In March 1971, eight ordinary citizens broke into an FBI office in Pennsylvania, took hundreds of secret documents out, and mailed them to newspapers across the country to share them with the public. The group, calling themselves The Citizens’ Commission to Investigate the FBI, undertook the actions at a time where suspicions about systemic abuse and manipulation of social and political movements by intelligence agencies were running high in the context of the Vietnam war and 1960s counter-culture. In doing so, these citizens uncovered the FBI’s vast and illegal regimes, leading to insights about mass surveillance, intimidation, entrapment, and the use of provocateurs and informers for manipulation, and sabotage. Much of this would later go on to be known as part of a covert program called COINTELPRO that was run directly by J. Edgar Hoover to destroy social change movements—a history that is imperative to understand in the context of today, where state repression of social change movements continues.
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.
A Thousand Cuts is a timely film about modern-day journalism and freedom of the press inside the Philippines where the political space has been usurped by social media disinformation campaigns, celebrity propaganda spectacle, and direct organised political violence. The film comes as the world awaits the verdict of the case against of Maria Ressa, the CEO and founder of the news network Rappler, who has been vocal about holding president Rodrigo Duterte accountable for his government’s much-criticised and violent “war on drugs.” In what is a salient trend of our time, A Thousand Cuts examines the disinformation campaigns and the crackdown on the media, while journalists Maria Ressa and her team place the tools of their trade—and their freedom—on the line in defence of truth and democracy.
Focusing directly on the world of commercial images, Advertising and the End of The World asks some basic questions about the cultural messages emanating from advertising: Do these messages deliver what they claim—happiness and satisfaction? Can we think about our collective as well as our private interests? And, can we think long-term as well as short-term?
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
Renowned political journalist and best-selling author Christopher Hitchens is pitted against fellow author, theologian, and evangelical Christian Douglas Wilson, as they go on the road to exchange debate over the question: Is Christianity Good for the World? The two theologians argue, confide and even laugh together as they journey through three cities presenting the debate. This film documents the journey, bringing the sharp points together to provide a critical analysis of religion and its perpetuation.
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.
Cypherpunks is a movement originating from the 1980s aiming to improve Internet privacy and security through proactive use of cryptography. With WikiLeaks being a recent offshoot of the many projects derived from the Cypherpunk movement, WikiLeaks editor Julian Assange talks with three activists from the Cyberpunk world to cover the topics of mass surveillance and social control being tied directly into technology as modern society progressively intertwines with technological progress…
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.
Do Not Resist documents, from the perspective of the police, their view of the social unrest following the shooting and killing of Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, 2014, against a backdrop of the routine and escalating use of military tactics and high-powered weaponry by local police forces throughout the United States in the past two decades. Military equipment deployed throughout the Middle East returns home to be used against the citizenry. Local police recruitment and training is awash in military commandments backed by views of escalating ‘righteous’ violence and sadism. Meanwhile curfews are imposed, along with frivolous drug raids and incessant racial profiling. The voices of concerned citizens ignored. What is the cultural and technological trajectory here?
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.”
Film maker David Bond lives in one of the most intrusive surveillance states in the world — Britain. When David receives a letter stating that both he and his daughter are amongst the 25 million residents whose details have been lost by the government in a massive data breach, David sets out to investigate some potential impacts of such data being lost in a society of mass surveillance. Erasing David documents the test where David hires two private detectives to track him down as he chooses to ‘disappear’ for 30 days to see if he can avoid being caught amongst the vast data trails generated by modern society…
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.
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.
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?
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?
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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
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…
In the early 2000s, two brothers garnered tremendous wealth when they started a company selling so-called “non-lethal” taser weapons, which quickly saturated police agencies and reinforced a culture of trigger-happy police officers. But instead of “saving lives” as was the catch-cry of the taser, and the company, the weapons were instead commonly used for pain compliance, and lead to a spurious string of deaths. The company didn’t back down. They insisted, despite mounting evidence to the contrary, that their weapon was safe and not at fault—not even a contributing factor—in the killings. Killing Them Safely delves into this troublesome mindset and that of the company, as well as the social implications of such weapons in a problematic police culture.
Manufacturing Consent — Noam Chomsky and the Media explores the political life and ideas of Noam Chomsky, the infamous American linguist and political activist. Drawing on specific examples such as the corporate media coverage of the Indonesian occupation of East Timor and the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime of Cambodia, Manufacturing Consent shows how the collusion of government and media running the powerful propaganda machines that manipulate the opinions of the masses, is manufacturing consent…
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…
The Disney Company’s massive success in the 20th century is based on creating an image of innocence, magic and fun for kids. Its animated films in particular are almost universally lauded as wholesome family entertainment, enjoying massive popularity among children and endorsement from parents and teachers around the world. This film takes a close look at Disney, to analyse the world these films create for kids and the stories they tell and propagate; contextualised by the cultural pedagogy of Disney’s conglomerate mass-media control and vast corporate power. Including interviews with social commentators, media scholars, child psychologists, kindergarten teachers, multicultural educators, college students and children, Mickey Mouse Monopoly provokes audiences to confront assumptions about an institution that is virtually synonymous with childhood pleasure.
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.
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?
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.
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 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…
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.