Just finished watching the award winning war documentary restrepo. hard not to be impressed with this documentary (gives a whole new meaning to embedded journalism) and hard not to feel empathy with the soldiers who served more than a year at the end of the world (or as they themselves refer to it, ‘the valley of death’)
Aside from the firefights and the portraits of the (extremely young) soldiers restrepo perfectly illustrates the futility of the US-led war in Afghanistan. the whole film shows that that there is absolutely no reason why the US should be in Afghanistan in the first place, their presence there simply makes no sense at all. It appears that the heavily armed twenty-somethings and the red-bearded, toothless village elders inhabit parallel universes. unfortunately for the red bearded, toothless village elders they are getting shot at (and their cows get killed) from the other universe, without there being any meaningful means of recourse for them.
So Jamie more or less forced us to watch iron man on Thursday in some nondescript multiplex cinema in Swansea, Wales. Definitely not the worst film i have ever seen but for some reason these comic book adaptions fail to really excite me (except for film versions of comic books by enki bilal that is).
Out of curiosity i also bought a DVD version of some DVD hawker in the restaurant Hai Ha (they do make really nice special roast duck in that place) on Mare street in hackney on Friday. As one could have expected it turned out to be a really bad (as in having chairs and the ceiling in the picture for three quarters of the film) chinese cam version.
Still kind of amazing that they get DVDs out into london restaurants in a bit more than 24 hours…
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)
Just finished watching the BBC documentary (from 2004) ‘the power of nightmares – the rise of the politics of fear‘ by Adam Curtis. This three part mini series compares the rise of the American Neo-Conservative movement and the radical Islamist movement, making comparisons on their origins and noting strong similarities between the two. Curtis argues that the threat of radical Islamism as a massive, sinister organized force of destruction, specifically in the form of al-Qaeda, is in fact a myth perpetrated by politicians in the west in an attempt to unite and inspire their people.
While i generally agree with this analysis, the series has one central weakness. In part three (‘The Shadows in the Cave’) he describes in detail how none of the 600+ people arrested under the post 9/11 UK anti terrorism legislation until 2004 had any connection with Al Qaeda and how none of them was actually arrested for (planning to) carry out terrorist attacks. While this is factually true it sounds quite different when seen from todays perspective as it merely demonstrates that the UK anti-terrorist organizations failed to recognize the activities of the 7/7 bombers before they carried out their attacks.
However i would still argue that Curtis has a point (which is aptly illustrated by the silliness that the UK security forces have demonstrated in the post 7/7 period (see here, here, here & here) and if you have not seen the power of nightmares yet, you would probably want to download it from a torrent tracker near you.
This experience reinforces the main point of the film: file-sharing – a technologically super-charged, deep cultural practice – is beyond the point where it can be stopped. The old media industry has lost control over the distribution of content, radically reducing the power of the current gate keepers to determine who can access the archives, who can produce new works, and who can reach an audience with those works.
The film’s premise is that file-sharing is transforming the basic mechanism of how culture and information is distributed with consequences as profound as the transformation brought about by the printing press. Now, for anyone who remembers the late 1990s, this introduces a certain deja-vu, since this argument was pretty much what fueled the dot.com boom back then. But here, it is delivered with a twist. It’s not the happy venture-capital infused entrepreneurs who turn the wheels of change, but the pirates who expand the scope of the possible for the masses, and the teenagers who have already claimed this new space as their natural cultural environment. This is not a top-down revolution.
Meanwhile Jamie has written up some thoughts about the amount of donations The League of Noble Peers is receiving as a result of their call for support. Seems like suggesting to donate a higher amount of money ($15 as opposed to 1$ as they did for when they released the original Steal This Film in 2006) works rather well. In his blog post Jamie is combining these first experiences with research about the spread of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (a gonorrhea epidemic to be precise) to come up with the expectation that it is perfectly possible to produce profitable documentaries based on voluntary donations:
What is also necessary is a spreading of the “generosity virus”, not just for STEAL THIS FILM (although boy, could we use it!) but for all independent creators who’ve dispensed with the restrictive, punitive, retrograde commodity model and chosen to work with a new, more far-sighted paradigm. In these first days of distributing STF II, we have learned that by setting aside the artificial barriers of DVDs, cinema tickets and pay-per-download, the way is cleared to a new world of voluntary, supportive donations. The sooner we all stop moaning about how “no one is going to make any money” after P2P, we can get on with encouraging each other to look after our cultural environments. No one is saying we’re there yet, but like the man said, we’re beginning to see the light.
The second installment of Steal This Film has just been released. you can download it in 4 different resolutions) here and Torrentfreak has an interview with Jamie. By now i have seen it it numerous times (in different stages of production) and i will probably watch it again just for the sake of it (i am downloading the HD version right now).
Now it does not really matter if i watch it again or not but this movie is essential viewing for all those out there who still believe that file-sharing, and distributed communication and growing up in an age without scarcity (when it comes to media) does not constitute a fundamental break when it comes to cultural (re-) production:
These are strange times indeed. While they continue to command so much attention in the mainstream media, the ‘battles’ between old and new modes of distribution, between the pirate and the institution of copyright, seem to many of us already lost and won. We know who the victors are. Why then say any more?
Because waves of repression continue to come: lawsuits are still levied against innocent people; arrests are still made on flimsy pretexts, in order to terrify and confuse; harsh laws are still enacted against filesharing, taking their place in the gradual erosion of our privacy and the bolstering of the surveillance state. All of this is intended to destroy or delay inexorable changes in what it means to create and exchange our creations. If STEAL THIS FILM II proves at all useful in bringing new people into the leagues of those now prepared to think ‘after intellectual property’, think creatively about the future of distribution, production and creativity, we have achieved our main goal. [from the STFII website]
Oh, and if you have not yet seen Steal this Film I yet you can download it here…
Watched a screening of ‘Tehran has no more pomegranates!‘ by Massoud Bakhshi this afternoon, which turned out to be a beautiful film that manages to pay homage to the incredibly strange and complex reality of the city of Tehran. While Tehran is one of the least likely city to fall in love with it had a certain strange attraction to me. tehran has no more pomegranates! manages to somehow capture this attraction and to turn it into an extremely entertaining complex portrait of the city. Bakhshi intelligently juxtaposes old documentary footage (and extremely beautiful pictures of bearded men) with footage he has shot in Tehran over the last 5 years or so (including lots of time lapse shots of crazy traffic). The film starts off with the observation by someone called Asar-o-blad (no idea who that is since google returns exactly 0 results) who in 1241 remarked that:
Tehran is a village near the city of Ray. It’s inhabitants live in anthill like underground holes. Tehranis’ main occupation is theft and crime. They fight each other and can’t obey any king. They grow excellent pomegranates which are found only in Tehran.
The film then goes on to portray various stupid rulers, collective opium addiction, visits by Stalin, Churchill (‘You really have big oil wells’) and Roosevelt, the fall of the Shah and the explosive growth of the metropolis with all of its magnificent transportation problems. Well worth watching (apparently there will be a DVD release by the Jan Vrijman Fund later this year or early next year)
Finally managed to source a copy of Beaufort (בופור) with english subtitles yesterday. Had been waiting to find a version that i could understand for a while and it was definitely worth the wait.
Beaufort tells the story of the last IDF unit occupying Beaufort castle in Southern Lebanon in the days before the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in the spring of 2000. It is one of the most impressive war movies i have seen in a while, also because it is the only war movie that i remember that does not show ‘the enemy’ (in this case the enemy is Hizbullah) at all. This seems to confuse some people a great deal, but i think it worked very well. As a whole, the movie does not really take a position on the israeli occupation policy but generally portrays the situation as fucked up and senseless, which works pretty well for me (plus i somehow like the look of the Mitznefet (a.k.a clown’s hats) that the IDF soldiers are wearing most of the time (picture here)).
When i was in Lebanon in May 2005 (exactly 5 years after the liberation of the south by Hizbullah) we went to visit Beaufort Castle (which apparently exists since roman times, but in its current incarnation is a crusaders castle). It occupies an amazing location, overlooking the southern end of the Biqa’a valley (to the North), the Golan heights (to the East), the South Lebanese Mediterranean coastline (to the West) and the north of Israel (to the South). According to the official beaufort movie website, it also overlooks Damascus but that is pretty much impossible if you ask me.
There is one particular exchange in in the movie that made me think back to our visit to Beaufort a lot. it is an exchange between Liraz, the young outpost commander and an unnamed combat engineer, who has just been send in to blow up the outpost so it won’t be of use to Hizbullah after the departure of the IDF:
Combat engineer: It will be quite a job blowing all of this up
Liraz: I just can’t imagine it.
Combat engineer: What is the problem? Imagine a mountain with no outpost
Combat engineer: You got a girlfriend?
Combat engineer: Answer me, i asked a simple question
Liraz: Yes i do
Combat engineer: Imagine yourself with her. Here on the mountain, sunset, the most amazing landscape on earth. You are holding her hand, walking around with her, showing her: here was ‘green’, the observation post, here was the gate. She looks around and all she sees is nature, a tourist attraction, no sign of any of this, paradise.
Liraz: I just can’t picture this.
Combat engineer: It will come, don’t worry…
Now the irony is that these days the place looks pretty much the way that the combat engineer described it (although there are some remains of the outpost, that serve as some kind of memorial of the Israeli occupation) but that a real-life Liraz and his girlfriend will probably never have the opportunity to go there in their lifetime as the IDF has caused way too much harm in Southern Lebanon for any Israeli to be welcome there any time soon…
So over the last three weeks i have been watching ‘kaafila‘ which bills itself as a movie based on the ‘global issue of illegal migration’. It took me 3 weeks to watch because (a) it is a Bollywood movie (and thus runs for three plus hours) and (b) because it is so incredibly bad that i could not muster the courage to watch bits that were longer than 15 minutes. Matter of fact it is so bad that that the songs (those ridiculous dancing/singing scenes that are required to interrupt Bollywood productions every so often) were more bearable than the ‘story’ itself.
So why did i buy it in the first place then? Kaafila contains a scene that depicts what has become to be known as the ‘Malta boat tragedy‘: the sinking – off the coast of the Sicilian town of Portapalo on December 26th 1996 – of a ship carrying more than 300 south-east asian migrants bound for Italy. More than 280 migrants lost their lives in this disaster (the worst post WWII maritime accident in the Mediterranean) and i was curious how this would be portrayed in a feature film made in one of the countries where a large part of the victims was hailing from. Plus some of the reviews actually did sound quite intriguing:
… in their effort to forge ahead closer to their dream, the innocent dozen finds itself trapped sometimes by the Russian mafia involved in the plutonium smuggling racket and sometimes by the militancy on the Afghan borders. Here they meet an Afghani girl…
Now as i said the movie is exceptionally bad. The story is erratic at best, the characters depicted are extremely unrealistic (although the opening credits of the film actually try to make a somewhat realistic introduction into the migrants’ motives for seeking their luck elsewhere) and, on top of this, the trajectory of the journey defies any logic at all:
From India our group of migrants is first flown to Moscow where they are held captive by a Pakistani trafficker for 5 months. He finally takes them across the border to Ukraine (shooting one of them on the way) but decides to take them back to Russia after one of them lights a fire at night, which, according to the trafficker, will alert the border guards and guarantee the group’s arrest.
On the way back another of the migrants freezes to death under fake styrofoam snow while hiding from a helicopter. Back in Russia the group heads towards the Black sea coast where they board a ship that is supposed to take them to Malta. In real life this would mean crossing the Black sea, sailing through the Bosporus, crossing the Aegean sea, sailing around Apulia to continue to Malta (or to be more exact Sicily where the real ‘Malta boat tragedy’ took place). In Kaalifa our heroes board the boat and immediately burst into another dancing scene to the films theme song ‘Chala Kaafila’, a strange mix between eurotrash and hindi film music:
Chala Kaafila is a outcome of a confused state of mind. With music lingering somewhere between the genres of folk and club mix, Chala Kaafila boasts of a strong blend of North Indian music with unnecessary westernized musical goof ups. [from: RS Bollywood Online music reviews]
The song opens with the singer (the only female on board who somehow disappears before the ship goes down) shouting ‘i don’t want to wait no more let’s bring the house down’ over extremely annoying house beats. this is followed by mad dancing of the assembled 300 migrants on the deck of the doomed ship and once the song ends the ship’s passengers become aware of a giant wave (clearly inspired by the 2004 asian tsunami, which coincidentally also happened on a 26th of December) slowly approaching and jump ship in fear.
For some reason (supposedly because they cling to pieces of wood taken from the ship before jumping into the sea) our 10 remaining heroes are the only ones to survive and wash up on a beach (which turns out to be the Russian Black sea coast again). here our heroes meet the wife of an mad Indian nuclear engineer who is selling liquid plutonium to the Taliban (with the help of the Russian mafia). For rather unclear reasons the wife is shot dead by the Mafia and in this moment, out of nowhere, the above-mentioned Afghani girl appears, secures the liquid plutonium, a bag of giant diamonds and offers our heros a lift to Kazaksthan.
From here on the ‘innocent dozen’ comes under the protection of a dubious Pakistani I.S.I agent who teams up with the Afghani girl to fend off waves of waves of Russian mafia killers and Taliban fighters attempting to kill our heros while they cross Tadzhikistan and Afghanistan heading towards Pakistan (along the way various attempts to put them on a plane to Europe fail). En route 4 more of them are being killed despite the incredible marksmanship of the Pakistani agent and the Afghani girl, who kill dozens after dozens of the attackers.
Finally, in Pakistan the I.S.I agent somehow reconciles with his superiors (in one scene he seems to be talking to Pervez Musharraf himself) who had been pissed off with him for another unclear reason (there are hints that he was suspected to be involved in some Abdul Qadeer Khan style nuclear smuggling operation) and arranges for our heroes’ safe passage across the border to India. in the final scene the 6 remaining migrants plus the Afghani girl can be seen walking to back towards an imagined India, now being completely cured of their initial desire to leave mother India and find their luck in England…
Even if i was willing to accept that Malta is an island located in the Black sea, that the Taliban ‘look like Indians wearing fake beards‘ who can’t shoot straight and that liquid plutonium can be handled safely in open containers, this still is the worst movie i have ever seen (with the mask being a close second). Here are some screen shots of the malta boat tragedy dance:
Lawrence gave a pretty amazing presentation on ‘what can be learned from asian cinema?‘ at piratecinema on sunday morning. His general point was how new forms of distribution (read shameless copying) slowly lead to another form of aesthetic/cinematorgaphic practice in Asia (or to be less general China & India). towards the end he showed a couple of slides form an earlier presentation he had given at the Asia commons conference in Bangkok last year. I really liked this diagram, which gives a little bit of context to my earlier post about obtaining the latest Bond movie: