All Watched Over By Machines Of Loving Grace is a series of films about how this culture itself has been colonised by the machines it has has built. The series explores and connects together some of the myriad ways in which the emergence of cybernetics—a mechanistic perspective of the natural world that particularly emerged in the 1970s along with emerging computer technologies—intersects with various historical events and visa-versa. The series variously details the interplay between the mechanistic perspective and the catastrophic consequences it has in the real world.
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…
Race: The Power of an Illusion is a three-part series that investigates the idea of race in society, science and history. It navigates through myths and misconceptions, and scrutinises some of the assumptions that are taken for granted. The division of people into distinct categories—”white,” “black,” “yellow,” “red,” and so on—has become so widely espoused and so deeply rooted, that most people do not think to question its veracity. This series challenges the myth of race as biology, and traces its notions to the 19th century, demonstrating how race has a continuing negative impact through institutions and social policies.
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…
Behind the Screens explores how Hollywood movies have largely become vehicles for the ulterior motives of advertising and marketing by the studios and media owners, rather than genuine storytelling or simple entertainment in their own right. By showing examples from popular movies such as Wayne’s World, Forrest Gump, The Lion King, Summer of Sam, and Toy Story, this documentary demonstrates how this trend toward hypercommercialism—through product placement, tie-ins, merchandising and cross-promotions—comes to define the modern movie. What are the problems with this, as well as the cultural and social impacts? Combined with analysis from film scholars, critics, political economists, and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter, Behind the Screens presents accessible arguments to these questions.
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?
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.
Based on the immersive theatre production and experimental work by Adam Curtis, It Felt Like A Kiss is a visual exploration of the story of an enchanted world that was built by the rise of the United States as supreme power after the Second World War, and how those living in that dream world responded to this. Using extensive archive footage from throughout the 1960s, this experimental film sets out to explore the themes and consequences of how power really works in the world since the beginning of the post-world-war era, and how the perspective of the way society is organised since that time is a political product of the ideas of that time.
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…
The Social Dilemma brings together former product directors and designers of Facebook, Google, Instagram, Pintrest, Twitter, and so on, to reflect on their creations and face questions about the age of addiction, information manipulation, and algorithmic social control they’ve ushered in. The creators speak openly about how they themselves took part in this co-optation of society, either naively or with malignant indifference, by designing websites in such a way to influence and manipulate billions of people for corporate interests by using deep psychological and addictive triggers in the human mind. Detailed explanations about how this can play out in the real world are illustrated through dramatisations, which are also expanded upon by experts in psychology, technology, and social studies. The result is a sobering call for emergency damage control, to undo the massive harm that technology companies have unleashed on society unrestrained for the past several decades, at a time of rapid social unravelling.
While advertising is clearly a visible component of the corporate system, perhaps even more important and pervasive is the often-invisible partner—the public relations industry. Toxic Sludge Is Good For You illuminates this hidden sphere of the corporatocracy, examining the way in which the management of public discourse has become central to how society has been usurped and is controlled by political and economic elites. The film tracks the development of the PR industry from its early efforts to win popular support for World War I, to the role of crisis management in controlling damage to the corporate image, while analysing the tools PR people use to manipulate public perceptions.
Class Dismissed examines the role of television in the ways in which race, gender, and sexuality intersect with class, offering a more complex reading of television’s often one-dimensional representations. The patterns inherent in the depictions of working class people are as either clowns or social deviants, stereotypical portrayals that reinforce the myth of meritocracy and have systemic social implications. By citing plenty of examples from today’s sitcoms, reality shows, police dramas, and daytime talk shows, Class Dismissed links television’s portrayals to negative cultural attitudes and public policies that directly affect the lives of working class people. A new media must be envisioned and created.
Golden Rule presents a picture of today’s political economy interpreted through the framework of the “Investment Theory of political Parties”. The theory, first articulated in 1983 by Thomas Ferguson, is largely based on quantitative analysis of activity in the stock market and its relationship to politics—that is to say that “elections are moments when groups of investors coalesce and invest to control the state.” The film takes this theory and tests it against developments in the political and social spheres of recent decades, right up to the election of Barack Obama in the United States in 2008…
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.
As the mainstream media attempts to create a simple narrative from hugely complex events, much is obviously lost in the translation—most often purposefully. This short film attempts to contrast the character of this narrative in the 1990s, where events were almost universally portrayed as ‘the little guy versus the big guy’ to the post Rwanda narrative of ‘scattered terrible things happening everywhere, Oh Dear.’ It is not that we can’t actually do anything about these events, it is only that mainstream media presents these events within a framework that makes it seem that way and that in itself is a very powerful way to control society.
In January 2013, film-maker Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself Citizen Four. In it, he offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the NSA and other intelligence agencies. Poitras had already been working for several years on a film about mass surveillance programs in the United States, and so in June 2013, she went to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden. She was met there by investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill. Several other meetings followed. Citizenfour is based on the recordings from these meetings. What follows is the largest confirmations of mass surveillance using official documents themselves, the world has never seen…
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…
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.
The global growth of Rupert Murdoch’s media enterprise is cause for concern. The concentration of media ownership on a global scale in the hands of one man infringes on the freedom of the press by definition at the very least. But the real life example here is Fox News and it’s own claim of being “Fair and Balanced” — one only has to look at the coverage of the invasion of Iraq for example, or “commentators” such as Bill O’Reilly or Sean Hannity and the interactions they have with their “guests”; the vast political connections between Fox News, the Whitehouse and the Pentagon propaganda unit; the suppressed news stories, the censorship, the manipulation and control over the “news” by Murdoch and the president Roger Ailes themselves, not to mention the control over reporters, with former journalists alleging that Fox News asked them to lie and when they refused they were fired. Even lawsuits entailed from this with the court ruling that it is not against the law to lie on a news program…
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.
The Facebook Dilemma aims to open an in-depth investigation into the impact Facebook has had on privacy and democracy in the United States and throughout the world, by revealing how the decisions made by the company as it sought increased wealth and new users, transformed it into a vast surveillance machine, a media company, and a ‘hidden hand’ in elections and political discourse. Drawing on original interviews from those inside the company, this two part series catalogues some of the ignored warning signs, both inside and outside the company, of Facebook’s negative impact, growing from Zuckerberg’s dorm-room project and into a powerful global empire.
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…
Bitter Lake explores how the realpolitik of the West has converged on a mirror image of itself throughout the Middle-East over the past decades, and how the story of this has become so obfuscating and simplified that we, the public, have been left in a bewildered and confused state. The narrative traverses the United States, Britain, Russia and Saudi Arabia—but the country at the centre of reflection is Afghanistan. Because Afghanistan is the place that has confronted political figureheads across the West with the truth of their delusions—that they cannot understand what is going on any longer inside the systems they have built which do not account for the real world. Bitter Lake sets out to reveal the forces that over the past thirty years, rose up and commandeered those political systems into subservience, to which, as we see now, the highly destructive stories told by those in power, are inexorably bound to. The stories are not only half-truths, but they have monumental consequences in the real world.
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.
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?
Is the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organised force of destruction—specifically in the form of al-Qaeda—a myth perpetrated by politicians across the globe, but particularly the American neo-conservatives, in order to unite and justify empire? This series of films charts the rise of both groups and movements, drawing comparisons between them and their origins, to provide much-needed and missing context to the War of Terror.
Using the analogy of a Panopticon, this film looks at how technology and the convergence of vast data stores together are fuelling one of the most comprehensive attacks on privacy ever before seen. How is modern society being defined by such rapid changes? Where are we heading? By travelling to Germany to show how such attacks have been the basis for past dictatorships, Panopticon asks: Even if you have nothing to hide, do you have nothing to fear? What does privacy mean for you? When precisely does the surveillance state begin? What is your threshold? With a focus on the Netherlands, Panopticon offers a comprehensive analysis challenging the current herd-mentality and apathy about privacy in the modern world.
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.
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.
A Faraway Country is an examination of the Czech underground movement known as the Charter 77—an informal civic initiative in communist Czechoslovakia from 1976 to 1992, part of the Communist Soviet bloc. The film shows interviews with members of Charter 77, and others, describing first-hand the totalitarian communist regime, and their response to it.
We’ve been told again and again that sports and politics don’t mix, that games are just games and athletes should just “shut up and play.” But Not Just a Game argues that far from providing merely escapist entertainment, American sports have long been at the centre of some of the major political debates and struggles of our time. By tracing the good, the bad, and the ugly of American sports culture, Not Just a Game shows how American sports have glamorised militarism, racism, sexism, and homophobia; but also traces a largely forgotten history of rebel athletes who stood up to power and fought for social justice beyond the field of play.
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?
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?
Filmmaker Werner Boote travels across the globe to investigate the era of so-called Big Data, where huge amounts of detail about our lives are gleaned for use in decision making, automation, and consumerism, but ultimately, to generate huge profits for corporations that harvest and control our data. Everything’s Under Control investigates these modern times through many lenses: People who have studied surveillance culture, to democracy activists in Hong Kong; from educators, advertisers, and traders, to privacy advocates, and security experts; from digital IDs, fingerprinting, iris scans and online profiling, to hacking, data leaks, and invigorating recent historical memory of atrocities based on data and personal information. We hear distorted perspectives on privacy from many voices, challenging the viewer to reflect on what it means to live through the largest social experiment with data ever before conducted on a global scale.
The Chicago Conspiracy reviews the legacy of the military dictatorship in Chile by sharing the story of combatant youth who were killed by the Pinochet regime as a backdrop to the history of the military dictatorship and current social conflict. The larger history is wrapped around three shorter pieces, which explore the student movement, the history of neighbourhoods that became centres of armed resistance against the dictatorship, and the story of the indigenous Mapuche…
Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People analyses how the storytelling of the West has crafted and perpetuated a false stereotypical image of Arabs and Arab culture since the early days of American silent cinema, up to the present with the biggest Hollywood blockbusters. The film shows how the persistence of these stories over time has served to powerfully naturalise and perpetuate prejudice toward Arabs, Arab culture and the Middle East in general, and how this in turn also serves to reinforce the harmful narratives of dominant culture which dehumanise Arabs as a people and negate the visceral political acts carried out against them by the West for decades. By inspiring critical thinking about the social, political, and basic human consequences of leaving these caricatures unexamined, Reel Bad Arabs challenges viewers to recognise the urgent need for counter-narratives to do justice to the diversity and humanity of Arab people, to share the truth about the stories of their lives and their history.
Denied a sense of nationalism since the second World War, Japanese society slowly re-established itself as a ‘corporate’ society in the eyes of the west, with hi-tech industry and mass manufacturing. Japan, Behind The Mask reports on the contrast between this popular image and the stereotypes of Japanese culture, revealing the reality of the lives of ordinary people who do not fit the image; the extraordinary part played by women; and the subtle, yet forceful way the Japanese establishment is today reclaiming its nationalism…
The average child in the United States spends 40+ hours per week consuming media—the equivalent of a full-time job. This means that by the time children born today turn 30, they will have spent an entire decade of their lives in front of a screen. Remote Control examines the implications of this unprecedented level of exposure by showing the media habits of two families and supplementing their personal insights with interviews from media experts and educators. Revealed is the centrality of media in our lives and far-reaching effects that we are only beginning to understand, as well as ways we might begin to help our children live a life instead of watching one.
Using the 1992 presidential election as his springboard, film-maker Brian Springer captures the behind-the-scenes manoeuvrings of politicians and newscasters in the early 1990s. Pat Robertson banters about “homos,” Al Gore learns how to avoid abortion questions, George Bush talks to Larry King about halcyon and other drugs—all presuming they’re off-air. Composed of 100% unauthorised satellite footage, Spin is a surreal expose of media-constructed reality, posing larger questions about the functioning of not only corporate media, but the political systems in which they support and how this in-turn plays to the media-constructed reality and so on.