... in cinema

REMINDER: the CIA were the good guys when we were kids

20 Nov 2009 | 340 words | cinema propaganda review war

So the opening evening of IDFA 2009 was a bit of a disappointment (if you do not count new insights regarding the size of mice living in Tuschinski and the esthetic co-dependancies between skimpy dresses and high heels). For some rather dubious reason (must be the general obsession with the fact that the berlin wall came down 20 years ago) ‘War Games And The Man Who Stopped Them‘ was chosen as an opening film.

This turned out an really self congratulatory cold-war warrior biopic about a polish colonel who (with a little help from his friends at the CIA) claimed to have more or less singlehandedly brought the entire Warsaw pact to it’s knees. If we are to believe the movie he did this by providing the CIA with over 40.000 documents detailing russian strategy for attacking Western Europe. Conveniently not a single of these 40.000 documents was shown during the course of this ‘documentary’.

Instead we got to see lots of former CIA agents saying nice things about the CIA and the Polish colonel, and lots of former Warsaw pact military and intelligence officials saying nice things about the Warsaw pact and not so nice things about the Polish colonel. As far as the sources are concerned i can hardly imagine less selection than relying exclusively on (ex)intelligence officers.

Throw in lots of shots of the widow of the Polish colonel browsing through photographs of the Polish colonel when he was looking good being young-and-in-uniform plus lots of unrelated shots of sail boats and you have a perfectly meaningless film.

If this is not bad enough, i would not be surprised if the entire film was commissioned by the CIA. If i was part of their public relations department this kind of cold-war-porn would be very welcome in order to distract from the fact that since they have brought down the wall (with the help of the Polish colonel) the CIA has mainly been busy using these newly freed countries to run torture prisons in upscale horseback riding schools.

Steal this footage

The league of noble peers has just made available the raw footage of 19 interviews filmed for steal this film 2. the footage is not only available online but also fully text searchable based on the transcripts of the interviews:

Thanks to the magic of 0xdb and Pad.ma, plus the hard work of a number of Peers in transcribing STEAL THIS FILM II footage over the last six months, we are able to offer a full text search of the base material from which we made the film. If your search term is found, you are taken to the frame/s at which it occurs and given its immediate context. Try it out! You can also browse the whole list of clips, if you don’t know what you’re looking for in advance.

Even better, the entire material on footage.stealthisfilm.com is available in the original resolution (1080i HDV) and under a Creative Commons Attribution Share alike license. As far as i can tell, this is the first time such a comprehensive set of raw materials for a film has been made available under a open content license:

We are making this footage available in high quality format (HDV 1080i), having cleared permission from the interviewees to release it under an attribution share-alike license from Creative Commons. Practically this means that you can use this material for your own projects, including commercial work, provided you credit us and make your work available in turn under a share-alike license.

It will be interesting to see if this really works. my hunch is that there will be very few filmmakers who have use for these interviews (although most of them are quite informative if you are interested in the politics of information) and are willing or able to release films that incorporate footage from these interviews under a CC-BY-SA license themselves. Personally i would assume that it would be more useful/realistic to ask others using parts of the interviews to make available (parts of) their footage as well (instead of the finished film). This would be in line with how free software licenses operate: if you use freely licensed source code (footage) you have to make available the resulting source-code, but you can do whatever you want with the binary code (finished film).

Rright now that does not seem to be possible as it would be very hard to define which part of their footage downstream users should make available (and making all raw material available is pretty much impossible given the enormous amounts of bandwidth/discspace/work this would require). Given this the attribution share alike license does not seem that bad of a choice and of course filmmakers who, in exchange for using some of the STFII footage, do not want to make available their films under a BY-SA license can probably just pay jamie/the league of noble peers for separate permission…

Islam @ the movies

30 Mar 2008 | 302 words | movies cinema iran lebanon islamofobia netherlands

So the big non-news of last week has been the release of the long anticipated ‘anti-islam’ movie ‘fitna‘ by the dutch clown/politican Geert Wilders. not only was he too stupid to release the movie via bittorrent (which would have scaled with demand much better & allowed for better quality) he also actually confirmed what i had always assumed, namely that he is too stupid to make a proper film: ‘fitna’ is not much more than an amateurish powerpoint show that shows that wilders has absolutely no idea what he is talking about.

So while the media (in holland) were wasting their time and energy on the the release of ‘fitna’ and were desperately trying to find someone on the streets who would talk about some kind of violent uprising there were actually two much more interesting developments at the intersection of film and islam last week:

First the Lebanese general security department reversed a decision to ban screenings of the prize-winning animated film Persepolis in Lebanon. This move came after an initial decision to ban the film for being offensive to islam and offensive towards Iran (Iran is the backer of the influential lebanese Hezbollah party). Needless to say this move will have multiplied interest by the moviegoing public in Persepolis (which, regardless of repeated attempts i still have not seen).

Secondly i came across (via boingboing) this marvelous video snippet from some Iraqi TV channel wherein a distinguished gentlemen (identified as Fadhel Al-Said, a ‘researcher on astronomy’) eloquently explains why the earth is flat and the sun is circling around the earth. enjoy… (made possible by the ever productive propaganda translators at memritv.org)

Update [05 Apr 08]: Jim has an article in the daily star that attempts to unravel ‘Fitna’ from the Lebanese perspective: The barbarian horde of Geert Wilders’ ambition.

Pictures from Bombay cinema halls

26 Apr 2007 | 148 words | bombay india cinema photos architecture

Sarai independent fellow Zubin Pastakiais talking pictures of old-style Bombay cinema halls, and has started posting them to his blog:

I am currently photographing cinema halls in Bombay, India, the city in which I live. Here, we still have a mix of older, single-screen halls, and modern multiplexes. I am fascinated by the cinema hall – from its built architecture and physical surfaces to the people that come to watch films and the people that work there. The project seeks to photographically explore the cultural experience of different types of cinema halls in Bombay city.

There are some really beautifully shots on the blog already and he promises that there are much more to come. I really like the ones showing projectionists next to those ancient projectors so common in indian cinema halls. I took some very similar shots two years ago in Bangalore.

Photo by Zubin Pastakiais

Elgin talkies cinema hall

15 Nov 2005 | 506 words | photos cinema bangalore india

One of the works shown as part of the World-Information City exhibition is ‘Change of State’ by Ashok Sukumaran. It is a simple but effective installation of power switches, lights garlands, a cassette recorder and a couple of other electric devices on the facade of the Elgin Talkies cinema hall on Shivaji Street. During yesterdays opening a couple of us had the opportunity to get into the projection room in the rear of this oldest cinema hall in town.

If something like the magic of cinema exists then it probably does here. the projectionists is one of the most impressive rooms i have ever seen, two old hot, oil dripping dust and light emitting projectors that are operated by two small men with an careful dedication dominate the barely lit room. The combination of sound, smell, temperature and light creates a very special atmosphere. The place has a truly analogue feel to it something that i have not been able to appreciate for a long time. Further proof that there is a world beyond bit-torrent…

More photos on flickr.com

Here is a bit of historic background information about Elgin Talkies that i dug up from the depths of the internets:

If you ever want to savour the past, the City still has the oldest entertainment house-turned-cinema – Elgin Talkies. Though it didn’t start out that way, it came to be called a Talkies.

Elgin Talkies beginning coincided with the birth of cinema in India – in 1896 – when the Lumiere Brothers presented their year-old invention for the first time to an astonished audience in Bombay at the Watson Hotel. Tents followed and after 1907 came the cinema houses. There are many cinema houses of the early 20th century vintage. But I doubt if any of them is exactly as it was originally built.

The Elgin (which takes its name from Lord Elgin who ruled India) was built in 1896 – when India woke up to magical cinema – brick by brick exactly as it was designed. Even today it follows strict segregation of the sexes – booking, entrance and seating! Thus it becomes the oldest building remaining unchanged in every aspect since 1896, now serving as a cinema house.

It started as a variety entertainment hall, but records of the Elgin are available only after its switch to cinema around the end of World War I. The exhibitor those days was a showman. He dressed for the occasion, received higher class audiences, held forth on the merits and demerits of the film and was usually an expert on public taste. This tradition continued till the late ’50s.

The Elgin exhibitor’s son, the grandfather of the present owner, was by the celluloid bug, ran away from home and came back with a projector to convert the Elgin into a cinema hall.

The Elgin has now completed 109 years of uninterrupted “entertainment”, which richly qualifies it to be declared a heritage building and preserved by the State in tribute to the grand cinemas of the last century.

meanwhile... is the personal weblog of Paul Keller. I am currently policy director at Open Future and President of the COMMUNIA Association for the Public Domain. This weblog is largely inactive but contains an archive of posts (mixing both work and personal) going back to 2005.

I also maintain a collection of cards from African mediums (which is the reason for the domain name), a collection of photos on flickr and a website collecting my professional writings and appearances.

Other things that i have made online: