critic

Pointed View: Lovely Framing and Lorne Greene’s Baritone

Mediascape musings on “Manufactured Landscapes”
By Oliver Hockenhull • Issue 67 • POV The Documentary Magazine of Canada

Lorne Greene

42 thousand feet above the earth. I am watching a movie. I am, in fact, in the heavens, in a metal can, watching a movie—a documentary, in fact.

You think the "Voice of God" is a dated relic? Not here in the heavens. Lorne Greene’s (1) baritone has modulated into postmodern porridge, its atomic weight the same. Why it has the identical authority! But now it’s fortified with the slippery sheen of an untouchable globalized economic dictate and hiding under the surface of a doc that isn’t even ‘narrated’.

I was on my way from Vancouver, flying in for a candidate interview. The job (2) was with a university in Toronto to teach ‘film’. I was watching Manufactured Landscapes, a prominent documentary. Exactly this time last year, POV featured the film, with a complimentary cover story. Many of you have seen the movie. It is coolly representative of a pervasive yet unacknowledged nihilism. It is a pretty work, not actually new in form or content (what year was "Koyaanisqatsi"?), masquerading as concerned political commentary.

This heralded film uses a camouflaged formalism, one that neglects analysis and opinion. Rather, it aestheticizes frigidly, floating above the turbulence of the troposphere: it contains little individual reflectivity, no individual idiosyncrasies. It portrays people, the 1.3 billion population of China, as one would imagine the most retrograde Politburo member or any red neck would, as a toiling mass. It is nearly as blandly precise, controlled and mechanical as its subject matter, the photographer Edward Burtynsky. (3)

As we drown in garbage, swelter in heat, and see our political culture at most as a mortgaged future, we are being entertained and edified by the triumphant artistry of our own demise.

"Manufactured Landscapes" features an unforgivable incident. Burtynsky orders trash picking children to assume particular poses, higher up on the garbage pile, creating a mise-en-scene for his camera, resulting in an expensive purchasable print for an art gallery. The film does, by contrast, include an engaging and thoughtful moment, presumably shot by Peter Mettler: the camera looks on as an elderly Chinese matron works on her sewing.

“Confessions of guilt are the best possible safe- guards against collective action…and the very magnitude of the crimes, the very best possible excuse for doing nothing.” — Debord or was it Virilio?(4)

As I write this, I can see a huge billboard outside my apartment stating “Beauty That Knows No Bounds — Buick Enclave.” If you want to know how you should think — according to the accepted zeitgeist of the master narratives — decipher current high-end advertising slogans. They will tell you straight out what many of the galleries are husking as subtle tonations (in fact, repackaged clichés) at a high art price.

The aesthetic of the suffering of others and even of oneself, the perversity of screen distance and the lovely framing of trash and industrialism, creates a beauty that knows no bounds.5 It is not compassion, nor intellectual engagement, but sadism and masochism that draw the audience to these new ‘works’. As the spiral of blunder, desecration, and crisis is tightened for the subject, the audience unconsciously sips the putrid breath of death and destruction and exclaims in her heart: life.

The pre-eminence of the image in capitalist society is less a commoditization than a marker. The exchange is: my time for your presentation. The marker of time, the image, is the production of observation. Observation is the twinning of the phenomenological and the informed. Information however does not create the informed. Only a set of ideas can do that and only organizing with others will make it real.

So I got on a taxi from the airport to my hotel. The driver was a chatty recent immigrant from China. We got around to talking about visiting China. I said something stupid like “there’s too many people there” or “I don’t like crowds.” And he said to me, cutting but friendly, “hey, you’re only going to meet one or maybe two people at a time; what’s your problem!?” I laughed and I thought ‘brilliant’, and when I got to the interview, I managed to sneak in my critique of this prominent Canadian documentary and the story of the wisecracking cab driver.

I took the morning flight back to the coast; didn’t watch any movies, opting for a book. Months later I found out that I didn’t get the job. In fact, no one did. The Faculty and the Dean couldn’t agree as to who was the best person for the job.

 

footnotes

1. Lorne Greene (February 12,1915–September 11, 1987) was a Canadian actor who made it big in the US. He had an incredibly commanding voice that was used in numerous early NFB documentaries. The CBC called him “The Voice of Canada”; however, his role in delivering distressing war news in sonorous tones following Canada’s entry into World War II in 1939 caused many CDN listeners to nickname him “The Voice of Doom.”

2. Please read eventually the works of Andrew Ross. An enlightening interview between him and Geert Lovink dealing with the current situation of the creative economy, China, labour organizing in the era of the knowledge industry, etc. can be found online. “The effort to industrialize custom creativity is a primary goal of capitalist production right now.”–A.R. (http://networkcultures.org/geert/interview-with-andrew-ross/)

3. Apparently there is a brisk market for images of industrial waste, witness the work of J. Henry Fair, a photographer in NYC who also specializes in such scenes. His portfolio was given attention in the August 2007 edition of Harpers.

4. Marc Glassman points out to me that this is a misquote from Hannah Arendt who wrote: “Where all are guilty, no one is; confessions of collective guilt are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of culprits, and the very magnitude of the crime the best excuse for doing nothing.”

5. In the previous article about ML, the producer de Pencier praises Burtynsky’s “What is unique about Ed’s photographs is that they hang in the boardrooms of corporations and those of Greenpeace.” Not realizing that the essential insignificance of the pieces make them a perfect match for any institutional décor, a noise that signifies nothing and everything. They are the best possible safeguard against the discovery of the culprits….

Oliver Hockenhull is a veteran filmmaker and writer. His current work, Neurons to Nirvana, will be broadcast on Documentary in 2015.

casting a glance

James Benning,
Calarts/Film 80 minutes

James Benning, the US artist filmmaker and a long time favorite of Vancouver’s experimental and art cinema community returned to Vancouver with the North American premiere of his “casting a glance”, a cinematic consideration of Robert Smithson’s legendary earthwork, the Spiral Jetty, which is ‘housed’ on the banks of Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

Both art works, the Spiral Jetty and “casting a glance” are simple and singular. Much of the subject for both is the weather of time. Benning’s strategy in this 80 minute film is to return again and again, over a period of decades to the site and frame his camera at identical positions for a series of 20 seconds to 40 seconds clips. The result is anything but likely.

Meaningful without taint, complete empty Zen, as full as any sky or a silver cloud Eucharist of a film, here the sky stains the water, where knowing becomes the unknown.

Roll on the floor mad in love with, obsessional, loving, devoted, patient, insightful and for some audience members crazy, untenable - I can’t watch 80 minutes of this - pure intentionality - facing the fidgets of entertainment.

Film document as a visio-philosophical engagement, a rift in time to the complexity and varieties of individual perspicacity. A seeing so transparent and steady that it looks through the veil of appearances to the code of vision itself. A relief of distance, a distance that completes itself in the attentive viewer.

A thoroughly determined look that is unforced, plain, yet eminently watchable. To perceive time both through the totality of a 30 second take and the marking of decades is liberating and exalting. Liberating, as time is not hurried and compressed with address and authorial impressions. Exalting as time becomes unaccounted as the image becomes transcendent by and in itself.

The picture frame is tuned to repetitive positions, time, weather, light, supply as they did for Monet, a fortune of differences in the way light is, is, in a haystack.

The erosion of the artwork and the shore and the utter morphic quality of ocean and sky become our wholly standing ground. Elation and the ecstatic is the call and response as the ephemeral and the eternal wave together in utter form.

The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom

(originally titled: “Cold Cold Heart”)
Dir: Adam Curtis 108 minutes
Prod. Co.: BBC

Humans beings will always betray you.

The compilation chronicle film essay is alive and well written in the juggling, conceptual mindscape of Adam Curtis.

"The Trap", a three hour-long presentation is fixated upon a historically defining moment of our today – a recollection and psychic inscription of the Cold War paranoid strategies of game theorist John Nash.

Curtis argues, not yet completely convincingly, that our narcissistic, atomistic, and lonely era originates from ‘rational choice theory’, a way of predicting the behaviour of the human promulgated by Nash, the famous mathematician — and certified paranoid schizophrenic.

The premise of Rational Choice Theory; people are the shrewdest schemers of their own destiny, that that is their sole raison d'etre.

Through a series of sociological markers and ideological shifts the theory became a pillar of liberal democratic thought and the focus of the ever-narrowing gaze of government purpose - the sole raison d'etat becomes the animation of isolated deterministic individualists.

"So Long Sucker---Fuck You Buddy" a game invented by Nash in which the only way to win was to betray your playing partners, the title of the first part of this three part film, should give you an idea as to what is being talked about. If not, I don’t really give a damn as I have already been paid for this article.

It’s a harsh, suspicious world with nary a hope for any manner of Grace, as all actions are calculations whose sum can only result in ever increasing exile and alienation.

Irresponsible economic freedom equates to community degeneration, and the degradation of the commons. What is owned exists but the individual human does not, he is, bottom line, a waste product of the system.

Despite the diversions and entertainments to the contrary we are a society at war and of war, the trick is to be conscious of our militarized identities.

World Without Meaning

In the last third of the film Curtis turns to the work of Isaiah Berlin arguing that Berlin’s refocusing on Negative Liberty as the best of all possible political worlds is a predictive for a nihilist and authoritarian regime populated by selfish automatons. The liberty to do as one pleases – as the primary agenda in all the arenas of life - is shown to be a pathetic dumbing down of what it means to be a human, that negative liberty is in the end, too often, infantilism. Positive Freedom, Positive Liberty, (though historically marred by Jacobinism) is our recognition of our common humanity, it is the vehicle of fulfillment not through the gimcracks of possessions, nor social standing but through our service to one another. Curtis suggests that it is not what we take from the social but our contribution to the social that answers our need for freedom. Freedom, then, is just another word for the development of shared meaning.

"The Trap" is a long overdue, highly associative dissection of the modern Western state, the gross deficiencies of our social (dis)order, and a continual engaging subtle montage punctuated by elegant, constructivists graphics.

Up the Yangtze

Dir: Yung Chang
Print: NFB 93 minutes

And The National Film Board of Canada Best Canadian Documentary Award goes to…The National Film Board of Canada/EyesteelFilm production of "Up The Yangtze", an audience-pleasing documentary on the displacement of people by the Three Gorges project, by Quebec director Yung Chang.

The film opens with this Confucius quote: "By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest."

The general study of the film is the rising waters of the Yangtze and social changes that are the result of the Three Gorge mega project. The heartfelt core of the film is an intimate and beautiful study of a single peasant family that irks out an existence farming on a tiny patch of land adjacent to the rising river.

There are a number of accomplished sequences, moments of the essential nature of family relations, survival poverty, cooking and eating, candlelight and reading. Wang Shi Qing’s camera is comfortable, knowledgeable and warm as he documents the dynamics of this family at extremis. It’s a gentle portrait of an illiterate peasant father and mother, inspiringly strong in their hopes for their children, persevering without any social assistance. This is the enlivening value of the film and thoroughly worthy at that.

Yung Chang has also managed to fashion a weave of elements – from clips of the repressive, lying officialdom, to the realities of class division, and the accelerated and relative prosperity of the new China to question the proposition that apparent economic development really will lift all boats unconditionally.

The score of the film is like a small pebble dropped into a river mid stream never to be found and yet as annoying as the same stone caught in your shoe. There is no unifying theme or style, an unfortunate mishmash from ‘you are to feel sad here’ - says the committee of producers cry me violins - to too short snippets of folk music, to the grandiose somewhat minimalist-modernist opening. The director’s father, whose story is glanced at fleetingly, an odd and disjunctive tasting and disappearance that served no discernible purpose, sings some of the folk music.

Montage should not be translated as editing, or cutting but as assemblage: as in the fitting together of parts in a machine. Here the machine is the film complete as its own meaning. (As an aside an interesting additional meaning is that montage is the setting of a jewel). Montage is much more than spatiotemporal continuity editing, much more than simply say cut on action…or simply the getting rid of the bits that don’t work.

What interest us here are the expressive possibilities of editing rather than its function as spatiotemporal connectivity. The expressive possibility also entails the sense of the film as a shape in time.

"Up the Yangtze", despite the certain quality of the shooting fell short in the editing and sound department. There is no totality of expression but an accumulation of moments.

A section of the film that resulted in the Canadian audience feeling smug and self satisfied shows some well to do US citizens on a cruise ship on the Yangtze dressed in ‘old time Chinese imperial clothes’ for a souvenir photo session. Chang interviews these individuals in their absurd get ups for a way too easy laugh.

Timber Gang (Mu Bang)

Dir: Yu Guangyi
Print: FanHall Studio 90 minutes

Bare bones documentary, no fluff, no music, no narration, no post-mo ironic twist, no condescending moral tale, the documentary stripped bare, renewed to illumination, time and humanity. Struggle and symbiosis of human, animal, the land, an intimacy of relationship in life and to conclusion, death. I am trying to describe "Timber Gang" (Mu Bang), by Yu Guangyi, another North American documentary premiere at VIFF in the Dragons and Tigers Series of Asian-Pacific films.

Yu Guangyi is in his forties. This is his first film. He is from the region where he shot the video, Heilongjiang (part of the former Manchuria, now Northeast China) in the Changbai Mountains. It is winter and a small group of men and horses make up the team that will be working throughout the winter cutting trees and moving them down the mountain. The timber is dragged and slid through the snow bound trails by horses, ponies really, and through difficult to maneuver sections by the grunt of the men. A hero of the story, the long suffering horses, listen and obey the men with astonishing dignified acceptance. The roundness of the days is shown to us in luminously authentic images, the camaraderie between men, between the men and their horses, between the men and the mountain itself.

Though life is exceedingly demanding these individuals manage to express in sometimes comedic, and in others intelligent and solemn terms the totality of their life experience. There is too much to do and too strong of a community to be ravaged by such things as alienation and depression. We are witness to a culture alive to its traditions, from shamanistic healings to a conclusive solidarity of the so symbolic funeral rites.

Rightly considered as one of the best documentaries ever made in China, the film took a year and a half to edit, but does not show itself at all driven by story. Take note producer types and commissioning editor jobber execs parroting the story uber alles line: we don’t go to the movies for stories, we go to see movies to SEE movies.

Navigating Histories: The Films of Gary Marcuse

An intense look at the accomplishments of the political documentarist
By Oliver Hockenhull • Published July 2nd, 2015 • Issue 97, Spring 2015 • 


"Nuclear Dynamite" (dir. Gary Marcuse, 2000) / all photos courtesy of Gary Marcuse

“We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men.” — George Orwell

There’s a precious scene in Gary Marcuse’s Nuclear Dynamite (2000) when scientists from the Livermore Laboratory in California arrived in the Inupiat village of Point Hope, Alaska, in 1959 to explain to the local people why they should be happy to have a brand new harbour, blasted out by nuclear explosives, about 25 miles away from their homes. The scientists brought with them an animated film showing how the radiation from the explosion would be “washed out of the ecosystem,” by which they meant out to sea. Radioactive fallout, they promised, would blow away from the village, if the wind was right. But there was a problem. The Inupiat whalers brought tape recorders to the meeting—some of the tapes have survived—and grilled the scientists. An older man spoke up from the back of the room, asking whether the scientist had said this was an experiment. Yes, they had. “So you don’t know what will happen,” the villager says. With the help of a local priest, news of the planned blast leaked out to the national press. The atomic scientists blamed the priest for the taping but what they hadn’t realised is that the Inupiat, along with the Canadian Inuit, rely on oral culture as the basis of their societal history. They were early adopters of recording technology. Tapes were widely circulated by dogsled between villages. They were also sharp listeners, as the scientists discovered. The experiment was postponed and, after the atmospheric test ban treaty was passed in 1963, never revived.

“In a lot of my work, I’m trying to listen outside the culture that I was raised in. To have an ear for it, to be able to convey it—and that has led me to admire the work of psychologists and anthropologists.” —Gary Marcuse

Gary Marcuse is a producer, journalist, educator, media analyst and activist, past national chair of the Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC), founding member of the Vancouver branch of the DOC, past president and national executive of the Writer’s Guild of Canada and award-winning film and radio documentarian.

Significantly, he is also the co-author of Cold War Canada: The Making of a National Insecurity State, 1945–1957, essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what has happened to this country since the end of World War II.

Though Marcuse is best known as a film documentarian, this early research and writing endeavour can be seen as a pivotal moment of his practice, a turning of ideas about how fear is managed to pursue and maintain power. Cold War Canada shows how authority conveniently degenerates into politics for power’s sake and how ideology leans in to eclipse reason to the detriment of democracy. It is not only an uncommonly informed, detailed and brightly enlivened reflection on the Cold War in Canadian and world history but it also presages our current Canadian psycho-political social formation.

Disenfranchisement has many forms. During the Cold War it was easy enough to tar your opponent as a communist infiltrator; any social activist could be portrayed as a fellow traveller. In 2015, if you’re thinking outside the fossil fuel paradigm, you’re under suspicion; if you’re politically active and critical, you’re under foreign influence; if you oppose a pipeline, you’re an eco-terrorist. It’s Harper’s Canada: government by belittling and belligerence whose primary product is insecurity and the exaltation of ignorance.

In contrast, the formal properties of the oeuvre of Gary Marcuse consist of purposeful humanitarian reason, emotional listening and contextualized historical references, passionately informed by environmentalism, media analysis and humanist psychology.

“Completely central to my work is the fact…. [that] I am usually trying to build up a picture of somebody’s experience which is going to lead the audience to reframe their own perspectives.” —Gary Marcuse


Clarrissa from The Mind of a Child (dir. Gary Marcuse, 1996)

The Mind of A Child (1995), Marcuse’s first film, foregrounds the innovative and successful educational work of First Nations teacher Lorna Williams of the St’at’imc Nation. She applies the trust-building relationship techniques originally developed for teaching and engaging the traumatized children of the Holocaust by Reuven Feuerstein, an Israeli development psychologist, to the education of First Nations children, Canada’s homegrown survivors. In the film Lorna Williams’ personal story is recounted: she’s the last of four generations who were sent to Canada’s notorious residential schools and had to struggle to regain her cultural roots as her identity was hollowed out by the imposition of colonial intent.

“I was sent to residential school at six years old…there wasn’t any joy in living as everything was so regimented that I was always in a state of alertness, just constantly living in fear.” —Lorna Williams, The Mind of a Child

This is much, much more than one individual story, however. It is the premise of Reuven Feuerstein’s, and by extension Lorna Williams’ work (and, in many ways, with all of Marcuse’s oeuvre too), that cognitive development, the ability to reason and discern, is dependent on having a foundation of cultural transmission, of a meaningful history from which to project a future.

“In the mid-1800s there were 30,000 of us who lived in this valley. By 1950, there were only 500. Small pox and influenza were the two major diseases. I remember when I read that is when I fully realized the extent of the loss and the trauma that our people had experienced…and in a way it gave me new eyes to look at the strength still in the people and that they could persist and retain as much as of who we are as First Nations people—with that kind of a loss.” —Lorna Williams

Marcuse highlights that the forces of injustices, inflicted trauma and the deadly blind spots of the central or dominant culture are twined ills.

Taking a deeply compassionate and expansive approach to directing, he foregrounds historical, anthropological and emotional truths. What is demonstrated in the relationship between camera and subject presupposes a foundation of the director’s own presence, of an observational view that constantly works to mirror the humanity of his subjects and interviewees. This psychological stance is easy enough to state but takes a lifetime of commitment to listening to attain.

Marcuse’s next film, Nuclear Dynamite, could be a companion documentary piece to Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove. It’s a chronicle worthy of an Astounding Stories science-fiction pulp: at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were pursuing, planning and implementing nuclear explosions for massive geological engineering programs. The U.S. project, under the guidance of central-casting mad scientist and “father of the hydrogen bomb” Edward Teller, was promoted as the peaceful use of the atomic bomb, with the Biblical title “Operation Plowshares.”

The screwy zeal of some of these projects is extraordinary: a replacement of the Panama Canal by a staggered series of nuclear explosions to blast a trench across the isthmus; nuclear bombs to pound out an “instant” deep ocean harbour in Alaska; and oh yeah, baby, “Project Cauldron”—the use of ‘controlled’ nuclear explosions to liquefy bitumen in Alberta’s Athabasca tar sands—a project that had been approved by the Alberta Research Council, the federal department responsible for mines, Atomic Energy of Canada and the Defence Research Board.

Many are under the impression that environmentalism was initiated by the attention garnered by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, which traced the movement of pesticides through the food chain. Nuclear Dynamite teaches us that the roots of environmentalism in North America began a decade earlier, in the early ’50s, with the justifiable fears provoked by the invisible terrors of radioactive fallout. There are extensive interviews with key players—scientists, activists, Indigenous peoples—and a montage of mind-boggling historical footage.

“The new hydrogen bombs, which Teller helped to invent, were a thousand times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. The Soviet Union tested the largest bombs ever made in the Arctic. The shock wave from the explosion circled the planet three times. Military tests were also carried out underground in Nevada, to cut down on fallout, but underground explosions were hard to control. When the power of the sun is ignited underground, tremendous forces are released. Temperatures rise to millions of degrees, rock and water are vapourized, and the hot gases force their way upward. Clouds of radioactive fallout from military tests below and above ground drifted across North America and around the world.” —Extracted from Nuclear Dynamite

Nuclear Dynamite documents the global awakening of the reasoning of environmentalism—that life is interconnected, and to act otherwise is devastatingly daft.

 

In Artika: The Russian Dream that Failed (2004), Marcuse reviews the Soviets’ intractable will to exploit the mining wealth of the Far North while at the same time civilizing—read colonizing—the cultures of the numerous aboriginal groups who had called the area home for a millennium. Two million Russians were moved up North and cities were built to mine the vast territory that had previously been home to First Nations tribes. As in Nuclear Dynamite, judicious use of archival material mixed with historical and contemporary investigations into anthropological and human rights issues, enlightened by an ecological sensibility, tell the tale. One cannot watch the film without seeing parallels with Canada’s own northern ambitions and treatment of First Nations.

There is a gentle forward momentum, a sense of curiosity as we follow the different strands of the story. Marcuse’s critical eye takes us to the edge of the precipice of industrial-scale human folly. Current and historical injuries to groups and the environment are countered by the activism of individual players, working and gaining their human and environmental rights.

Waking the Green Tiger: The Rise of a Green Movement in China (2011) has been winning awards, accolades and audiences around the world and is being used extensively as a tool for public discussions and environmental activism in China and elsewhere. It’s an exceptional accomplishment, an alluring document of civil engagement following an activist campaign to stop an ill-conceived mega-dam on the upper Yangtze River in southern China.

Historically referenced, the film employs rarely seen clips of Maoist managerial blundering and, in contrast, reveals the slow emergence of ecological appreciation and lucidity. Encouraging in outlook, the film presents a successful turn of events for people power in China.

Echoing activism, media building on media, Green Tiger includes a film within the film. Chinese environmental filmmaker Shi Lihong shot and directed a doc about the fate of a farming community that was relocated to make way for another dam. With Shi’s permission, Marcuse has seamlessly integrated this material into his own film. The clips included are fervent, tender and effective as we are brought face-to-face with the grievous outcomes of such massive displacement: the devastation of an ethnic group, a farming community, an entire environment.

This is what Green Tiger chronicles: the ruination of one community motivating a similar community to take effective action against its own potential devastation.

“I was screening Green Tiger along with Shi Lihong for university students. We were touring through seven cities in China—the smallest city was twice the size of Toronto…several of the older graduate students watching would say to me, ‘Is your film about the environment or is it about democracy?” —Gary Marcuse


Director Marcuse with Naxi villagers in Waking the Green Tiger (dir. Gary Marcuse, 2011) / courtesy Gary Marcuse

“When Waking the Green Tiger found its way into an environmental film festival in Kuala Lumpur…they didn’t just say ‘Hurray, there’s some Chinese peasants who have stopped a dam… We want to do that…’ but they also said, ‘We have never seen a [documentary] program tell us a story like this…’ We ended up collaborating with a group of NGOs to subtitle the film into 10 more languages.” —Gary Marcuse

There’s finesse to the formal and technical aspects of Waking the Green Tiger, to its use of music, graphics and historical footage that mark it as Marcuse’s most masterly to date. However, what sets it aside is its participatory presentation—actions are seen through the eyes of Chinese filmmakers, journalists, activists and farmers. He also knotted in an interview with China’s former director of the National Environmental Protection, Qu Geping, an insider of crucial importance and the architect of China’s unprecedented environmental transparency laws.

“The campaign to protect Tiger Leaping Gorge, which ran from 2004 to 2006, not only safeguarded one of China’s most magnificent landscapes, but it also saved the homes of more than 100,000 ethnic minority peoples, making the campaign one of the biggest success stories of the past decade for China’s green defenders.” —Liu Jianqiang, interviewed in Green Tiger and author of “Defending Tiger Leaping Gorge”, a case study in the anthology China and the Environment: The Green Revolution (Zed Books, 2013).

Histories are us and it is through our ability to learn and interpret our own collective past and to imagine a preferred future that learning may take place. That is the struggle of the individual, the tribe, the nation, yes, but essentially it is the algorithm of humanity’s survival. Waking the Green Tiger is conjointly about the power of the documentary as a civil engagement and acts as an essential democratic instrument for informed public participation. As in all of Marcuse’s films the direction is towards a mindful inclusiveness superbly enlightened by a meticulous humanism. It’s a kind of alert hearing and responsive speaking, a skillful navigation of the past and the present that the world desperately needs for any livable tomorrow.

Gary Marcuse adds: I must share credit for that documentaries that succeed, as they occasionally do, with the key creatives, Betsy Carson, Stuart de Jong, Kirk Tougas, Rolf Cutts, Henry Heillig and Doug Wilde. Without them I’d only have fading memories of some good ideas. And how do we acknowledge that essential chemistry that emerges from a long association with a commissioning editor who recognizes, provokes and supports good work. In this case that was Michael Allder at the CBC.

Oliver Hockenhull is a veteran filmmaker and writer. His current work, Neurons to Nirvana, will be broadcast on Documentary in 2015.

MANDA BALA ~ SEND A BULLET

Grand Jury Winner Sundance prize for Documentary
Debut feature by Jason Kohn, a one-time assistant to Errol Morris.
85 MIN.

“When mankind becomes ruled by terror then is the hour for the mastery of crime.”
Fritz Lang’s "Das Testament des Dr. Mabuse" (1933)

Fear dominates our social and political consciousness. It is a fear based economy that we live under, and a culture of fear is the basic feed of our media.

Chronic selfishness, addiction, and the ascendance of adolescent behaviour as a cultural norm blooms from this underlying angst and dislocation.

The bullet spins out the barrel at an ever-increasing speed.
___________________________________________________________________________________

20 million people in Sao Paulo, the largest frog farm in the world, corrosive corruption biting off of ears and the reconstruction of ears buying bullet proof Porsches and Mercedes. Brazil has the widest income gap in South America, with over 20 percent of its citizens living on less than two dollars a day. Did I say the largest frog farm in the world, squirming cannibalistic amphibians in precise Morrisian, widescreen, colour thick *film *still *beats *video *by *mega-bounds *splendor?

"Manda Bala" is an oblique investigative web showing us the realities and effects of ethical collapse that is Brazil via Kohn. Here disaster capitalism has morphed into terror capitalism, lumpen proletariats running on intoxicated, rabid, guilt free violence burgeoned from no way out. Where eating the rich is not a spray-painted slogan but a way to survive. Sao Paulo where there is a kidnapping every 3 days, where the rich fly from roof top to roof top via the world’s largest private helicopter fleet in an attempt to live in an emerald city of protective privilege amidst skin hanging from bones misery. The destitute are the disposable.

"Manda Bala, Send a Bullet", does just that, a multi dimensional picture bullet of the sociological/economic bardo state of absurd disparities between rich and poor, the frantic population boom and the fantasia of official and pseudo-democratic venality powered by a brutality that is this herald of trauma everywhere to come.