This culture runs on algorithms on a scale never before realised. Whether you get a job or a mortgage or insurance or healthcare, how you get from A to B, how huge fortunes are made or whom is driven into poverty, decisions on whom is sent to or released from prison, whom is voted for in manipulated elections—the reach of algorithms has captured so much of the major decisions of our lives, all in complete obscurity, inscrutable. So what are the implications of this? What sort of ‘decisions’ do machines make, to which we’ve come to regard as infallible and impartial, accurate and precise? Algorithms Rule Us All speaks to data scientists and programmers themselves to answer the question of what they think is unfolding with the so-called Big-Data society and how we’re continuing to hand over our lives and societies to the whim of machines that are driven by rapacious profit-driven companies, for the goal of commodification of everything. What are the implications for human autonomy, society, democracy?
All Governments Lie: Truth, Deception, and the Legacy of I.F. Stone looks at an array of award-winning filmmakers who subscribed to I. F. Stone’s newsletter in their teens, revealing a new wave of independent, investigative, adversarial journalists following in Stone’s footsteps. Reflecting on his work during the era of McCarthyism, a chorus of independent journalists also reflect on today where giant media conglomerates are reluctant to investigate or criticise government policies—particularly on defence, security and intelligence issues. With government deception rampant, and intrusion of state surveillance into our private lives never before more egregious, independent journalists tell their story of being inspired by the iconoclastic Stone, whose fearless, independent reporting from 1953 to 1971 filled a tiny 4-page newsletter. Stone is little known today, but All Governments Lie reveals the profound influence he had on contemporary independent journalism.
In a quarter of a century, the Amazon corporation has propelled Jeff Bezos from ‘online bookseller’ to technology behemoth. He is the richest man on the planet, and the company he founded is one of the most powerful in the world. This documentary investigates Amazon’s rise to corporate rein, revealing the problematic inside-operations that have the public tethered to its services. Former high-level insiders describe Amazon’s obsessive data-gathering operations, that enable the company to use what it knows about us to shape not only the future of retail, but the workplace and technology in synergy. On both sides of the world, politicians and regulators are tardily beginning to question Amazon’s power. But can the public rein in this corporate empire and break its addiction before even more damage is done to the structure of society and the environment?
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.
Filmmaker Darryl Roberts goes on a five year journey to examine this culture’s burgeoning obsession with physical beauty and perfection, showing how increasingly unattainable images contribute to the rise in low self-esteem, body dismorphia, and eating disorders for young women and girls who also happen to be the beauty industry’s largest consumers. In almost 40,000 media messages a year, young people are being told that unless you look like supermodels and rock stars, you’re not good enough for anyone. In 2004 alone, people across the United States spent $12.4 billion on cosmetic surgery. America the Beautiful explores why these people are spending so much money to cover up their discontent that is mainly driven by advertising. What are the true costs of this culture’s obsession with youth, plastic notions of beauty, and impossibly slender physiques? Who actually benefits from this high-priced journey towards a fake ideal, and does it justify an entire nation’s psychosis?
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.
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.
Most people who know that the mainstream media manipulates stories, manufactures illusions, and exploits fears can realise that the reason is more than just bias or sloppy reporting. Behind The Big News shows the ideological agenda that originates outside the media that defines today’s headlines, using examines of some of the biggest news stories in recent decades to illustrate how this agenda is rigorously promoted and protected.
Behind the Curve documents the resurgence of believers of a flat Earth, as made popular through YouTube videos. The film is a personal exploration of how people became exposed to flat Earth theories (the YouTube algorithm), and how those ideas were reinforced in an echo chamber of social media, rejecting empirical evidence, at a time of increasing countercultural distrust in authority figures and the epistemology of science. The narrative at the core of the film reveals how the screen bubble can envelop a person’s informational exposure, and change their relationships and perceptions in the real world, where confirmation bias is reinforced, making alternative views threatening, and individualism sacrosanct. Information that is contrary to a deeply held belief then becomes increasingly impossible to accept, especially if it has changed your life and circle of friends. So with empathy and a playful warmth, Behind the Curve becomes a warning light to the importance of honest discourse and critical analysis, falsifiability and dogma, but above all, to empathy and understanding of a person’s desire to create meaning and acceptance in a lonely, fragmented culture.
Benny Hinn may be the most popular personality in the Christian world today. Thousands pack arenas to see him ‘heal’ the sick and the afflicted. Tens of thousands more watch his daily television program. Millions of dollars are donated every year to his ministry, none of which he says goes to him personally. But, what about those miracles? And where does all that money go?
The belief that good triumphs over evil resonates deeply through the religious and political discourses of dominant culture. It is also a common theme in the entertainment media where the struggle between good and evil is frequently resolved through violence. The negative impacts of media violence on children has long been a public concern, but it is even more troubling when military violence, both in the news and in entertainment, is often glorified as heroic and noble. Beyond Good & Evil: Children, Media & Violent Times is a look at how mass communication distorts and manipulates language and visual imagery. It shows viewers how the media’s overriding objective of satisfying an audience converts real issues surrounding race, war, and violence into nothing more than spectacle.
As one half of the satirical duo, The Rubber Bandits, Blindboy is renown for wearing a plastic bag on his head while dishing out sharp social commentary. In this series, using his unique mix of irreverent commentary, a band of undercover reporters, and playful humour, Blindboy sets out to investigate some of the most important issues of our time.
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.
John Pilger talks at a public forum in Sydney about the recent revelations of WikiLeaks and the importance of leaked information in exposing the lies and machinations of Public Relations in mainstream media and political rhetoric. Pilger demonstrates the parallels with the plight of Julian Assange and the treatment of David Hicks through the United States legal system, and also explains using recent leaked documents why state power sees investigative journalists and others as a major threat to the established order…
The Daily Mirror used to be a peoples’ paper that respected its readers and earned trust and affection. But that changed out of all recognition when the British public were told that the new information technology, heralded by The Sun’s move to Wapping, would bring a greater variety of newspapers and a more diverse media. Instead, what happened was rapid moves toward contracted press controlled by ever fewer proprietors. John Pilger describes the downfall of his old paper and the all-pervasive influence of Rupert Murdoch…
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…
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.
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.
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.”
Mainstream media regularly uses public opinion polls in the reporting of news and political analytics. But how do media outlets report polls and to what end? In this interview, author and academic Justin Lewis demonstrates the way in which polling data is used by the media to not just reflect what populations supposedly think, but instead to construct public opinion itself.
By examining the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that now sells kids and their parents everything from junk food and violent video games to bogus educational products and the family car, Consuming Kids presents the explosive growth of child marketing in the wake of deregulation, showing how youth marketers have used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology and neuroscience to transform children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer ‘demographics’ in the world…
Control Room presents a rare window into the US invasion of Iraq from the perspective of Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news outlet. Widely criticized and condemned by military figureheads, government officials and the mainstream media in the west for reporting with a “pro-Iraqi bias”, airing civilian causalities, as well as showing footage of American POWs, Control Room reveals the situation in Iraq that the US government does not want you to see…
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…
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…
Crazy Rulers of the World is a series that investigates what happens when chiefs of the United States intelligence agencies and the army began believing in very strange things. With first-hand access to the leading characters in the story, filmmaker Jon Ronson examines the extraordinary and bizarre national secrets at the core of the war on terror.
Two film students set out to explore the psychological and manipulative powers of consumerism by creating an extensive and pervasive advertising campaign for a fake hypermarket. The ads appear on radio, television, billboards; there is a promotional song, an internet site, ads in newspapers, magazines, and flyers with photos of fake Czech Dream products are distributed. Will people believe it and show up for the grand opening?
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.
Within a single generation, digital media, the Internet and the World Wide Web have transformed virtually every aspect of modern culture, from the way we learn and work to the ways in which we socialise and even conduct war. But is technology moving faster than we can adapt to it? Is our constantly-wired-world causing us to lose as much as we’ve apparently gained? In Digital Nation, Douglas Rushkoff and Rachel Dretzin explore what it means to be human in a 21st-century digital world…
What stories do contemporary music videos tell about girls, women, boys, men, sexuality and gender? What are the cultural values portrayed? And from whose perspective? Dreamworlds encourages viewers to consider how these narratives shape individual and cultural attitudes about sexuality. Illustrated with hundreds of examples, the film accounts both the continuing influence of music videos and how popular culture generally filters the identities of young men and women through a narrow and dangerous set of myths about sexuality and gender; asking viewers to re-look at the images that have been normalised and meanings taken for granted throughout popular culture…
Enemy Image overviews the history of the portrayal of war in television news from the perspective of the United States. The film starts with the coverage of Vietnam where reports happened with little supervision, control or interference. Following this, The Pentagon takes action to control access by journalists to battle areas in subsequent invasions—such as the Invasion of Grenada, where journalists were excluded completely—to the first Gulf War, where ‘news packages’ were provided directly from the military; to the embedded churnalism of the invasion of Iraq. Shown is the progressive tightening of control by the US military on the contact journalists have with soldiers and civilians in the war zone, in order that “never again will television raise the moral and political questions that face a people during war.”
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.
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?
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?
Freakonomics is a segmented adaptation of the book by the same name, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner about incentives-based thinking. The film presents segments to examine the theories of human behaviour and data mining presented in the book through case studies. Subjects include: the influence a person’s name has on their personal and social development; corruption in an honor-bound sport such as sumo wrestling; what alleged factors lead to a statistical reduction in crime rates in the United States during the 1990s; and a school experiment to see if cash payments could incentivise students to get good grades. Through these examples and others, the film exposes the problems with data-driven economic incentive models, and the society obsessed with quantitative measuring and data, rather than a focus on quality of outcomes or even what the outcomes are.
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?
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?
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.
In the early 1940s, hundreds of thousands of people unknowingly became test subjects in toxins experiments and biological weapons tests conducted by the United States government. LSD tested on civilians, nerve gas sprayed into suburbs, hospital patients injected with plutonium, children exposed to biological and chemical agents just to see what would happen…the list goes on. And in most if not all cases, tests were carried out without the knowledge or consent of those involved. In 1996, evidence of these secret operations hit the news, uncovering a history of secret operations and covert projects that cast a large shadow over the operations of US military and intelligence agencies, to this day. Experiments with biological weapons and the testing of chemical warfare were only part of the story…
War is hell, but for Hollywood it has been a god-send, providing the perfect dramatic setting against which courageous heroes win the hearts and minds of the movie going public. The Pentagon recognises the power of these celluloid dreams and encourages Hollywood to create heroic myths; to rewrite history to suit its own strategy and as a recruiting tool to provide a steady flow of willing young patriots for its wars…
In 1966, Australia made an agreement with the United States that allowed the establishment of a secret military base satellite tracking station, just south of Alice Springs in the Northern Territory. The facility is called Pine Gap and for more than forty years it has operated in a shroud of secrecy and been the target of much controversy. Home on The Range attempts to contextualise these issues by highlighting the history of the base and its origins, as well as the stories of controversy. Some of these include the Khemlani Affair and the sacking of the Whitlam government in 1975, the Christopher Boyce spy trial, the role of the Central Intelligence Agency and its former agent Victor Marchetti, as well as documenting the post-war culture of government secrecy, sprawling intelligence agencies and foreign affairs and policy. But Home on the Range does more than gesture toward such CIA interventions. It marshals a persuasive array of evidence linking the imminent expiry of leases on United States military and intelligence bases in Australia in 1975, to the CIA and Whitlam’s sacking, posing direct questions about the nature of democracy in regions beholden to the United States.