Thursday, May 29, 2008

Documentaries Part 1: Politics and Media

I’ve been meaning to write about some of my favorite documentaries for a while now. The task seemed too tough because there are so many good ones. So I decided to break it into parts- by subject matter. I tried to think of all the films that had helped shape my thinking and a few crucial ones came to the forefront. The following films all deal with global issues, media, religion, politics, etc… They are disturbing and thought provoking films. The next set I write about will be based around arts and music. But for now revel in the accomplishments and embarrassments of mankind…

Capturing the Friedmans

This is a very disturbing film. The Freidmans were a seemingly perfect family living in New York until one day child porn is found on the fathers computer. The community flips out because he has been hosting after school tutoring for kids, with the help of his young son. Soon allegations are flying from every parent in the community. The father and son are accused of horrific, crazy, sex crimes: gang rape orgies with children being one. What makes this film so amazing is everything that happened was captured on camera by one of the other brothers. We see the most intimate and tragic details as the story unfolds. The film ends up being about the power of media, fear, and gang mentality. The truth is nothing happened at the tutoring sessions (the father admitted molesting two boys elsewhere). Stemming from their irrational fears- the parents and asshole cops coerced their kids into making false accusations. The saddest part of this film for me was the young son that got caught up in this- brainwashed into thinking he had done the crimes he was accused. He did a lot of time in jail. Watch the extras for a view of his life now- it is heartbreaking.

Paradise Lost 2: Revelations

This is thoroughly incredible and shocking film making. See the first Paradise Lost first. It’s about the “West Memphis Three,” three innocent redneck metal heads convicted of killing three children in a Satanic ritual. Wrongly convicted because the cops were dumb, incompetent, lazy, conniving, and most of all, prejudice. Like other films discussed here, the authorities coerced a confession- this time from a scared and inbred 14 year old. These boys are still in jail 14 years later.
The follow up film clearly shows the killer is Mr. Byers, a father of one of the murdered children. He is a drugged out fanatic “Christian.” A seriously, seriously evil human being. His answers are never the same, he is clearly unstable, and there is concrete evidence that he killed the children. During the filming of part one, he gave a knife to the film crew. They had it tested and the blood and fibers from the crime scene were on the knife. Still, the cops wont admit wrongdoing and that’s that- a psycho killer runs free while 3 innocent people rot in jail. Insanity.

Deliver Us From Evil

Speaking of evil, Father Oliver O’Grady, a Catholic priest, is as bad as it gets. This man has single-handily ruined hundreds of lives by raping and sexually abusing kids for 20 years. His victims range from teens to a baby of nine months. Yes, this freak raped a baby. Under the guise of a servant of God, he gained the trust and access to family homes, only to rape the sons and daughters in their rooms when the parents were asleep. The kids were so brainwashed by him and the religion- they either thought it was OK or were too confused and scared to say anything. When complaints and accusations eventually started the Church would cover up his crimes and move him to a different parish to start the abuse over again. The fact that Cardinal Mahony knew this was happening and let it occur shows the true nature of the Catholic Church. A church that demands celibacy from its young men is setting them up for perversions and trauma. The sickest part of all is when O’Grady was arrested; he did seven years in jail then was deported to his homeland of Ireland. There, he roams free, still working with families and kids. Since the film, there have been new lawsuits filed against him in Ireland. The film opens with him hanging out at a public pool, babbling about his problems, so detached from the torment he has caused, it is sickening to watch. If you like films that make you angry and sick to your stomach, this film is for you.

Manufactured Landscapes

This film uses the photography of Edward Burtynsky to show the enormity of industrialization in China. There is a lot of crazy shit happening over there I was unaware of until I saw this film. The film is made up of beautiful shots of landscapes altered by man- like chemical wastelands, mines (pictured at the top), massive factories, and cityscapes. Shots of poor people sifting through mountains of E waste (the remains of consumer products- computers, TVs, etc) are otherworldly. Entire towns in rural China are dedicated to striping appliances shipped in from all over the world. The underprivileged sit in dumps ripping apart computers, dividing them into recyclable metals and plastics- and toxic chemicals that just eternally pile up and help destroy the ecosystem. The craziest part of the film, for me, was about the Three Gorges Damn Project. They are building the largest damn ever built, or probably will ever be built, to supply energy for Chinas new ever-expanding mega cities. In the process they are tearing down 17 cities and covering them, over a 200-mile radius, with water. The most famous architects in the world have worked on this project, most walking away from it, claiming it to simply be “too big.” The weird thing about the tearing down of these cities is, in Communist China, the people that have lived there for generations are forced to tear down their homes by hand- brick by brick. There is incredible footage of these apocalyptic looking decaying towns (pictured in the poster) and cities being torn down by peasants. There are huge banners hanging everywhere with Communist slogans on them about working harder to improve society. The film was shot by Peter Mettler who did the criminally underrated Gambling, Gods and LSD. He has a really amazing hand held camera style and an eye for noticing insightful details. His style is very effective in one of the DVD extras, a tour through old Shanghai. Burtynsky narrates the film, he doesn't say much, but when he does it is very deep and effective. A must see.

The Corporation

This is a film about the nature of corporations and the ideology that goes along with them. Corporate entities are their own beast- compassion and thoughtfulness do not come into play when your dealing with a machine designed to make money and control- at all cost. Sure, CEOs and board members are to blame- but it is the misuse of the concept of a corporation that is intrinsically flawed. This is one of the messages of the movie- and also that multi-nationals are raping the earth, subjugating people, and destroying communities. Not a pretty picture at all. Globalization happens at the cost of the poor. One story that sticks out in my mind is how the Betchtel Corporation managed to privatize all municipal water- including RAINWATER in Bolivia. Protests occurred, people died, and the executives were eventually driven out, fearful of their safety. It was a complicated situation but explained well in the film. Also discussed is the military industrial complex, a subject explored thoroughly in the excellent film Why We Fight. The suppression and manipulation of news items that would hurt corporations are addressed, as well as the concept “the corporation as a psychopath”. There are interviews with a lot of inspiring people like Naomi Klein, Howard Zinn, and Noam Chomsky.

Manufacturing Consent

I’m going to come out and say, for me, this is the most important piece of cinema ever made. When I finished watching this, I pressed play and watched it again to let the ideas and revelations sink in a little further. It is based on the understandings and ideas of Noam Chomsky. Chomsky is linguist and a political activist and is probably the most eloquent and well informed man on earth. The film is about propaganda and how it shapes public opinion. And how it is everywhere we look- in every part of our lives- and most don’t know it at all. It is about how history is reported, recorded, and manipulated to suit the needs of corporations and government. There are lots of other great documentaries on Chomskys work including Imperial Grand Strategy and Power and Terror. See this.

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