Films about weapons
For several years, PBS Frontline has collaborated with ProPublica to investigate the rise of extremism in the United States. In the aftermath of the January 6th riot at the Capitol building, Frontline, ProPublica and Berkeley Journalism’s Investigative Reporting Program teamed up to examine how far-right extremist groups had evolved in the wake of the deadly 2017 Charlottesville rally. American Insurrection is a report that draws on this extensive background to examine the latest developments and pose questions about where these extremist movements may be headed.
Following the police shootings of Bernardo Palacios Carbajal and George Floyd in the United States, Shots Fired investigates the use of deadly force by police in Utah, with local journalism partner The Salt Lake Tribune. The filmmakers are given rare behind the scenes access to police training, and in the police’s bid to smooth public perceptions, access to discuss tactics and accountability, as well as racial disparities in the way force is used. The film pieces together data and videos from police ‘use of force’ cases, and asks the hard questions about police culture in the United States in general.
During the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests, after 6 months of ongoing actions, and with protesters facing escalating stakes from police shootings and other violent repression, students began to fortify a number of the city’s major universities and occupy vital roads nearby. This lead to a peak moment in the protest movement—the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. Protesters gathered at the university to defend their roadblocks, while the police shot tear gas and used water cannons to shower the protesters with water containing blue colouring and chemical irritants. 1,458 canisters of tear gas were fired at protesters, as well as 1,391 rubber bullets, 325 bean bag rounds, and 256 sponge grenades. The city’s hospitals were overwhelmed by the number of protesters needing urgent medical attention. Burn with Us documents a first-hand view of the conflict, and its results, in a fly-on-the-wall style.
On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh, a former soldier deeply influenced by the literature and ideas of the radical right, parked a truck with a five-ton fertiliser bomb in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City. Moments later, 168 people were killed and 675 were injured in the blast. Oklahoma City traces the events that led McVeigh to that day from the perspective of the survivors, first-responders, investigators, and journalists who covered the events. The film provides an exploration of the convergence of various conservative religious movements and white supremacist militias that rose to prominence in the early 1990s, and were catalysed by the actions of government during that time.
Shortly before dawn on August 21, 1992, United States Marshals initiated actions to apprehend and arrest Randy Weaver, a former US Army engineer, when he failed to appear in court on firearms charges after being coaxed by undercover agents to sell them sawed-off shotguns after hanging out with nazis and white supremacists. Given three conflicting dates for his court appearance, and suspecting a conspiracy against him, Weaver refused to surrender, and members of his immediate family and family friend Kevin Harris resisted as well, isolating themselves in their mountaintop home in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. When federal agents surveilling the property got close to members of the family, they also initiated a gunfight that mesmerised the nation, leaving Weaver injured, his son killed, and Striker the family dog dead. In the subsequent siege led by the FBI, Weaver’s wife Vicki was also killed, while holding her baby, by a shot in the head from a FBI sniper. Drawing upon eyewitness accounts, including interviews with Weaver’s daughter, Sara, and federal agents involved in the confrontation, Ruby Ridge is an overview of a tragic catalysing event that helped fuel conspiracy theories and give rise to the modern American militia movement.
The Coming War on China is a warning that nuclear war is not only imaginable, but a ‘contingency,’ says the Pentagon. The greatest build-up of NATO military forces since the Second World War is under way on the western borders of Russia, and some 400 American military bases encircle China with missiles, bombers, warships and nuclear weapons. But these happenings are of course not reported as United States antagonism. Instead, there is a familiar drumbeat of war, the kind of the old “yellow peril,” a restoration of the psychology of fear that embedded public consciousness for most of the 20th century. The aim of this film is to break the silence, and as the centenaries of the First World War presently remind us, horrific conflict can begin all too easily. By recounting the secret and forgotten history of the rapacious actions of great power against China throughout the decades, such as the destruction of the Marshall Islands and the Opium wars, The Coming War on China is also a report of an inspiring popular resistance to nuclear weapons, military bases and warmongering of the United States, of which little is known in the West.
National Bird: Drone Wars is the story of the United States’ secret program for drone strikes, conducted all around the world, told through three military whistle-blowers plagued by guilt over participating in the killing of faceless people in foreign countries. They decide to speak out publicly, despite the possible consequences. Their stories take dramatic turns, leading one of the protagonists to Afghanistan where she learns about a horrendous incident, but her journey also provides for peace and redemption. National Bird provides an insight into the United States’ secret drone program through the eyes of participants, veterans, and survivors, connecting their stories to images.
American Anarchist is the story of The Anarchist Cookbook, and the role it’s played in the life of its author, William Powell. Written as a teenager—and first published at the apex of the counterculture of the 1970s to protest the United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War—part manifesto, part bomb-making manual, The Anarchist Cookbook went on to sell over 2 million copies and has been associated with decades of anti-government attacks, abortion clinic bombings, school shootings, and domestic terrorism. Powell, now 65 and haunted by his creation, confronts his work and its consequences. We see how in 1976, 5 years after writing the book, he left the United States, leading an itinerant life and later becoming a teacher for emotionally disturbed children, the same sorts of kids that carried the Columbine High School massacre, the Colorado high school shooting and the 2012 Aurora shooting. American Anarchist is a cautionary tale of youthful rebellion, unforeseen consequences, and a universal story of an older person wrestling with their younger past.
Peace Officer explores both the militarisation and increasingly violent culture of police forces, as told through the career of William Lawrence, a former sheriff of Davis County in Utah United States, who established and trained the state’s first SWAT team. As a gifted investigator, Lawrence’s savvy skills help break the Ted Bundy case. He also sees SWAT enter the public consciousness and transform the culture of policing throughout the 1970s, along with the convergence of the War on Drugs on policing attitudes and police violence. He eventually leaves public office, concerned, when soon after, his son-in-law is killed in an emergency call gone awry by the very same SWAT unit he created 30 years ago. An internal investigation of course finds no police wrongdoing, so Lawrence turns to his own renowned investigative skills. He sets out to not only uncover the truth of his son-in-law’s homicide, but to tackle the culture and attitudes of modern-day policing on a national level.
As the United States developed the world’s first nuclear weapons in secret, it was surprised at the speed in which the USSR was able to also develop such weapons, and that such developments would lead to an unprecedented arms race. The USSR was able to obtain all the nuclear discoveries made by scientists who worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project through a very unusual spy, Elizabeth Zaroubin. She managed to gain the trust of great researchers, such as Einstein, in a story comparable to some of the best spy novels ever written.
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.
Counter-Intelligence is a 5 part series that explores in-depth, the vast, sprawling and secret National Security State that operates throughout the United States—and indeed the world. The series examines the foundations of the Military-Industrial-Intelligence Complex, charting through to the myriad consequences in today’s world where secret intelligence organisations continue to hijack governments, manipulate elections and commit heinous crimes against humanity—all under the cloak of “National Security”. In the wake of the continued revelations of the NSA PRISM program, this series is now more important than ever to provide a solid historical context to the workings of the rapacious and ever-expanding National Security State…
Over the past decade, the United States military has shifted the way it fights its wars, deploying more technological systems in the battlefield than human forces. Today there are more than 7,000 drones and 12,000 ground robots in use by all branches of the military. These systems mean less deaths for US troops, but increased killings and precision elsewhere for the United States war machine. With lethal drone strikes being carried out in secret by the CIA and occurring outside of officially declared war zones such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, the secret use of robots and drones in this way evokes serious questions about the operations of the United States and what this means for the rest of the world as more and more autonomy is developed for these technologies.
Just as mobile phones and wireless capability dramatically changed the way technology interacts with modern society, drones—or ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicles’—are set to become the next major influence in technocratic life, directly impacting and seriously expanding the already extensive capabilities of surveillance. Rise Of The Machines takes a look at already developed drone technology and how governments, military and even civilians are rushing to adopt the gadgets which can be purchased off the shelf for just a few hundred dollars and controlled by already existing smart phones. So what will a world of drones look like? And what of the many, serious, unexplored implications on how society will function in a world of drones?
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.
Robot Wars visits companies in the United States that are producing robots for the military to disarm bombs, fly unmanned aircraft (drones), withstand repeated attacks and even choose targets and fire without any human intervention. The rapid development of autonomous robots and the use of them right now is surging ahead at a crazy rate, all with little regard to ethical and psychological questions, concerns about technological privilege and other obvious impacts. With military robots currently being operated using video game controllers, is the line being blurred between fantasy and reality?
By charting the history of the anti-war movement against the political backdrop of the atomic age, Beating The Bomb examines the current state of ‘nuclear deterrence’ brought about by the nuclear age stemming from the end of World War II, when the United States nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Specifically, the anti-nuclear movement and the founding of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in 1958 amongst others, fight for and end to the British Nuclear Weapons program, which from its inception, was closely tied to The Manhattan Project and still is to this day…
Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space takes us to the Cold War and beyond, where an arms race of weapons technology plays out by the world’s superpowers in space. Satellites, nuclear weapons, tracking technologies, rockets—the weaponisation of space was and is more of the same colonialism in the tradition of empire, much like the sea battles of the 18th and 19th centuries. Indeed, as we learn through Operation Paperclip, the United States recruited than 1,600 scientists from Nazi Germany for work in the Space Race after the end of World War II. Fast forward to today, in the name of protecting commercial investment, the United States has crowned itself with being the so-called “arbiter of peace” in space. But with their weapons industry replacing almost all other manufacturing in America, this claim is ludicrous. More than fifty cents of every US tax dollar is spent on the military. The dream of the original Dr. Strangelove, Wernher von Braun—the Nazi rocket-scientist turned NASA director—has survived every US administration since World War II and is coming to life ever more rapidly. Today, space is largely weaponised, a massive military-industrial-complex thrives, and many nations are manoeuvring for advantage with yet more weapons of war, surveillance, and control.
On 8th August 1945, the United States dropped its second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, three days after the bombing of Hiroshima. The city was a veritable apocalyptic vision, devastated by this new type of weapon. Nagasaki — The Horror Of Fat Man documents the memories of survivors, both Japanese civilians and Western Prisoners Of War, as they relate the morbid aftermath of the bombings, the United States occupation, and the segregation that still effects fallout victims to this day.
60 years after the United States dropped nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, the events are still espoused with denial and myth in histories taught by the west. White Light, Black Rain breaks this acquiescence and accounts the bombings from the point of view of the people who were there, speaking with survivors of the attacks and four American military men that were intimately involved in dropping the bombs. The film intimately details the human costs of warfare and stands as a powerful warning that with enough present-day nuclear weapons worldwide to equal 400,000 Hiroshimas, we cannot afford to forget what really happened with these events.
The Invisible War documents the rapid militarisation of police in recent years by looking at the deployment of so-called ‘non-lethal’ weapons and the real effects of their use. Shotguns loaded with bean bags, rubber bullets, wood, rubber, and foam cylinders; electrical tasers; pepper sprays, OC-gas, and other chemical weapons; microwaves, stink bombs, pulsed energy weapons and many more. What is interesting is that, according to an overwhelming amount of recorded cases, these weapons have turned out to have caused many deaths and/or serious injuries, and are more often used on peaceful non-compliant citizens, or protesters, as a means of obedience rather than protection—invoking serious questions about the future of police and society.
Disarm travels a dozen countries to look at how—despite a global ban—millions of anti-personnel landmines continue to be used to claim victims daily in more than eighty countries. The forces challenging the achievement of a landmine-free world are predictable. As such, the film mixes the views of diplomats and governments against that of victims, de-miners, soldiers, campaigners and aid workers to explore the issues that both hinder and further the case against the use of landmines across the world.
Atomic Confessions investigates the devastating effects of atomic weapons testing carried out in Australia by the British military during the 1950s. Members of the Australian Army, Air Force and Navy detail former top-secret aspects of the tests, while prominent Aboriginal Elders describe the real impacts on the ground. Using archival film and photographs, as well as eye witness accounts, Atomic Confessions chronicles the consequences of nuclear testing imposed on the Australian people, and the land, showing that these tests are not just skeletons of the past…
For the people of Vietnam, war is not over. Three generations on from 1975, babies are still being born with serious birth defects and genetic abnormalities — the legacy of the United States intensive use of chemical weapons. To this day, it is still unknown just how many have been affected. In 2005, on the eve of a historic lawsuit to determine the culpability of the United States, this film directly portrays the powerful effects of Agent Orange.
This film comprehensively documents the use of chemical weapons—particularly the use of incendiary bombs—along with hordes of other horrific indiscriminate violence against civilians and children by the United States military in the city of Fallujah during the invasion of Iraq in November 2004. The cases portrayed involve the use of white phosphorus and other substances similar to napalm, such as Mark-77, which constitute clearly defined war crimes involving chemical weapons. Interviews with ex-military personnel involved in the Fallujah offensive back up the case for the use of such weapons by the United States, while reporters stationed in Iraq discuss the government’s attempts to suppress the news by covert means.
Between 1964 and 1973 the United States conducted a secret war in Laos — dropping over 2 million tons of bombs, making it the most heavily bombed country in history. Millions of ‘cluster bombs’ did not explode when dropped, leaving the country massively contaminated with “bombies” which are as dangerous now from when they fell over 30 years ago. Bombies documents unexploded cluster bombs through the personal experiences of a group of Laotians and foreigners who go about dismantling the bombs. These weapons are still a standard part of the United States military arsenal and were recently dropped in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq…
The insane and horrific history of the development of nuclear weapons is examined first-hand in Trinity and Beyond. The film makes use of extensive archive footage from declassified military sources, where the sources themselves speak about the development of nuclear weapons, revealing the calamitous results of use. From the United States’s Trinity test of 1945, to the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki; to the rapid increase in testing and proliferation by states across the globe, culminating to the first Chinese atomic bomb test in 1964, Trinity and Beyond is a stark reminder of this culture’s insanity and death urge, and how—unless it is stopped—the expanding threat it continues to pose draws in, literally, the prospect of life on this planet for generations to come.
John Pilger travels to Cambodia to investigate how the United Nations has allowed the Khmer Rouge regime to grow stronger. Why has Pol Pot’s organisation grown stronger and more menacing since the arrival of the UN? Cambodia — Return To Year Zero looks behind the façade of the so-called ‘peace process’ and asks: Has the unthinkable for Cambodia at last been made acceptable for the rest of the world?
Agent Orange was the codename for one of the herbicides and defoliants used by the United States military as part of its chemical warfare program—Operation Ranch Hand—which ran for ten years during the Vietnam War from 1961 to 1971. During this time, the military sprayed nearly 80,000,000 litres of toxic chemical and defoliants mixed with jet fuel in Vietnam, eastern Laos and parts of Cambodia. The supposed goal being to destroy forested and rural land, depriving guerrillas of cover and to induce forced-draft-urbanisation, destroying the ability of peasants to support themselves, forcing them to flee to the cities dominated by US forces, depriving the guerrillas of their rural support base and food supply…
The Secret Government, as its title suggests, is essentially an investigation into the processes, plans, operations and persons responsible for systemic abuses of power at senior levels of the United States government during the 1980s. The film covers multiple covert operations and secret projects, but takes a particular focus on the Iran–Contra affair of 1986, where Ronald Regan secretly facilitated the illegal sale of arms to Iran—which was the subject of an arms embargo at the time—to support a right-wing terrorist group called “The Contras,” and also make obscene profits from the sale of such weapons. Transported to the political happenings of today, The Secret Government is a call to remember history, and see that mass profits from weapons dealing running covert/secret wars were a reality then, and now, as well as to reveal just how far institutionalised propaganda and obfuscation works to conceal these home truths, still generations later.
Vietnam: The Secret Agent is an investigation of the history, effects, and implications of the deadly compound “2,4,5-T,” a main ingredient of the chemical weapon code-named Agent Orange, which the United States sprayed throughout Vietnam during 1961 to 1971. Its toxicological effects are still seen today, generations later: cancers, birth defects, physical deformities, deaths, contaminated soil in which dioxins bio-accumulate and concentrate in the food cycle. The chemical started as a herbicide in agriculture from the 1940s to 1970s, but was the first to be used in war, to similar effect. The film focuses on the exposure of these toxins to both citizens and soldiers alike, exposed through the lens of archival and battle-field footage, in support of interviews with veterans, scientists, attorneys and representatives of Dow Chemical—the company that made the chemical weapons—and the United States government, that used them against the world.
When the United States devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki with nuclear weapons in 1945, the bombs dropped were code-named ‘Fat Man’ and ‘Little Boy’ — as part of the new propaganda campaign to create acceptable images of war, propagating the illusion that the world should live securely with nuclear weapons, and that it is the only way to ‘enable peace’. By using reassuring and even soothing language, this new kind of propaganda spread all over the world…
Mr Nixon’s Secret Legacy covers the absurdity of the supposed logic behind “Mutual Assured Destruction” or MAD—a doctrine of military strategy and the national security policy of the United States during the cold war. During this time, MAD is supposedly disassembled, but replaced with a strategy called “Counterforce.” This film investigates the propositions of “Counterforce,” questioning the rhetoric of executing a “flexible, acceptable nuclear war.”
After the 1973 Paris Agreement and military ceasefire, more than 70,000 soldiers and civilians had been killed in Vietnam. Vietnam — Still America’s War investigates how the Vietnamese populace still have to contend with mines and other legacies of the war, even after the ceasefire, and after the war…