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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
While corporations and governments continue to disseminate globalisation and the rapacious drive for consolidation of corporate power, people around the world are pushing back to reinstate local communities. Groups are coming together to rebuild human scale, local and ecological economies based on a new paradigm of localisation and sustainability. The Economics Of Happiness documents these shifts and shows how these communities have reclaimed their autonomy…
By examining the people and practices of the media and entertainment industries, The Fourth Estate illuminates not only specific incidences of corruption by press groups, but how the wider model of mainstream journalism itself as a for-profit entity has a huge amount to answer for in terms of democracy and the state of politics throughout the world. Filmed over two years throughout the UK on no budget, the filmmakers profile journalists, organisers and critics of industrial media practices, stemming from the Leveson Inquiry in 2011 which was set up to examine the culture, practices and ethics of the British press following the News International phone hacking scandals of the Murdoch media empire. While the phone hacking scandal illuminated the depth and breadth of the culture of British journalism, the media’s focus at the time quickly diverted from a brief period of self-examination, back to business as usual. This film instead continues the analysis by looking at the larger implications of a for-profit media model and its connections to ideology, entertainment, and hence the resulting political framework that’s in crisis.
In 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.
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?
The Great Hack is an inside account of the company Cambridge Analytica, which used vast amounts of personal data scraped from portals such as Facebook to manipulate elections throughout India, Kenya, Malta, Mexico, the United Kingdom and United States over the past decade. The company, owned by SCL Group—a British firm that has a background in military disinformation campaigns and psychological warfare—came to public attention after the Brexit campaign in the UK, and soon after, the election of Donald Trump in the United States, both closely worked on by Cambridge Analytica and its billionaire backer, Robert Mercer. This resulted in inquires and investigations into both Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, but the company liquidated, along with its internal documents. Two former employees instead step forward to offer an inside account into the dark world of data mining and personalised propagandising, having some regret for what they have done. The film tracks these characters, as Cambridge Analytica lives on as Emerdata Limited, in the same London office. The Great Hack exemplifies big questions about democracy in the age of targeted information manipulation via the screen, and just how much power over our awareness has been ceded to giant corporations.
The Future Of Biometrics takes a look at current day technologies that interface with the human body for surveillance, identification, tracking and analysis. Using fingerprints, retina scans, gate analysis and other more intrinsic physical or behavioural traits, biometric technologies provoke a range of pertinent questions around social control, privacy and mass surveillance, especially that these technologies are in use, today…
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.
Rebel Without A Pause follows renowned linguist and activist, Noam Chomsky through discussions and talks on various world events such as the invasion of Iraq, the September 11th attacks and the War on Terror. Chomsky also weaves in accounts of media manipulation, social control, and discusses the workings of the politics of fear. The film combines footage from large forums to small interactive discussions on these topics, as well as reflections from others…
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?
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.
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?”
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?
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.”
In Requiem for the American Dream, renowned intellectual figure Noam Chomsky deliberates on the defining characteristics of our time—the colossal concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few and fewer, with the rise of a rapacious individualism and complete collapse of class consciousness. Chomsky does this by discussing some of the key principles that have brought this culture to the pinnacle of historically unprecedented inequality by tracing a half century of policies designed to favour the most wealthy at the expense of the majority, while also looking back on his own life of activism and political participation. The film serves to provide insights into how we got here, and culminates as a reminder that these problems are not inevitable. Once we remember those who came before and those who will come after, we see that we can, and should, fight back.