... in propaganda

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.

Free Gaza footage from Al Jazeera

13 Jan 2009 | 258 words | gaza media propaganda war censorship

Al Jazeera has launched the AL Jazeera Creative Commons repository that hosts TV quality Al Jazeera footage from Gaza under a Creative Commons Attribution license. This effectively allows all uses of the footage (even by other TV networks) as long as attribution is given to Al Jazeera. As far as i can tell (and they also boast about this in their press release) this is the first time that a major broadcast organization is making it’s own footage under a Creative Commons Attribution license.

This is especially relevant as Al Jazeera is one of the very few foreign news organizations that has camera teams and correspondents inside the Gaza strip as Israel is currently denying access to foreign journalists. Or as the International herald Tribune puts it:

In a conflict where the Western news media have been largely prevented from reporting from Gaza because of restrictions imposed by the Israeli military, Al Jazeera has had a distinct advantage. It was already there.

Screenshot from Gaza Zeitoun / War on Gaza day 18.

Given that the licensing terms allow other broadcasters (commercial and public) to rebroadcast the footage provided by Al Jazeera it is interesting to see if they will indeed make use of this opportunity and start offering a view of the conflict that relies less on the propaganda videos provided by the Israeli military. Personally i doubt that there will be many takers but i would love to be proven otherwise….

In the meanwhile congratulations to Joi, Mohamed, Donatella and everybody else involved to make this happen…

Cyclorama vs. Reality

09 Jan 2009 | 434 words | egypt israel propaganda war

During my recent trip to Cairo, in we visited [on suggestion of the my barbarian crew] the 6 october (a.k.a yom kippur) war memorial that is situated in Heliopolis just off the road to the international Airport.

The memorial consists of a large circular building housing a 360 degree rotating cyclorama surrounded an open-air display off tanks, fighter-jets, artillery pieces and anti-aircraft missiles [mainly those used by the Egyptian army during the war but also a few ones captured from the Israeli army].

Apparently the memorial has been designed by North Koreans after Kim Jong Il suggested to President Mubarak that he should build a memorial commemorating the 6 october/yom kippur war between Egypt and Israel. The memorial was completed in 1989 has been open to the public ever since. It seems that it is mostly visited by Egyptian university and high-school students on mandatory excursions but it is also open to ordinary tourists. A sign at the ticket office (£E20 per person) welcomes you with the following words:

Welcome to 1973 october war panorama, enjoy spending a good time by watching 1973 october war panorama accompanied by the sound effects and music program. special shows for tourist in different languages [see the sign on flickr]

We did not get a special show and the only language available (via IR headphones) was crappy English but the the 360 degree rotating cyclorama (a cylindrical panorama is rotated around cinema style seats that are installed in the middle of the the round room) is quite impressive indeed.

The cyclorama (and the accompanying narrative) narrate the first 48 (or so hours) of the 6 october war when the Egyptian army managed to cross the Suez canal, breach the Israeli sand fortification on the Sinai side of the canal (known as the bar-lev line) and established two small bridge-heads on the Sinai peninsula that had been occupied by Israel since the 6 day war in 1968. Both the visuals and the narrative give the impression that the Egyptian Army effortlessly overcame the Israeli defenses. By conveniently focussing on the initial 2 days of the war and ignoring the rest, the memorial gives the impression (much to the delight of the egyptian visitors) that Egypt had actually won the war and defeated Israel once and for all. Meanwhile, as we were leaving the cyclorama, the ‘defeated’ Israeli air force was busy bombing the shit out of the once Egyptian-controlled Gaza strip, while the ‘victorious’ Egyptian army was busy turning away [at gunpoint] wounded Palestinians from seeking treatment in Egypt.

Scene from the 6 october war cyclorama by Sara Kolster

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.

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