Films about psychology
Q: Into the Storm is a series that examines the far-right conspiracy theory QAnon that alleges there is a secret cabal of satan-worshipping, cannibalistic paedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring and plotting against former United States president Donald Trump. Spanning three years and traversing the globe, the series investigates the movement as it grows in scope and political significance, chronicling its evolution in real time, revealing how “Q” used information warfare to game the internet, hijack politics, and manipulate people’s thinking. Filmmaker Cullen Hoback gains unprecedented access to key players in the spectacle, including Jim and Ron Watkins, the father/son team behind the 8chan website that “Q” calls home, and explores their rivalry with Fredrick Brennan, the original creator of the website. The series profiles “Q-tubers,” Q debunkers, political operatives, and journalists who have been closely following the movement since it began in 2017, showing connections between QAnon, President Trump, and political and ex-military operatives, as well as other various right-wing movements associated with 8chan, including “Gamergate” and “Pizzagate” that contextualises QAnon’s influence on culture and politics in the United States.
Mental illness and suicide have become the greatest threats to school-aged children. Many parents still view dangers to children and teens as primarily physical and external, but they’re missing the real danger: young people spending more time online and less time engaging in real life, free play, and autonomy. While older generations might have learned the value of being outside, household chores, and in-person playtime with friends, the youth of today have fallen prey to smartphones and video games. Childhood 2.0 is an exploration of this dramatic technological and cultural shift, where children and parents face the rise of social networks, mobile devices, and the screen culture, along with addiction, withdrawal, anxiety, depression, online abuse, bullying, the pervasiveness of pornography, sexting, the rise of online pedophilia and sexual predators, the loss of playtime, imagination and autonomy, and the rapid growth of suicide among children and teens. In addition to mental health professionals, the filmmakers speak with a series of concerned parents who have witnessed a profound transformation in their children, especially when placed in contrast to their own beginnings. Then there are the children themselves who speak to the overpowering allure of their devices, the pressures these devices place on them in their daily lives, and the challenge they face when they try to turn away from the screen.
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.
The Viewing Booth recounts a unique encounter between a filmmaker and a viewer—exploring the way meaning is attributed to images in today’s culture of the screen. In a lab-like location, Maia Levy, a young Jewish American woman, watches videos portraying life in the occupied West Bank, while verbalising her thoughts and feelings in real time. Maia is an enthusiastic supporter of Israel, and the images in the videos, depicting Palestinian life under Israeli military rule, contradict some of her most deep-seated beliefs. Empathy, anger, embarrassment, innate biases, and healthy curiosity all play out before our eyes, as we watch her watch the images created by the occupation. As Maia navigates and negotiates the images, which threaten her worldview, she also reflects on the way she sees them. Her candid and immediate reactions form a one-of-a-kind cinematic testimony to the psychology of the viewer, most especially in the digital era.
University of Toronto psychology professor Jordan Peterson launched into the public eye after he published a controversial video series entitled Professor Against Political Correctness in 2016. Within 2 years, he sells over 3 million copies of his self-help book, appears on numerous television shows, and fills theatres with his lectures. At the same time, he endures a swell of backlash, including that from a former colleague that now labels him as a dangerous threat. After mobilising some on the right for his criticisms of the left, Peterson fends-off being labelled a right-wing figurehead while moving through the media spectacle, arguing his shifting philosophical views. Filmed during this period of Peterson’s rise to fame, and told through family, friends, and foes, The Rise of Jordan Peterson presents a complex kaleidoscopic narrative and personal portrait, enabling the viewer to examine Peterson in several different ways, while considering his wide and often conflicting range of perspectives and social commentary.
Public Figure is a measured exploration of this culture’s obsession with social media, exemplified through the lives of several Instagram “influencers.” The film invites the viewer to question how much of what we see online is real or delusion, while slowly, the “influencers” themselves reveal the extent to which they’ve completely commodified their lives into enterprises, as giant advertising engines, while also touching on the personal impacts of screen culture addiction. These commentaries are contrasted by views from clinical psychologists and counsellors, whom also question the long term effects of social media culture. While some figures use their commodified lives to inspire, promote a cause, or market their business, all in all, each and every “influencer” is wittingly or unwittingly part of a multi-billion dollar advertising engine that spends more money on marketing than education in the United States. Instagram advertisers will spend $2.38 billion on “influencers” in 2019. Public Figure asks us to reflect on our personal social media use, while questioning how society perceives reality.
There are billions of people increasingly glued to ‘smartphones’ and consumed by the seemingly endless spectacle of ‘social media.’ But why? Reporter Hilary Andersson seeks to answer this question by tracking down insiders who reveal how social-media companies have deliberately developed habit-forming technology to get people addicted. Former Facebook manager, Sandy Parakilas, tells us the “goal is to addict you and then sell your time.” Likewise, Leah Pearlman, the co-creator of the renowned ‘Like’ button, warns of the dangers of social-media addiction. Through these voices, and many others, Andersson shows how behavioural science is profoundly used by tech companies to keep people endlessly checking their phones, to the end of huge profits.
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.
Physician and mother of two Dr. Delaney Ruston became interested in how much screen time is too much when her preteen started begging for a smartphone. Ruston saw other parents equally confused on how to balance technology with a young developing mind, so she decided to delve into the science behind screen time to understand how it affects young people’s minds and development. Through personal stories and input from leading researchers, the result is Screenagers, a film that sheds light on the impact screen time is having on kids; exploring how learning, playing, and socialising online effects teens’ developing attention span, fragile self-esteem, and moral instincts. Screenagers examines the real risks of failing in school, social isolation, and digital addiction. It also explores solutions to handle screen time and provides parents with tools to help young people develop self-control and find balance in their digital lives, rather than rapid-fire thumbs and a six-second attention span.
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?
In the race towards modernity, amongst the buzz and jitter of technological innovation and the rapid growth of cities, silence is now quickly passing into legend. Beginning with an ode to John Cage’s seminal silent composition 4′ 33″, the sights and sounds of this film delicately interweave with silence to create a contemplative experience that works its way through frantic minds and into the quiet spaces of hearts. As much a work of devotion as it is documentary, In Pursuit of Silence is a meditative exploration of our relationship with silence, sound, and the impact of noise on our lives.
The Mask You Live In unpacks how this culture’s narrow and harmful definition of masculinity effects boys, young men; girls and women; and society in general in myriad ways, as our children struggle to stay true to themselves when confronted by this culture. Pressured by their peer group, heavily influenced by a barrage of media messages, and even their very own parents and other adults in their lives, our protagonists confront messages encouraging them to disconnect from and suppress their emotions, devalue authentic friendships, objectify and degrade women, and resolve conflicts through violence, control and manipulation. These traits and stereotypes closely interconnect with problems of race, class, and circumstance, creating a maze of identity issues boys and young men must navigate to become “real” men as the culture expects and perpetuates. Experts in neuroscience, psychology, sociology, sports, education, and media also weigh in, offering empirical evidence of how these issues intersect, and what we can do about it.
In groups we are told what to do, but do we always do so? Do groups give us courage to obey, or do they inhibit us? How do protest and change emerge? In Random 8, a randomly selected group of eight people from all walks of life are brought together in a bare room, mobile phones are confiscated, and cameras record their reaction to a series of simple instructions that escalate in intensity and in degree of challenge. The film cites the issues raised by several famous psychological experiments, including the work of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s who studied human obedience to orders, even when the orders were immoral or caused pain to others; and the work of sociologist Bill Gamson et al, in which groups were asked to carry out unjust requests made by an authority figure. What can happen when we’re asked to do something that goes against our beliefs?
When the government of Indonesia was overthrown by the military in 1965, the gangsters Anwar Congo and Adi Zulkadry were promoted from selling black market movie theatre tickets to leading the most powerful death squad in North Sumatra. In The Act of Killing Anwar and his cohorts recount and gruesomely re-enact their experiences and some of their killings for the cameras, making horrific scenes depicting their memories and feelings about the killings. But as they begin to dramatise Anwar’s own nightmares, the scenes begin to take over as artforms, leading to confrontations of memories of historical reality. Can the horrific imagination succumb to moral catastrophe in this case? And if sociopaths are not reachable people anymore, the question becomes what we must do to stop them.
The Brain — A Secret History is a series about how various theories and experiments on the human mind over decades have led to profound insights into how the human brain works, but also have involved great cruelty and pose terrible ethical dilemmas. Historical experiments such as severe maternal deprivation, brainwashing and other experiments in mind control such as MKULTRA are covered, along with physical interventions such as the history of electric shock ‘treatment’, behaviour modification, experimental psychology, and the Milgram experiment.
Mark Kennedy was an undercover police officer who spent eight years as a infiltrator and informer on environmental movements and other protest groups throughout Europe. Confessions of an Undercover Cop accounts the actions of Kennedy from his perspective, which reveals an insight into the dark, twisted psychology of a police informant and the methods they use to destabilise movements and activists…
Psywar explores the history and evolution of propaganda along with the rise of ‘public relations’ with an emphasis on the relationship between war, propaganda and privilege…
Human Resources — Social Engineering in the 20th Century is about the rise of mechanistic philosophy and the exploitation of human beings under modern hierarchical systems. The film captures how humans are regarded as a resource by corporations—something to be exploited for pecuniary gain—by following the history of psychological experiments in behaviour modification, conditioning and mind control; applying the outcomes to modern day establishment experiments such as institutionalised education, and social engineering by way of things like television…
Based on the comprehensive work of media scholar George Gerbner, The Mean World Syndrome takes aim at the for-profit media system that thrives on violence, stereotypes, and the cultivation of anxiety. The film takes us through how the more television people watch, the more likely they are to tend to think of the world as an intimidating and unforgiving place, while being insecure and afraid of others. We see how these media-induced fears and anxieties provide fertile ground for intolerance, extremism, and a paranoid style of politics that threatens basic social values. The result is an accessible introduction to debates about media violence and more broadly, the effects of the media system. This film is a powerful tool for helping to make sense of the increasingly intense and fractious political climate of today.
Lethal Force takes a detailed look at four incidents, in different parts of Australia, where people suffering mental illness or psychological distress died after being shot or tasered by police. Specifically detailed is how in certain cases, the victims had even sought help at hospital and after having left of their own free will, were shot dead by police…
The Medicated Child confronts psychiatrists, researchers and government regulators about the risks, benefits and many questions surrounding psychotropic drugs for children. The biggest current controversy surrounds the diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Formerly called manic depression, bipolar disorder was long believed to only ‘apply to adults’, but in the mid-1990s ‘bipolar disorder in children’ began to be diagnosed at much higher rates, sometimes in children as young as 4 years old…
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 renowned 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 technolog—can be.
If one steps back and looks at what freedom actually means in the West today, it’s a strange and limited kind of freedom. The United States and its empire self-describe fighting the Cold War for “individual freedom,” yet it is still something that the leaders of our so-called democracies continually promise to give us. Abroad, in Iraq and Afghanistan, the attempt to force “freedom” on to other people has led to more than just bloody mayhem, and this, in turn, has helped inspire terrorist attacks in Britain and elsewhere. In response, the government has dismantled long-standing laws that were designed to protect individual freedom and civil liberties.
Big Bucks, Big Pharma looks at the varied insidious methods of the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to manipulate—and in some instances create—psychological conditions for profit. Focusing on the advertising for psychotropic drugs, the film demonstrates the ways in which pharmaceutical marketing glamorises and normalises the use of prescription medication, and how this works in tandem with promotion and delivery by doctors. These practices combine to shape how both patients and doctors understand and relate to mental and physical health, as well as treatment. Ultimately, Big Bucks, Big Pharma challenges the viewer to ask important questions about the consequences of a society relying on a for-profit industry for collective health and well-being.
In 1974, a young Patty Hearst became a media icon after she was kidnapped from her apartment by a group calling itself the Symbionese (taken from the word ‘symbiosis’) Liberation Army (SLA). At the time, Patty was an impressionable college student who happened to be the granddaughter of the infamous newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Hoping to spark a class war in America, for ransom, the SLA instructed the Hearsts to make a multi-million dollar donation of food to the poor. Two months later, Patty appeared to have joined forces with the SLA. As the spectacle unfolds, journalists camp outside the Hearst’s home and become consumed by the story, some even questioning the role of the media in the saga. Guerrilla serves to document some of what happened to Patty Hearst during this time, the effects of Stockholm Syndrome, how and why the SLA was formed, and what ultimately went awry.
More than 40 years after his death, the body of former CIA scientist Frank Olson has been exhumed. Olson’s son Eric is convinced his father was murdered by agents of the government because he wanted to leave the CIA. Frank Olson was an expert for anthrax and other biological weapons and had top security clearance. Forensic pathologists at George Washington University performed an autopsy and concluded that Olson probably was the victim of a violent crime. Codename Artichoke documents these strange aspects of the CIA’s quest for mind control drugs, with programs like MKULTRA, MKDELTA, Artichoke, Operation Midnight Climax and others…
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?
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…
Slim Hopes shows how the stories advertising tells us about food, femininity, and the female body directly contribute to anorexia, bulimia, and other life-threatening eating disorders. From ads that glamorise emotional eating with catch-phrases like “you can never have too much,” to ads that promote thinness and tell women to watch what they eat, Slim Hopes takes the advertising industry to task for sending young women in particular, a set of deeply contradictory and unhealthy messages about food and body image.
In the summer of 1971, Philip Zimbardo, Craig Haney, and Curtis Banks carried out a psychological experiment to test a simple question: What happens when you put ordinary people in positions of power, enabling abuse? Does humanity win over evil, or does evil triumph? To explore this, student volunteers were selected and randomly assigned to play the role of prisoner or guard in a simulated prison at Stanford University. Although the students were mentally healthy and knew they were taking part in an experiment, some guards quickly became sadistic, while prisoners showed signs of acute stress, depression and trauma. After only six days, the planned two-week study was a disaster…
The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by psychologist Stanley Milgram in July 1961, three months after the start of the trial of German Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. The experiment set out to measure the willingness of study participants to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience, in an attempt to answer the popular question at that time: “Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders?”