Category Archives: Documentaries

The Ken Burns Vietnam War Documentary Glosses Over Devastating Civilian Toll

Nick Turse, author of Kill Anything That Moves, writes for The Intercept:

U.S. Marine stands with Vietnamese children as they watch their house burn after an Allied patrol set it ablaze after finding communist AK-47 ammunition, Jan. 13, 1971. Patrol made up of U.S. Marines and South Vietnamese popular forces searched the village, 25 miles south of Da Nang. (AP Photo/HJ)“I think that when Americans talk about the Vietnam War … we tend to talk only about ourselves. But if we really want to understand it … or try to answer the fundamental question, ‘What happened?’ You’ve got to triangulate,” says filmmaker Ken Burns of his celebrated PBS documentary series “The Vietnam War.” “You’ve got to know what’s going on. And we have many battles in which you’ve got South Vietnamese soldiers and American advisors or … their counterparts and Vietcong or North Vietnamese. You have to get in there and understand what they’re thinking.”

Burns and his co-director Lynn Novick spent 10 years on “The Vietnam War,” assisted by their producer Sarah Botstein, writer Geoffrey Ward, 24 advisors, and others. They assembled 25,000 photographs, feature close to 80 interviews of Americans and Vietnamese, and spent $30 million on the project. The resulting 18-hour series is a marvel of storytelling, something in which Burns and Novick take obvious pride. “The Vietnam War” provides lots of great vintage film footage, stunning photos, a solid Age of Aquarius soundtrack, and plenty of striking soundbites. Maybe this is what Burns means by triangulation. The series seems expertly crafted to appeal to the widest possible American audience. But as far as telling us “what happened,” I don’t see much evidence of that.

Like Burns and Novick, I also spent a decade working on a Vietnam War epic, though carried out on a far more modest budget, a book titled “Kill Anything That Moves.” Like Burns and Novick, I spoke with military men and women, Americans and Vietnamese. Like Burns and Novick, I thought I could learn “what happened” from them. It took me years to realize that I was dead wrong. That might be why I find “The Vietnam War” and its seemingly endless parade of soldier and guerrilla talking heads so painful to watch.



Football’s Greatest: Diego Maradona


Gawker Is Dead, But the Forces That Destroyed It Are Still Very Much Alive

James West writes for Mother Jones:

In June 2016, Gawker Media filed for bankruptcy and put itself up for auction. The company’s high-profile demise came after it lost a $140 million libel lawsuit brought by wrestler Hulk Hogan, whose sex tape had made its way to Gawker‘s readers in 2012.

Soon after the verdict, we found out that PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel—a prominent Trump supporter—was secretly funding the lawsuit in apparent revenge for a 2007 Gawker article outing him as gay. Thiel hated Gawker and its family of blogs. In 2009, Thiel said Valleywag, a tech blog owned by Gawker, possessed the “psychology of a terrorist.”

The mogul called the Hogan verdict “one of my greater philanthropic things that I’ve done.”

A new Netflix film released Friday tracks the bizarre twists and turns of the Gawkercase and its larger-than-life characters—and what happens when a secretive billionaire takes a big grudge to court and wins.

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press also examines this moment of crisis for American newsrooms facing the dual threats of haemorrhaging revenue and public distrust in the time of Trump—and how the likes of Peter Thiel and billionaire casino-owner and conservative donor Sheldon Adelson can take advantage of the crisis for their own purposes.


The History Channel Is Finally Telling the Stunning Secret Story of the War on Drugs

Jon Schwarz reports for The Intercept:

WD_Ross_Rick_26-1497644731Chuck Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa, is known on Twitter for expressing his yearning for the History Channel to finally show some history.

The good news for Grassley, and for everyone else, is that starting Sunday night and running through Wednesday the History Channel is showing a new four-part series called “America’s War on Drugs.” Not only is it an important contribution to recent American history, it’s also the first time U.S. television has ever told the core truth about one of the most important issues of the past 50 years.

That core truth is: The war on drugs has always been a pointless sham. For decades the federal government has engaged in a shifting series of alliances of convenience with some of the world’s largest drug cartels. So while the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since President Richard Nixon first declared the war on drugs in 1971, top narcotics dealers have simultaneously enjoyed protection at the highest levels of power in America.

On the one hand, this shouldn’t be surprising. The voluminous documentation of this fact in dozens of books has long been available to anyone with curiosity and a library card.

Yet somehow, despite the fact the U.S. has no formal system of censorship, this monumental scandal has never before been presented in a comprehensive way in the medium where most Americans get their information: TV.


The Panama Deception

An Academy Award winning 1992 documentary film about the true reasons for the 1989 US invasion of Panama and the complicity of major media organisations in these activities. (IMDb/Wikipedia)

Cracked Actor: 1975 David Bowie Documentary

A BBC documentary that was first aired in January 1975 covering David Bowie’s time in the U.S. during his Diamond Dogs tour. (BBC)

The Empire Files: Steve Bannon Exposé

Steve Bannon has been propelled over the last year from fringe media outlier to top propagandist of the U.S. Empire as Trump’s Chief Strategist. From his Wall Street roots and apocalyptic film career to his cultivation of alt-right bigots at Breitbart News, Abby Martin exposes Bannon’s true character in this explosive documentary. Dissection of Bannon’s ideology of “economic nationalism” and desire to “Make America Great Again” reveals the danger of his hand in Trump’s agenda. (The Empire Files)

Nobody Speak: New Documentary Probes Billionaire Peter Thiel’s Destruction of News Outlet Gawker

Amy Goodman speaks to Brian Knappenberger, the director of the new documetary Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press, which is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival. Last year, the digital media outlet Gawker declared bankruptcy and put itself up for sale after it was ordered to pay $140 million in a lawsuit for publishing the sex tape of wrestler Hulk Hogan. Hogan’s lawsuit was financially backed by Silicon Valley billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel, who was outed as gay by a now-defunct Gawker blog. Knappenberger previously directed The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz and We Are Legion: The Story of the Hacktivists, about the hacker collective Anonymous. (Democracy Now!)

Robert Mercer: The Bizarre Far-Right Billionaire Behind Trump’s Presidency

When all seemed to be falling apart for Donald Trump this summer, shadowy billionaire Robert Mercer offered up his own massive political infrastructure, which included Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway, and saved Trump’s campaign from demise. (The Real News)

Joseph Goebbels’ 105-Year-Old Secretary: ‘No One Believes Me Now, But I Knew Nothing’

Kate Connolly reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Brunhilde Pomsel[…] Brunhilde Pomsel is giving one of the first, and last, in-depth interviews of her life; at the age of 105, and having lost her sight last year, she says she is relieved that her days are numbered. “In the little time that’s left to me – and I hope it will be months rather than years – I just cling to the hope that the world doesn’t turn upside down again as it did then, though there have been some ghastly developments, haven’t there? I’m relieved I never had any children that I have to worry about.”

So what is the motivation for effectively breaking her silence only now, as probably the last living survivor from the Nazi leadership’s inner circle?

“It is absolutely not about clearing my conscience,” she says.

While she admits she was at the heart of the Nazi propaganda machine, with her tasks including massaging downwards statistics about fallen soldiers, as well as exaggerating the number of rapes of German women by the Red Army, she describes it, somewhat bizarrely, as “just another job”.

A German Life, compiled from 30 hours of conversation with her, was recently released at the Munich film festival. It is the reason why she is willing to “politely answer” my questions. “It is important for me, when I watch the film, to recognise that mirror image in which I can understand everything I’ve done wrong,” she says. “But really, I didn’t do anything other than type in Goebbels’ office.”


HyperNormalisation by Adam Curtis

Documentary by British filmmaker Adam Curtis released on 16th October 2016 exclusively on BBC iPlayer. (BBC)

Hate Rising: Jorge Ramos Explores the State of Hate in America

Fushion reports:

A new film, “Hate Rising,” reported by Fusion and Univision anchor Jorge Ramos, shows the astonishing and very concerning rise of hate in America. From the Ku Klux Klan to the so called alt-right movement, white supremacist groups are growing in numbers and influence. Their ideas, usually confined to private and secretive gatherings, are becoming mainstream thanks in part to the rhetoric on the campaign trail this election cycle.

There is a small, radical segment of the white non-hispanic population that feels threatened by the demographic changes in the country and is resisting the possibility of becoming a minority. The Southern Poverty Law Center has dubbed it “the Trump Effect.

Throughout the documentary, Ramos explores the mainstreaming of these ideas on TV and social media, and in our communities and classrooms. Over four months, he traveled to small towns across the nation speaking with neo-Nazis, members of the KKK, and the alt-right. He also heard stories of Muslims and Latinos who have been the victims of hate crimes.


From Slavery to Mass Incarceration, Ava DuVernay’s Film “13th” Examines Racist U.S. Justice System

Amy Goodman speaks to Ava DuVernay, whose new documentary ’13th’ chronicles how the U.S. justice system has been driven by racism from the days of slavery to today’s era of mass incarceration. She also speaks totwo people featured in the film, Malkia Cyril of the Center for Media Justice and Kevin Gannon of Grand View University. As well as Lisa Graves, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy, about how ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) has played a central role in the expansion of the U.S. prison system. (Democracy Now!)

9/11: Press for Truth (Documentary)

A 2006 documentary about the 9/11 victims family members and their fight against the Bush administration to have an investigation held into the attacks, It is directed by Ray Nowosielski and is partially based on the book The Terror Timeline by Paul Thompson.

Olympic Pride, American Prejudice: How 18 Black Olympians Defied Jim Crow and Hitler in 1936

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak to Deborah Riley Draper, writer and director of the documentary Olympic Pride, American Prejudice. (Democracy Now!)

New Hannah Arendt Documentary Is a Warning About the Fascist Within Us All

Chloé Cooper Jones wrote for VICE in April:

My interview with Israeli filmmaker Ada Ushpiz was pushed back an hour so that she could finish watching Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speak on television. “Im sorry,” said Ushpiz, calling from her home in Tel Aviv. “I had to watch. Abbas spoke to the Israelis and said things we’re told all the time he doesn’t say, which is, ‘I want to make peace.’ The discourse is always presented as if Abbas doesn’t want to talk and he’s not interested in a partnership with the Israelis and there is no possibility for peace. But Abbas said, ‘Let‘s sit and talk.’ It was great, you know? I don’t see Netanyahu coming back and saying, ‘OK, let‘s talk.'” Ushpiz let out a weary breath. “No, that will not happen.”

Ada Ushpiz‘s new documentary, Vita Activa: The Spirit of Hannah Arendt, is as much about present-day Islamophobia in Israel and abroad as it is about Arendt. The documentary—showing at New York’s Film Forum through April 19—reminds viewers of Arendt’s urgent relevancy for us today; and it does so without making any explicit political statements. Instead, the film allows Arendt’s decades-old arguments, presented through carefully curated quotes, to linger on the screen, asking the viewer to read, reflect, and perhaps reread before moving on. The restraint is intentional. “I didn’t want to preach,” explained Ushpiz. “But I didn’t stop thinking about our world while I was making the film. I was always thinking about my responsibility in this world.”


Club Class: The Bilderberg Group (2003 BBC Radio 4 Documentary)

‘Brexit: the Movie’ Reveals Why the Upper Classes Are So Excited About the Prospect of Leaving the EU

Sam Kriss writes for VICE:

[…] The first section is actually quite convincing. Producer Martin Durkin (The Great Global Warming Swindle) is trying to blow the lid on the EU’s democratic deficit, its unelected lawmakers, its bubbling mess of councils and commissions. He shows pictures of the bloodless functionaries who run our lives to some Bruxelloises on the street; nobody knows who they are.

But then it starts to go downhill. The story is this. Britain was once an economic powerhouse, a country that freed itself from “suffocating feudal regulation” while Europe was still practicing serfdom. In the 19th century, industry was allowed to thrive without government oversight; we smelted steel, we built ships, we traded with every corner of the world. But thanks to the two world wars, government started taking over the economy. (This is, strangely, presented as the worst thing that happened between 1914 and 1945.) Across Europe, a class of liberal, metropolitan, university-educated elites decided that they knew what was better for us than we did ourselves. And through the EU, they work to snuff out competition, unbalance the playing field, and sink us into a bog of arbitrary regulations to kill off the free enterprise that makes economies thrive. So we have to leave, and be great again on our own.

All this is presented as if it were a matter of undisputed common-sense truth, and it’s possible that some people might be convinced. But there’s more to this message than meets the eye. Most people are receptive to a story about little guys crushed by an indifferent state bureaucracy, but the little guys in the audience at Leicester Square were peers of the realm and Eton boys. There’s an uncomfortable irony in a film raging against the stacked deck of European crony capitalism being screened to an audience full of hereditary aristocrats. They object to an EU elite telling us what to do – so they financed a feature documentary in which they tell us what to do, with their great leaders shot from slightly below, talking down to the mass of voters. The victims of EU regulation here aren’t ordinary workers but businessmen and bosses. They complain that Brussels is interfering in their daily lives because they are the subjects of history, while the rest of us are supposed to cling tight to their coat-tails, pathetically grateful just to be given a job.


The Fierce Courage of Nina Simone

Adam Shatz writes for The New York Review of Books:

Nina Simone performing in the 1960sIn 1968, an interviewer for New York public television asked the singer and pianist Nina Simone what freedom meant to her. “It’s just a feeling,” she replied, seemingly flustered by the question. Then, suddenly, an answer occurred to her. “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me: no fear. I mean really, no fear!”

This exchange appears early in Liz Garbus’s remarkable documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone?, and it’s a startling moment, for if Simone, who died in 2003, conveyed anything on stage, it was fearlessness. Frustrated in her ambition to become a classical pianist, she smuggled Bach into the night club, combined his music with folk, blues, and jazz, and enforced recital hall rules: those who made any noise while she played could expect a cold stare or a tongue-lashing. Her repertoire was catholic—Gershwin, Ellington, Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill, Bob Dylan—but whatever she sang ended up sounding like a Nina Simone tune. She did not so much interpret songs as take possession of them.

Her most famous song, however, was one that she composed herself. “Mississippi Goddam” was written in 1963, the same year as Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” and provided a sharper expression of the mood among young civil rights activists. “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet,” Simone coyly announces, before working herself into a furious assault on white counsels of patience:

Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie
Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You’re all gonna die and die like flies
I don’t trust you any more
You keep on saying, “Go slow!”

The mere fact that Simone dared to say “Mississippi goddam” represented a revolution in black political oratory. As Dick Gregory recalls in Garbus’s film, “We all wanted to say it, but she said it.”

Simone’s courage was undeniable, but it was also a shield, even a mask, designed to protect her from hostile forces, real and imagined. White supremacy was not the only hellhound on her trail. She suffered from bipolar disorder, a condition that remained undiagnosed until the 1980s, when her demons had all but taken over and a Dutch fan saved her from near vagrancy. She had a weakness for tough men and hustlers: “A love affair with fire,” as her daughter Lisa Simone told Garbus. (Lisa Simone is an executive producer of the documentary.)

Simone was also deeply tormented about her desires for women. “I have to live with Nina, and that is very difficult,” she confessed in an interview. Just how difficult is the story of Alan Light’s biography, What Happened, Miss Simone?.


Punk Rock vs Sharia Law in Indonesia

Indonesia’s punk scene is one of the world’s biggest and most vibrant. It’s a place where the country’s silenced youth can revolt against endemic corruption, social conventions and their strict families. But in the world’s largest Islamic nation, political authorities and religious fundamentalists persecute this rebellious youth movement. Nowhere is the anti-punk sentiment stronger than in Aceh, Indonesia’s only Sharia province, where 65 punks were arrested and detained at an Islamic moral training camp in which they had their heads shaved and clothes burnt. We travelled to North Sumatra to track down the last punks in Aceh, who still live under constant threat from the sharia police. (Noisey)

BBC Imagines World War III

Gilbert Doctorow reports for Consortium News:

Now, with a nuclear strike on London imminent, military commanders and senior Government figures in a Whitehall bunker must choose whether to launch our Trident missiles in response, having already decided against a nuclear strike at an earlier stage in the crisisThe documentary film “World War Three: Inside the War Room was described in advance by the BBC as a “war game” detailing the minute-by-minute deliberations of the country’s highest former defense and security officials facing an evolving crisis involving Russia.

What gave unusual realism and relevance to their participation is that they were speaking their own thoughts, producing their own argumentation, not reading out lines handed to them by television script writers.

The mock crisis to which they were reacting occurs in Latvia as the Kremlin’s intervention on behalf of Russian speakers in the south of this Baltic country develops along lines of events in the Donbas as from summer 2014. When the provincial capital of Daugavpils and more than 20 towns in the surrounding region bordering Russia are taken by pro-Russian separatists, the United States calls upon its NATO allies to deliver an ultimatum to the Russians to pull back their troops within 72 hours or be pushed out by force.

This coalition of the willing only attracts the British. After the deadline passes, the Russians “accidentally” launch a tactical nuclear strike against British and American vessels in the Baltic Sea, destroying two ships with the loss of 1,200 Marines and crew on the British side. Washington then calls for like-for-like nuclear attack on a military installation in Russia, which, as we understand, leads to full nuclear war.

The show was aired on Feb. 3 by BBC Two, meaning it was directed at a domestic audience, not the wider world. However, in the days since its broadcast, it has attracted a great deal of attention outside the United Kingdom, more in fact than within Britain. The Russians, in particular, adopted a posture of indignation, calling the film a provocation.



Snowden Chronicler Laura Poitras Reveals Her Own Life Under Surveillance

Andy Greenberg writes for Wired:

laura-poitras-h_14755573Laura Poitras has a talent for disappearing. In her early documentaries like My Country, My Country and The Oath, her camera seems to float invisibly in rooms where subjects carry on intimate conversations as if they’re not being observed. Even in Citizenfour, the Oscar-winning film that tracks her personal journey from first contact with Edward Snowden to releasing his top secret NSA leaks to the world, she rarely offers a word of narration. She appears in that film exactly once, caught as if by accident in the mirror of Snowden’s Hong Kong hotel room.

Now, with the opening of her multi-media solo exhibit, Astro Noise, at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art this week, Snowden’s chronicler has finally turned her lens onto herself. And she’s given us a glimpse into one of the darkest stretches of her life, when she wasn’t yet the revelator of modern American surveillance but instead its target.

The exhibit is vast and unsettling, ranging from films to documents that can be viewed only through wooden slits to a video expanse of Yemeni sky which visitors are invited to lie beneath. But the most personal parts of the show are documents that lay bare how excruciating life was for Poitras as a target of government surveillance—and how her subsequent paranoia made her the ideal collaborator in Snowden’s mission to expose America’s surveillance state.


Untouchable Big Oil Threatens All Life On Earth

In this episode of The Empire Files, Abby Martin looks at how all life on Earth is threatened by catastrophic climate change and Big Oil (the main culprit) is so powerful that the U.S. government is setup to serve it, rather than regulate it. The episode includes interview with Antonia Juhasz and Greg Palast. (The Empire Files)

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz is a 2014 American biographical documentary film about Aaron Swartz written, directed, and produced by Brian Knappenberger. The film depicts the life of American computer programmer, writer, political organizer, and Internet activist Aaron Swartz who committed suicide on 11 January 2013. (Wikipedia)

Phone Hackers: Britain’s Secret Surveillance

IMSI catchers are portable surveillance tools used for spying on thousands of phones in a targeted area, tracking their location and even intercepting calls, messages, and data. They are supposed to help identify serious criminals, but cannot operate without monitoring innocent people too. UK police have IMSI catchers, but they refuse to tell the public how and when they are used. This has privacy campaigners worried. And, even if the state is using them sparingly, what if criminals also have access to the technology? VICE News searches London for IMSI catchers, then goes shopping at a state security fair, and finally finds a shady technology company who’ll sell us the spy gear. (VICE News)

TRAILER – Freeway: Crack in the System


Directed by Marc Levin, Freeway: Crack in the System tells the true story of Freeway Rick Ross and the players that tell how crack cocaine destroyed neighborhoods and lives through the CIA Contra connection featuring exclusive interviews with journalist Gary Webb, Jesse Katz, source Coral Baca, former Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff Robert Juarez, drug trafficker Julio Zavala and many others. (Al Jazeera America)

Inside Saudi Arabia: Butchery, Slavery and History of Revolt

In episode 005 of The Empire Files, Abby Martin looks at Saudi Arabia, the new head of the United Nations panel on Human Rights. Abby takes a look inside the brutal reality of this police-state monarchy, and tells the untold people’s history of resistance to it. With a major, catastrophic war in Yemen and looming high-profile executions of activists, she exposes true nature of the U.S.-Saudi love affair. (The Empire Files)

John Pilger’s Film “Cambodia Year Zero” Named One Of ITV’S Greatest Programs

CounterPunch reports:

On the 60th anniversary of the founding of ITV, Britain’s and Europe’s biggest commercial broadcaster, John Pilger’s groundbreaking film, ‘Year Zero: the Silent Death of Cambodia’, has been named as one of the network’s 60 top programmes.

‘Cambodia Year Zero’, as it became known, was credited with alerting the world to the suffering of the people of Cambodia under the fanatical regime of Pol Pot. It raised tens of millions of dollars   for Cambodia’s children – mostly unsolicited – and became the most watched documentary throughout the world.


Khodorkovsky film focuses on Putin’s bond with Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov

Isabel Gorst reports for The Irish Times:

Head of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov: controls an 80,000-strong paramilitary group which has displaced Russian federal troops as the guarantor of Chechnya’s security. Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty ImagesMikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former Russian oligarch, has released a documentary film that challenges the Kremlin to rein in Ramzan Kadyrov, the strongman leader of Chechnya, claiming he rules the mainly Muslim republic in Russia’s North Caucasus as a personal feudal kingdom.

The Family , a documentary made by Khodorkovsky’s Open Russia foundation and posted online on Monday, focuses on alleged human rights abuses in Chechnya, including arbitrary arrests, kidnappings and torture.

It also explores the relationship between Vladimir Putin and the controversial Kadyrov, whom the Russian president has said he regards as “a son”.’


The War Party ~ 2003 BBC Panorama Documentary on the Neocons

‘They brought us war against Iraq – what do the hawks in Washington have in store for us now? Panorama investigates the “neo-conservatives”, the small and unelected group of right-wingers, who critics claim have hijacked the White House. Throughout the war with Iraq, Steve Bradshaw was with the neocons in Washington – discovering whether they’re really trying to run the world the American way.’ (BBC Panorama)