Category: Documentary

Giving thanks for the land and those who work it ethically


In honor of the land and those who are trying to preserve/save it from agribusiness, I’d like to give thanks to all those who treat soil, water, air and animals ethically. Along these lines, I’m posting a trailer for this nice little documentary, Land Awakening, about farmers in the Mediterranean who grow food sustainably.

From the film’s web site:

“Land Awakening” is my personal journey to experience hands-on organic sustainable agriculture, turning into the discovering of alternative technologies and approaches to producing and gathering food. The experience resolves to a spiritual reflection into our deep and sacred relationship with the Land.

Inspired by his son’s voyage to learn about organic farming in Spain, Mexican-Canadian filmmaker Raúl Álvarez embarks on his own quest finding how chemical agriculture creates deserts, and Wild Nature provides far more nutritious foods when we stop controlling it.

Raúl’s odyssey expands around the Mediterranean and Canada, warmly portraying compelling characters living sustainably. He meets experts breaking paradigms and taboos on agriculture, wild plants and marketing food, making his journey deeply inspiring.

Imbued with a beautiful scenery “Land Awakening” proposes a spiritual, timely and concrete message of change in our relationship to the Land where our food comes from.

Documentary deals with financial crisis as a spiritual and cultural problem

Money & Life Trailer from Katie Teague on Vimeo.

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If you really want to understand how the world system works, you must understand money. The amazing documentary, Money & Life, is just the right kind of introduction to comprehend the globalization’s circulatory system. The documentary asks: can we see the economic crisis not as a disaster, but as a tremendous opportunity?

The film hits all the right notes, including using excellent biological metaphors to explain how money works, discussing money as a spiritual phenomena, showing the connection between the ideology of growth and ecological disaster, and proposing concrete alternatives. A must watch.

In their effort to promote the gift economy, you can watch the film online for free here. I encourage you to make a donation to support their work.|

The Sky is Pink: fracking and the information war

THE SKY IS PINK from JFOX on Vimeo.

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Well, right on cue, Gasland director Josh Fox released a new video which serves as an excellent companion to my previous post. The Sky is Pink is a condensed version of Gasland, but updated to target New York governor Andrew Coumo’s efforts to allow fracking in his state. The thing I like about this video is its effort to debunk industry criticisms of Gasland by offering a mini-lesson in media literacy (“the sky is pink” refers to the PR strategy of making false claims that are then covered by news media for the sake of being “balanced”). I think that you will agree that after watching this Tom Ridge and his industry cronies are villains in the truest sense and that independent media makers are heroes!

For more background info about this short film, click here.

Connected: A declaration of interdependence

Connected is a new film by Tiffany Shlain, daughter of the late-great writer Leonard Shlain. I think you will agree that the trailer is a huge tease–this promises to be a fascinating documentary.

In a related project, Shlain is organizing a 3-minute crowd-sourced film, A Declaration of Interdependence. If you want to contribute, follow this link.

You can check out Paul Levinson’s preview of Connected here.

Against the machine: Thoughts on Curtis’ machine trilogy

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 1): “Love and Power”

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 2): “The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts”

All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace (Ep. 3): “The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey”

I just finished watching Adam Curtis‘ epic polemic against the danger and abuse of machine metaphors in our society, “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” (all three episodes are posted above). I’ve been a fan of his quirky documentaries: “Century of the Self” and “The Power of Nightmares” are a grave attacks against the cult of marketing and mass manipulation. This current effort is more complex and nuanced. He documents the folly of different groups extrapolating computer metaphors in order to explain nature and human society. He shows the tremendous irresponsibility of Western powers who have used ecological “holism” to justify imperial ambitions, and fears that environmental movements and social media advocates run the risk of similar metaphor abuse.

Curtis attacks the idea of holism as anti-individual. I don’t think it’s fair, but because it has often been misplaced, to him any invocation of a holistic view of humans is anathema. I find the critique a little too harsh and generalized, although I appreciate some of his attacks. In particular I like his polemic against biology based on theories of the selfish gene. Curtis correctly points out it is a machine metaphor applied to cell biology. There also is a blistering attack against using computer networks to drive the global economy, which again is justified. Finally, he does a good job of showing that these ideas are often subservient to neocolonial ambitions. Fair enough.

It’s hard to tell what exactly what Curtis wants to do with this project. It seems like he is defending Enlightenment principles of the individual against emerging cultural views of interconnectivity. Curtis offers a choice of one against the other, as opposed to trying to find a balance between the two. Moreover, he critiques quite heavily the liberal project of democracy in Africa without acknowledging its roots in Enlightenment concepts of the individual.

Curtis criticizes ecological models based on systems theory as a false solution for global ecology. In response he seems to argue for political and social change–conscious human interventions to solve problems–but then criticizes the revolutions that arose in Eastern Europe because they self-organized with the aid of computers. He argues that those revolutions failed, and in fact have created situations far worse than before. There is some nostalgia, I believe, for good old fashion ideology.

Curtis’ contrarian perspective comes at an interesting time. The Arab awakening, global climate chaos and crashing economies seem to be outgrowths and responses to the Enlightenment project. Are computer networks the engine of change? Or is it that networks have been abused by old thinking and misapplied metaphors? The past colonizes the present. And designs the future.

Curtis casts a wide net, associating Ayn Rand with computer network technology, neoliberal economics, ecology, biology and colonialism. Are these interconnections real? By his own logic, is such a grand conspiracy the result of the kind systems thinking he rails against? I believe much of what Curtis offers is necessary and good for discussion. It certainly slaughters a lot of sacred cows, even though the approach is one of scorched earth. It would be interesting to see Curtis debate Yochai Benkler, who takes an opposite view of networks.

Aesthetically I like the style of his films: the odd mix of kooky ephemeral films juxtaposed to eclectic and often unusual choices in music make his rants a fun romp. One thing is for sure, these documentaries are far from boring.

Media is… a short documentary

Media Is… from Lori H. Ersolmaz on Vimeo.

A few years ago I was interviewed by Lori Ersolmaz for a documentary project about media literacy. Here is a new video,”Media is…,” that she made featuring some sound bites from our original interview. I’m honored that she considers me an “expert”! The video is a nice meditation and I hope you will take a few minutes to watch it and support Lori’s work.

“How to Sell a Banksy”: gatecrashing the art market

How to Sell a Banksy” looks like a fun documentary that pokes fun at the art world. From the film’s Website:

Banksy’s work now reportedly changes hands for millions.
But he puts up his street art for free. Have you ever wondered
what would happen if you got your hands on one of these?
Does it mean you’ve found a winning lottery ticket or just
scraped some worthless crap off a wall?

Going up against the Art Establishment, Critics, Auction Houses,
Gallery Owners and Authentication Boards in a quest for the
elusive meal ticket, two filmmakers unwittingly gatecrash the
murky and protective world of Banksy.

“HOW TO SELL A BANKSY” raises questions of ownership,
authentication and the true value of art itself. Through all the
chaos and incompetence comes a modern-day, true-story,
crime-theft, comedy-caper.

Dangerous children, dangerous minds: getting schooled by the Kogi

Avatar’s global meme about an irresponsible/greedy/childish culture slashing and burning a planetary intelligence has its analog on Earth. So if James Cameron kicked open the pop culture door for this idea to spread through the mediasphere, now it’s time for our world’s indigenous to speak for themselves. Enter the Kogi from Colombia, who ask us to listen with our hearts and minds to their urgent call for human sanity. By using film as their bridging tool, our “elder brothers” are co-authoring Aluna, There is No Life Without Thought, a documentary manifesto designed to wake us up, asking us to think differently about our idiotic and suicidal treatment of the world/selves/others.

As a good background article in the Guardian states,

“Footage of the Kogi conducting rituals beneath a spectacular tree is straight out of Avatar. ‘Avatar has done great work for this,’ (filmmaker Alan) Ereira says. ‘Twenty years ago, the Kogi were pushing on a wheel that had just started to turn. Now that wheel is really rolling and they are part of the zeitgeist.'”

Indeed, but the scene is not out of Avatar; the film scene is from Earth (let’s not mistake the map for the territory!). However, the point is well taken: the wheel is turning. But the Kogi and Avatar can only do so much. You have to help push the wheel, too, internally and in the world at large. The task is vast, but there is one small tidbit from the Guardian story that you might find useful. When asked why it is that the current world system has such strong destructive momentum, Kogi spokesperson Jacinto Zabareta replied,

“Habit… That ambition to have more doesn’t have a framework. It’s just a drive to accumulate. The habit is a competitive one. ‘What everyone else has I must have too, otherwise everyone else has power over me.’ The consequences are evident, but it doesn’t seem obvious to you… You can go and live in space, that’s fine, but you don’t seem to be able to go back to the understanding of how to live harmoniously with the earth. That’s something you’ve forgotten.'”

This insight concurs with the essence of Buddhist teachings about habits of mind that lead to unskilled and confused action in the world. Jacinto, I believe, is asking for a kind of mindfulness that relates to cognitive scientist Francesco J. Varela‘s call for Ethical Know-How: “the progressive, firsthand acquaintance with the virtuality of self.” What he means by this is the age-old problem of duality in which we fail to be mindful of how our thoughts are not embedded within a fictional self, but are the result of an interaction of the world which brings us into existence. Our minds are not isolated, but co-evolve with the world around us. The few statements of the Kogi I’ve read and heard in the trailer seem to imply the same: our thoughts are what bring forth the world. For evidence, look no further than the ecological nightmare our civilization has produced. All is made possible by our ideas, and is a projection of a destructive thought process that simply needs to be reigned in.

Want to change the world? Change your mind. Or at least how you conceive it.

It’s all in the numbers

Too bad Pi‘s Max Cohen (Sean Gullette) didn’t see “Nature By Numbers” (the first embedded video). Maybe he wouldn’t have gone insane! But then again, seeing the beauty and perfection of the cosmos’ sacred geometry has blow many a mind before. Including this one.

Life: The action movie

Can “life” keep up with the creeping cycle of desensitization? This trailer for the Discovery Channel’s new series Life offers an excellent example of how current cinematic time and space differs from unmediated experiences. But then again, editing is all a matter of framing and choice, and the Discovery Channel tends to gear itself towards a theme-park thrill ride aesthetic. A film like Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker would certainly offer a more meditative encounter, as do other more nuanced nature documentaries that can heighten awareness of that which we have become unaware. It is very difficult for us modern folk to enter into the animal’s “umwelt” (selfworld), so cinema has the potential to help in that process (barring, of course, that we actually re-learn how to communicate with animals).

I have a feeling, though, that the action movie style of this promo will be vastly different than the actual show, which is narrated by Oprah Winfrey. African American women have long been a trope for ancient Earth wisdom (the quintessential example would be Whoopi Goldberg’s Guinan character on Star Trek: Next Generation). Moreover, the program’s marketing claims it’s made by the same folks who produced Planet Earth. It’s hard to imagine they would go in the direction of Roland Emmerich (of Day After Tomorrow and 2012 fame). It would be a truly strange mash-up to have Oprah’s reassuring voice overlaying high-intensity action sequences, or the narrator of the above trailer on top of a Tarkovsky clip.


I want to preface my comments by saying that I support the work of Doctors without Borders, and they were the first organization I donated to after the earthquake in Haiti. With that said, I was struck by the above poster I received in my email. It advertises a documentary about their work that will screen worldwide (click her for locations and more information). At first I thought it was just cheeky sales pitch for donations, framing the work of the organization within the narrative structure of an action film. The image reminded me a little of the Constant Gardener, in which Africa becomes the backdrop for purification of the white man’s soul (as is the case of the Western genre of film).
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A gift for the holidays from the media gods

Ever had an idea that someone else executes better than you imagined it? Well, here is one of those situations. The Subconscious Art of Graffiti Removal is one of my favorite short films. For years I have photographed the ephemeral state of street art as if it were an unconscious process of spontaneous creation. This film plays with this idea and does much more with it. Please watch and enjoy!

Media food against media food

Though I haven’t seen Food, Inc., this looks to be another promising documentary about our monocultural food system. The film’s trailer starts off with a quick lesson in media literacy by juxtaposing the images of food market/ing with the reality food production. It should be noted, however, that the top PR and propaganda spinners know that people only remember pictures, and not words. So though the narration does a good job of deconstructing the images of the supermarket, one is still left with the pastoral image of an artificially abundant the food system (I say “artificial” because the high yield monocultural crops we are accustomed to are produced on borrowed time by depending on petroleum-based fertilizer that destroys biodiverse soil– a temporary fix that has long-lasting and destructive consequences on the food chain).

Nonetheless, I really like this sequence and hope the film is as compelling. The montage alludes to a deeper suspicion I have that supermarkets are more effective tools of food system propaganda than media. I urge people to consider the psychological conditioning of the market as one of the primary forms of system architecture.

Mechanized change

I’m not going to argue against green tech– it needs all the energy the economy can muster right now. But I want to caution against technological optimism as the solution for our current ecological crisis. It’s a cultural problem, and I hope that people are not blinded by one-sided change in which tech solutions supplant cultural creativity. Both are necessary, but let’s be sure to reign in the technological mindset that sees all solutions as a matter of switching out machines. We have to move from mechanistic to holistic thinking, from centralized energy production to decentralized network distribution, from international trade to local production, from finance to sweat equity, and so on.

Pirate’s dilemma redux

I think this video does a better job of explaining the Pirate’s Dilemma than the book. The material lends itself to an audiovisual medium, and can spread more rapidly via the net. I’m for the ideas in the book, but I found it a little too superficial and lacking in some good, wholesome theory. But I’m down with the concept, so let the video proliferate and multiply!