning over activists to the FBI the right thing to do, even when nobody was hurt?
The Wall Street Code explores the once-secret lucrative world of prolific algorithmic trading by profiling an inside programmer who, in 2012, dared to stand up against Wall Street and its extreme culture of secrecy, to blow the whistle on insights into the way the modern global money market works. His name is Haim Bodek—aka ‘The Algo Arms Dealer’—and having worked for Goldman Sachs, his revelations speak to the new kind of wealth made only possible by vast mathematical formulas, computer technologies and clever circumventions of laws and loophole exploits. Vast server farms and algorithms working beyond the timescale of human comprehension, have largely taken over human trading on the global financial markets for decades. What are the implications of that? The algorithms seem to have a life of their own. Snippets of code secretly lie waiting for the moment that your pension fund gets on the market; trades done in nanoseconds on tiny fluctuations in stock prices. And the only ones who understand this system are its architects—the algorithm developers. The Wall Street Code provides just a small insight into this new world of high-frequency trading, amongst other things…
Counter-Intelligence is a 5 part series that explores in-depth, the vast, sprawling and secret National Security State that operates throughout the United States—and indeed the world. The series examines the foundations of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, charting through to the myriad consequences in today’s world where secret intelligence organisations continue to hijack governments, manipulate elections and commit heinous crimes against humanity—all under the cloak of “National Security”. In the wake of the continued revelations of the NSA PRISM program, this series is now more important than ever to provide a solid historical context to the workings of the rapacious and ever-expanding National Security State…
Arguing that advertising not only sells things, but also ideas about the world, The Codes of Gender examines the commercial culture’s inability to let go of reactionary gender representations. Presenter Sut Jhally’s starting point is the breakthrough work of the late sociologist Erving Goffman, whose 1959 book The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life prefigured the growing field of performance studies. Jhally applies Goffman’s analysis of the body in print advertising to hundreds of print ads today, uncovering an astonishing pattern of regressive and destructive gender codes. By looking beyond advertising as a medium that simply sells products, and beyond analyses of gender that tend to focus on either biology or objectification, The Codes of Gender offers important insights into the social construction of masculinity and femininity, the relationship between gender and power, and the everyday performance of cultural norms.
Child Sex Trade USA travels through the United States to reveal the workings of a pervasive child sex trade, discovering that it is just as easy to ‘buy a child’ in the US as it is in Asia. 300,000 American children have been forced in to the sex industry, as of 2009, in the United States alone. This film presents a much needed analysis of the shocking cultural values that surround child abuse, paedophilia, human trafficking and prostitution; asking big questions of how, why, and what to do about it…
The Revolution Business examines the role of United States intelligence agencies in the recent revolutionary movements such as the Arab Spring and others by the use of “Revolution Consultants.” Of particular interest is a Serbian man Srđa Popović, who formed an organisation called Отпор! (Otpor) which tought “non-violent struggle” in the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Serbia during the 1990s, and which has now gone on to inspire a new generation of activists. However, some political commentators like William Engdahl are convinced that Otpor is financed by the United States and has ties to intelligence agenices, also having dubious funding from sources such as the Rand Corporation, the Department of Defence, as well as various fronts such as the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the US Institute of Peace and the Ford Foundation—all of which have a long history of collaborating with the Pentagon, the State Department and the CIA in destabilising movements and usurping popular uprisings, removing their teeth.
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.
Corporations On Trial is a five-part series following just some of the many lawsuits being brought against multinational corporations for war crimes, conspiracy, corruption, assassinations, environmental devastation and payments to terrorists. Such serious charges have forced some of the world’s largest companies to hire high-profile defence lawyers to protect public relations in cases often brought by plaintiffs who are barely literate. These five films reveal a growing anxiety about the power and influence of big business, as many multinational corporations have annual revenues greater than some countries’ national budgets and indeed increasingly hold governments to ransom by their economic power. Around the world, ordinary people are fighting back and asking how many more times their interests should be sacrificed for corporate greed and shareholder profit…
Subconscious War is a video essay exploring the influences of media and the culture of violence on reality, and the cultivation of collective values in society. The film contrasts the writings of Aldous Huxley and Neil Postman’s grim assessments; relating the concepts of works such as ‘Brave New World’ and ‘Amusing Ourselves to Death’ to the current cultural influences that foster today—corporate media and indeed media saturation, video games, television, and a pervasive technoculture, for example. What is being created? And what sort of people are being cultivated by this culture? Who benefits?
Television has colonised human storytelling—not only has creating and passing on culture been usurped by television and corporate media, today dominant culture is television and corporate media. The Electronic Storyteller outlines these changes and shows the cumulative impacts that television and mass media has on the way we think about ourselves and how we construct views of the world around us. With a focus on the stories of gender, class, and race, The Electronic Storyteller delivers an analytical framework to understand the pervasive forces behind what is at stake in the new world of saturated media and controlled imagery…
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.
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 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…
The Power Principle is a series of films examining the history of the United States and the building of its empire with particular emphasis on the last seventy years of United States foreign policy. The methods that make empire possible are also examined—the politics of fear, the rise of public relations, the ‘Mafia Principle’ and the reoccurring use of fabled enemies, contrasting the Soviet Union and the Cold War alongside the parallels of today with the “War On Terror”. Not only does The Power Principle tie together historical events to revive a common thread, the series may also encourage viewers to reconsider their understanding of historical events and the portrayal of them, showing how those in power play a role in manipulating the collective memory through generations.
Once relegated to the margins of society, pornography is now the most pervasive and visible aspect of popular culture, assuming an unprecedented role in media as its content becomes more harsh and extreme, racist and abusive. This eye-opening and disturbing film moves beyond frivolous “liberal versus conservative” debate and tackles the real issues surrounding pornography by placing the voices of performers themselves, producers and critics directly alongside the observations of women and men as they candidly discuss the role porn has played in shaping their sexual imaginations and relationships. The Price Of Pleasure reveals a nuanced portrait of how pleasure and pain, commerce and power, freedom and responsibility have become extremely twisted by popular culture, usurping the most intimate area of our lives.