White House awards ‘Argo’ Best Picture at Academy Awards

It’s unfortunate that this title is not from The Onion (which itself had some issues relating to its Oscar coverage). The symbolism of the First Lady presenting, from the White House, surrounded by folks in military dress, the Academy Award for best picture to a film that demonizes Iranians and victimizes Americans is striking. Now it’s obvious that the White House did not pick, or have any role in choosing the Best Picture, and had it gone to a film without a “CIA narrative” then perhaps this wouldn’t be a noteworthy point.

The Guardian makes an argument that the failure of Zero Dark Thirty to win notoriety at the award ceremony was a failure for the CIA in a sense. While it may indeed be the case that the CIA, and related pro-military folks wanted to see Zero win to help ease the narrative over torture: Argo‘s win comes in the context of a potential future conflict. The real tragedy here is not which of these two essentially pro-imperialist films represents the interests of executive power better in the United States through the film industry, but rather the fact that the two represented serious contenders for the “Best Picture of the Year” title in the first place. This represents the current relationship between Hollywood and militarism in the United States, and that relationship appears quite cozy if this award ceremony is any indication.

While it may indeed just be symbolism, we should pay more attention and criticize more often these exhibitions that promote culture that serves the function of putting yet another country in the cross hairs of American aggression.

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Repost: At Sundance Film Festival, Documentaries Shine Light on Overlooked Stories of Global Injustice

Democracy Now! aired a segment about documentaries via an interview with Cara Mertes at the Sundance Film Festival. The segment highlights the importance of film as a medium and the growing importance of documentary film making. This website often posts reviews of documentaries and how they can be useful for exposing issues as well as highlighting important under looked historical events.

From DN!’s transcript:

This year’s Sundance Film Festival includes 28 feature-length documentaries from the United States and around the world, covering subjects including the story of WikiLeaks, abortion, the Egyptian revolution, immigration, covert U.S. wars, and many more. All five of the films nominated for the 2013 Academy Award for best documentary have premiered at Sundance: “5 Broken Cameras,” “The Gatekeepers,” “How to Survive a Plague,” “The Invisible War” and “Searching for Sugar Man.” We’re joined by Cara Mertes, director of the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program and the Sundance Documentary Fund. “We’re supporting a global, independent documentary movement,” Mertes says.

Should Contemporary Sci-Fi Relaunch the Space Program?

The spaceship Prometheus

Jon Spaihts, a screenwriter for the recently released film Prometheus, recently wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal titled “Can Sci-Fi Relaunch the Space Program?” In it, he details the relationship that science fiction has had and can have to space exploration. He details how space travel “originated” with the Cold War and how the “space race” helped to produce a rich volume of science fiction that was tied to the competition between the USSR and USA.

In a way he romanticizes the Cold War, which is not dissimilar to many academics and pro war politicians who long for the days of clear national competition and what they see as an easier appeal to patriotism (in other words: having the big Other to remind the public to fear). Spaihts’ brief history of science fiction here leaves out important historical ties between SciFi and space programs, most notably the “Star Wars program” (see the role of The Citizen Advisory Panel on National Space Policy where SciFi authors were encouraging the implementation of the military  program).

Many on the Left and the Right want to see a sort of space exploration, but what kind of space program does Jon Spaihts want to see revived? Aside from the end of the article where he is implicitly promoting space tourism as a potentially exciting new trend for rich folks who have always dreamed of space, the most telling phrasing is when he discusses trends in SciFi:

Although these trends are cloudy, one can argue that in the last fifteen years the space epic has fallen from favor, as sci-fi films have concerned themselves more with cyberpunk scenarios and Earthly dystopias than travel between the stars. As if our culture as a whole had turned its eyes away from external adventures to internal struggles.

David exploring a space map

So in essence, he sees the “internally looking” science fiction sub genre of cyberpunk as problematic and is advocating for a more outward and escapist space exploration style of the genre. We can certainly see this in Prometheus: a rich corporate boss wants to fulfill his life by funding a trillion dollar space ship to discover the meaning of life. While the film does not necessarily promote this sort of expansionist ideology, nor is it as much of a critique or warning against the corporate lust for profits in space as we find in earlier influential Scott films like Alien. This is problematic for science fiction: the ignoring of the internal contradictions that genres like cyberpunk offer in favor of “outward looking” space exploration stories that move our attention from real struggle to a dream of future prosperity and wonder (which is interestingly very similar to the “American dream” itself).

It would be interesting to hear Ridley Scott’s take on this question, considering he was not only the director of Prometheus but of perhaps the most influential cyberpunk film of all time Bladerunner which is a clear “inward looking” science fiction critique of a future ruled by corporate power.

Ken Loach on flim and its potential

This was a keynote Ken Loach gave for the 2010 London Film Festival written on the Guardian and reposted here:

Film is an extraordinary medium. Like theatre, it has all the elements of drama. It has character, plot, conflict, resolution. You can compare it to the visual arts, to painting, to drawing; it can document reality, like still photographs. It can explain and record like journalism, and it can be a polemic, like a pamphlet. It can be prosaic and poetic, it can be tragic and comic, it can be escapist and committed, surreal and realist. It can do all these things.

So, how have we protected and nurtured and developed this great, exciting, complex medium? How have we looked after it, and does it fulfil its potential?

Over a seven-year period, the US market share of box-office takings in British cinemas was between 63% and 80%. The UK share, which was mainly for American co-productions, was between 15% and 30%; films from Europe and the rest of the world took only 2% to 3%. So for most people it’s almost impossible to have a choice of films; you get what you’re given. As for television, only 3.3% of the films shown on TV are from European and world cinema.

Just imagine, if you went into the library and the bookshelves were stacked with 63% to 80% American fiction, 15% to 30% half-American, half-British fiction, and then all the other writers in the whole world just 3%. Imagine that in the art galleries, in terms of pictures; imagine it in the theatres. You can’t, it is inconceivable – and yet this is what we do to the cinema, which we think is a most beautiful art.

Read the full article here or can be seen on YouTube