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Movies That Could Change The World: The Best Non-Fiction Films of 2015
| by Tench Phillips, Naro Cinema
The total number of documentaries that passed the criteria for submission to the M.P.A.A. for Oscar consideration this year was 124 titles. A number way too large for any one person to view. It has been whittled down by Academy members who sit on the selection committee to 15 films known as the Oscar shortlist. The title names can be viewed at the website www.oscar.org. The shortlist will be reduced to a final five nominees for Best Documentary and will be announced along with all the other category nominations on Jan. 14.
Most of the docs shortlisted for an Oscar have received their local premiere at the Naro. A few have yet to open here but will be dated soon. Many of the films played in our ongoing “New Non-Fiction Film” series on Wednesday nights and includes a post-film audience discussion led by informed facilitators, scholars, and speakers. These public forums allow for a lively conversation about the issues raised in the films and how they relate to our own community.
Many of the issues addressed in these docs receive scant attention in the mainstream media. They are ignored for numerous reasons. Some are deemed too critical of American foreign policy. Other issues not receiving in-depth coverage in the corporate press include the inner workings of predatory capitalism, Wall Street, big banks, corporate malfeasance, trade agreements, and Congressional complicity. Independent documentaries have grown to fill the vacuum created by media inattention.
Below is a list of some of the deserving docs that showed at the Naro Cinema over the past year. My film choices are grouped into three categories and are listed in no particular order of preference.
Filmgoers who missed seeing these films on the big screen have a second chance to view them on DVD when they show up next door on the shelves of Naro Video. These important films have the potential to enlighten our society. If only they could reach a wider audience.
Best Docs of 2015: Arts and Sciences
MERU Filmmaker and mountain climber Jimmy Chin and his friends tackle the ‘unreachable’ summit of Meru in the Indian Himalayans – not once but twice. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
AMY Six-time Grammy winner Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning in July 2011 at the age of 27. Director and long-time friend Asif Kapadia reveals Amy in her own words. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION This is a loving tribute from Ethan Hawke of Seymour Bernstein – virtuoso pianist, veteran New Yorker, and wisdom teacher.
THE WRECKING CREW The unheralded musicians of Los Angeles created the beats and melodies of the great pop hits of the ’60s.
MONK WITH A CAMERA Nicholas (Nicky) Vreeland walked away from his rich and famous life and for the past twenty-eight years has lived in India as a Tibetan Buddhist monk.
MEET THE PATELS This romantic-comedy documentary is directed by first-generation Indian-American siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
Best Docs of 2015: Environmental Justice
BLOOD ON THE MOUNTAIN A searing indictment of the injustices by the coal industry from decades of exploitation in Appalachia.
MERCHANTS OF DOUBT A journey into the dark heart of the American propaganda machine that spins corporate exploitation and climate change.
PLANETARY The film illuminates the statement “We have not only an ecological crisis… but also a kind of story crisis. That is to say there’s something very wrong about the way that we understand who we are, and our relationship with the Earth.”
ANTARCTIC EDGE A thrilling journey to the world's most perilous environment, we join a team of world-class scientists as they explore the fastest warming place on earth: the West Antarctic Peninsula.
THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING: Capitalism vs The Climate Activist and author Naomi Kline asks “What if confronting the climate crisis is the best chance we’ll ever get to build a better world?”
THE CREEPING GARDEN A real life science fiction movie explores the work of fringe scientists, mycologists, philosophers, and artists – and their relationship with the extraordinary plasmodial slime mold.
BIKES VS CARS Urban biking offers a sustainable option for the gridlock caused by over one billion cars in the world – but it will require grassroots organizing to transform the institutionalized power structure of car transportation.
PLANT PURE NATION When nutritional scientist and author T. Colin Campbell inspires a Kentucky politician to propose a pilot program documenting the health benefits of a plant-based diet, they expose powerful forces within government and industry threatened by the economics of a healthy diet.
PELICAN DREAMS Why do we need wildness in our lives, and how can we protect it? Sometimes referred to as “flying dinosaurs”, pelicans have an ancient magic about them.
THE GREAT INVISIBLE The true story of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico is both a fascinating corporate thriller and a heartbreaking human drama.
Best Docs of 2015: Social Justice
WE COME AS FRIENDS At the moment when the Sudan, the continent’s biggest country, is being divided into two nations, an old pathology of Western colonialism re-emerges. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION The resurgent demands by “Black Lives Matter” for justice and racial equality were birthed in the 1960s by a cast of larger-than-life personalities including: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver, and Fred Hampton.
THE LOOK OF SILENCE In filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer's powerful companion piece to the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, he returns to Indonesia at great risk to expose the legacy of the country’s unacknowledged genocide. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
DO I SOUND GAY? The social and personal ramifications of “the gay voice”are examined in this far-reaching film.
3 & 1/2 MINUTES, TEN BULLETS The shooting death of a young Florida teenager in a car parked in a Florida gas station by a white middle-aged man who used the state "Stand Your Ground" law for his criminal defense. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
FOOD CHAINS There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is little concern for the poor farmworkers who pick and ship it to us. The Fair Food Program partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers.
CARTEL LAND Intrepid filmmaker Matthew Heineman embeds himself in the drug wars to make this dangerous film about two growing vigilante movements in Mexico and Arizona. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
OUR MAN IN TEHRAN This is the true story behind the Oscar-winning drama Argo, as told by the participants in the daring rescue of the American diplomats who were hidden by the Canadian government in their Embassy in Tehran in 1980.
BURDEN OF PEACE The recent arrest on corruption charges of Guatemala’s sitting president Molina is unprecedented and was the result of the courageous work of Claudia Paz y Paz, the country’s first woman Public Prosecutor.
BEST OF ENEMIES In the summer of 1968, ABC ratings soared when they pitted partisan intellectuals William F. Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal against each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
THE YES MEN ARE REVOLTING For two decades, the Yes Men have pulled off elaborate media hoaxes to draw international attention to environmental and social crimes perpetrated by Shell Oil, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Congress.
THE WOLFPACK Locked away from society in an apartment on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the Angulo brothers learn about the outside world through the films that they watch and act out.
THE SALT OF THE EARTH Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, documenting an ever-changing humanity for over forty years.
THE HUNTING GROUND A startling expose of rape crimes on US campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll that they take on students and their families. Selected for Oscar shortlist.
SHE’S BEAUTIFUL WHEN SHE’ ANGRY All but forgotten, the fiery woman’s movement of the sixties has been rekindled through archival footage that traces the development of the National Organization for Women (NOW).
REMOTE AREA MEDICINE The non-profit RAM produces health and dental clinics throughout the Appalachia for rural people desperate for healthcare. The urgent call for Medicaid expansion in Virginia has never been better illustrated.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
ROSENWALD Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the son of an immigrant peddler, rose to head the Sears retailing chain. He partnered in the early 1900s with Booker T. Washington to eventually build 5,400 Southern schools in African American communities during the Jim Crow era. The Rosenwald Fund supported great artists like Marian Anderson, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, and Gordon Parks. Among those interviewed are civil rights leaders Julian Bond, Congressman John Lewis, columnists Eugene Robinson and Clarence Page, and Rosenwald school alumni writer Maya Angelou. Shows Wed, Dec 16 with filmmaker Aviva Kempner in attendance.
HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT In 1962 Hitchcock and Truffaut locked themselves away in Hollywood for a week to excavate the secrets behind the mise-en-scène in cinema. Based on the original recordings of this meeting, this film illustrates the greatest cinema lesson of all time and plummets us into the world of the creator of Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo. Shows Wed, Jan 6 with speakers and discussion.
FIRSTLOOK FILM FORUM – WINTER SEASON Join a discriminating group of cinephiles on designated Sunday mornings to share brunch and conversation, and then to preview and discuss an advance screening of a critically praised independent or foreign film before it opens locally for its regular engagement. Winter season starts Sunday, Jan 10. Get details at www.narocinema.com.
PEGGY GUGGENHEIM: ART ADDICT Peggy Guggenheim was an heiress to a huge family fortune that she used to became a central figure in the modern art movement. As she moved through the cultural upheaval of the 20th century, she collected not only art, but artists. Her colorful personal history included such figures as Samuel Beckett, Max Ernst, Jackson Pollock, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp as well as countless others. While fighting through personal tragedy, she maintained her vision to build one of the most important collections of modern art, now enshrined in her Venetian palazzo. Shows Tues, Jan 12 and presented with Chrysler Museum.
THE WINDING STREAM The source of American root music is in the Appalachian foothills of Virginia where the Carter Family made their mark as early stars of recorded country music. Their legacy continues to this day with the music of Rosanne Cash, daughter of June Carter and Johnny Cash. Shows Wed, June 13 with an evening of film and a live musical tribute by Jim Newsom of Mountaintide and friends.
Urban Cyclists Battle Carmageddon
By Tench Phillips
It was recently announced that the American Planning Association (APA) has designated our very own Colley Avenue as the winner of the “People’s Choice” award as one of the Great Places in America in 2015. This recognition vindicates a lifetime commitment by Naro Cinema and Naro Video to the prosperity and vitality of the Ghent community. Over the years we have tried to put into practice our vision of progressive values by programming quality art films and by producing grassroots live events. Of course our business efforts have been reciprocated by the loyalty of our patrons. We hope that our community’s mutual commitment will continue well into the future as we all try to navigate the uncharted waters created by the web and media platform change.
Although the Colley Ave corridor has now been nationally recognized for having accommodated pedestrians, outdoor cafes, and a vibrant street life – the city has not implemented the infrastructure and lane designations necessary for the safety of commuter bicycling on Colley Ave. Even though Norfolk’s older street grid system and sidewalk design has served pedestrians well, bicycling through the city against heavy car traffic can be risky business. Too many cyclists are being injured in accidents on our city streets.
It’s not as if our city fathers haven’t heard about this from their constituents. They have been lobbied for years by grassroots groups and activists. A leading bicycle enthusiast and local organizer is Jonathan Nye, founder of ecocycling.com, a volunteer organization he directs that offers cycling excursions, group rides, and ecological trainings. For years Jonathan and others have attempted to make our streets more bicycle-friendly.
And now it looks like the persistent efforts of Norfolk’s eco-activists have finally paid off. The city has funded an urban design firm to research and create a plan that draws upon successful projects in various bike-friendly cities. The Norfolk Bicycle and Pedestrian Strategic Plan offers recommendations to improve 12 key corridors identified as critical to developing an interlocking city bicycle network. These corridors connect important destinations throughout the city and include: Granby Street, Ocean View Avenue, Azalea Garden Road, Chesapeake Boulevard, Cape Henry Avenue and Colley Avenue.
The comprehensive plan is quite impressive and can be viewed online. It includes bike lanes and two-way paths that run parallel to roadways. It is now in its final stage of approval and is being submitted to City Planning and then to the City Council for a vote on Tuesday, Dec 8. All are invited to attend the meeting and show their support.
The infrastructure for bicycle commuting will come none too soon for our area. Most of the urban centers of the world are way ahead of us. We will see just how much so in the new documentary ‘Bicycles vs Cars’ showing on Wed, Dec 9 in our ‘New Non-Fiction Film’ series. This multi-national production was directed by Fredrik Gertten who was born in Copenhagen. He has used his hometown as a model city where forty percent of the population commutes by bike. In fact more people commute by bike in Copenhagen than all of the U.S.!
We know that the obstacles blocking the transformation of our cities in this country are huge. The auto industry is at the epicenter of our economic system and the forces-that-be don’t want the disruption of structural change. And yet all of us are complicit in perpetuating the culture of cars, and we are invested in our lifestyle. It’s when we’re sitting in traffic gridlock and we get time to reflect on our predicament that we realize just how destructive our cars are for the environment, for our own health, and for our pocketbooks.
Filmmaker Gertten cites his passion for a radical shift in consciousness as the impetus for making ’Bicycles vs Cars’ and offers this explanation: “In a way, I made this film for people who started to bike and then got politicized. You had, I think, nine deaths in one month in London. These non-political people start to bike and then start to ask themselves, ‘Why is this so poorly designed? Why aren’t cities designed for me?’”
‘Bicycles vs Cars’ makes it plain that there’s a war going on daily on our city streets. Cars are hostile to bikes – and that’s bad news for the people who ride them. It’s now only a matter of time before Norfolk makes the necessary quantum leap forward. If the city fathers do not willingly act on the proposed street improvements in a timely manner, it will soon become an issue that will be forced upon them by the growing legends of bicycle advocates.
Cities have been designed for cars. But cars are not designed for life. Bicycles are a sustainable mode of transportation that enriches our relationship with nature and with our city. After viewing the film we will hear from planners and innovators in our area who will lead a discussion.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
Adapted by director Gabriel Axel from Isak Dinesen’s short novel, this has become a perennial Naro favorite at Thanksgiving. The beautiful but pious sisters Martine and Philippa grow to spinsterhood under the wrathful eye of their strict pastor father on the forbidding and desolate coast of Jutland, until one day, Philippa’s former suitor sends a Parisian refugee named Babette (Stéphane Audran) to serve as the family cook. Babette’s lavish celebratory banquet tempts the family’s dwindling congregation, who abjure such fleshly pleasures as fine foods and wines. (1988) ‘Faith In Film’ is hosted by Scott Hennessy, a film buff and teacher, and the spiritual leader of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Shows Tuesday, Nov 24.
The successful career of 1940s screenwriter Dalton Trumbo (played by Bryan Cranston) comes to a crushing end when he and other Hollywood figures are blacklisted for their socialist beliefs and for their activism in defending the rights of union workers. Trumbo (directed by Jay Roach) tells the story of his fight against the U.S. government and studio bosses in a war over words and freedom. Trumbo refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee. He emerged from prison blacklisted as a Communist. But he fought back by continuing to write screenplays under false names, winning Oscars for Spartacus and Exodus in the process. His intellectual life entangled everyone in Hollywood from Hedda Hopper (played by Helen Mirren) and John Wayne to Kirk Douglas and Otto Preminger. Opens Wed, Nov 25.
BIKES VS CARS
In a world of ever-growing pollution and traffic chaos, urban biking offers a sustainable option for change. But entrenched city planning contributes to daily death among our urban bicyclists. Although safe lanes are demanded, it’s’s an uneven fight. Activists working for change face the power of transnational auto, oil, and construction industries that spend billions lobbying Congress and advertising to consumers so as to keep us all car dependent. We know that the world needs radical change to save the climate and the environment, but the car industry is selling more cars than ever. Today there are one billion cars in the world. By 2020, that number will double. This European documentary features bike activists in Sao Paulo and Los Angeles who are fighting for the rights of bicyclists. The filmmakers travel the world for solutions, and find real progress in Copenhagen, where forty percent of the citizens commute by bike daily. With speakers and discussion. Shows Wed, Dec 9.
Premiere of the 6th Season of Downton Abbey
Join WHRO to view the first hour of the beloved PBS series. Come dressed as your favorite Downton character! This is a free event but to get tickets go to WHRO.org/events to reserve your seat. Doors open at 6:30pm with an introduction by the top brass of WHRO at 7:00pm. Shows Tuesday, Dec 15.
Chicago philanthropist Julius Rosenwald, the son of an immigrant peddler, rose to head Sears, partnered with Booker T. Washington to build 5,400 Southern schools in African American communities in the early 1900s during the Jim Crow era. Rosenwald also built YMCAs and housing for African Americans to address the pressing needs of the Great Migration. The Rosenwald Fund supported great artists like Marian Anderson, Woody Guthrie, Langston Hughes, Gordon Parks, and Jacob Lawrence. Among those interviewed are civil rights leaders Julian Bond, Ben Jealous and Congressman John Lewis, columnists Eugene Robinson and Clarence Page, Cokie Roberts, Rabbi David Saperstein, Rosenwald school alumni writer Maya Angelou and director George C. Wolfe and Rosenwald relatives. Filmmaker Aviva Kempner will be in attendance to introduce her film and lead discussion. Shows on Wed, Dec 16.
ALL THINGS MUST PASS
Established in 1960, Tower Records was once a retail powerhouse with two hundred stores, in thirty countries, on five continents. From humble beginnings in a small-town drugstore, Tower Records eventually became the heart and soul of the music world, and a powerful force in the music industry. In 1999, Tower Records made $1 billion. In 2006, the company filed for bankruptcy. What went wrong? Everyone thinks they know what killed Tower Records: The Internet. But that’s not the whole story. The film explores the iconic company’s explosive trajectory, tragic demise, and legacy forged by its rebellious founder Russ Solomon. Date to be announced.
Legacy of Neocons: A Worldwide Refugee Crisis
| by Tench Phillips, Naro Cinema
Reprinted from Veer Magazine, Sept. 2015
In the anticipation leading up to the release this fall of Michael Moore’s first new film in six years, Where To Invade Next?, the Naro brings a series of new documentaries that explore the consequences of recent U.S. foreign policy decisions around the world. For the past 50 years neoconservative policy has dominated Congress and the administrations of both political parties. The warmongers also inhabit the halls of the State Dept and of course The Pentagon. Theirs is a belief in American empire and an endorsement of military violence at the expense of detente and economic aid. It has worked splendidly well for the benefit of big defense contractors and for Wall Street. But not so well for the countries being invaded – their economies, their infrastructures, and their people suffer greatly.
Civilians can make up to 90% of the total number of casualties of the wars waged today. And the countries being invaded may continue to suffer long after the Americans leave. The internal ethnic wars instigated by Western countries in the Middle East and in numerous African countries can rage on for years. And these wars often cause internal and trans-border migrations by desperate people seeking asylum. In the case of the Iraqi invasion, over 4 million people were initially displaced and the numbers are greater now. Some of these so-called migrants – the label that the mainstream media use as a euphemism for the refugees that they really are – are now washing up on the shores of Europe. Many are crossing borders by hiding in the backs of trucks. They’re coming from poor, violent countries and are seeking refuge in Europe and the U.S.
The proto-fascist movements within right-wing parties throughout Europe and the U.S. have exploited people’s innate fear and ignorance for their own political gain. Rather than offer equitable solutions for a sustainable world, many candidates choose instead to scapegoat immigrants and poor minorities as a campaign strategy. Nothing new, it’s been done for decades. But the adverse effect upon people’s attitudes is more powerful than ever due to the complicity of mainstream media in the shaping of the political debate.
Since the year of my birth in 1950, the U.S. has invaded, bombed, or attempted to overthrow more than twenty countries including Libya (2011), Iraq (2003-present), Afghanistan (2001-present), Haiti (1994), Kuwait (1991), Panama (1989), Grenada (1983), Dominican Republic (1965), Cuba (1961), and Vietnam (1961-1973). And that’s not counting all the covert CIA operations that have destabilized democratically elected governments in Chile, Guatemala, Honduras, and Venezuela to name just a few. Nor does it include the covert funding of antidemocratic regimes and dictatorships in Iran, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. In fact the ongoing Saudi invasion of Yemen is a proxy war being funded and armed by U.S. mega-sales to the Saudis. Not to mention the resulting humanitarian crisis in Yemen that has been created with U.S. backing.
The unspoken mission of the U.S. corporate-military state is to dominate and control the world’s resources for the benefit of American multi-nationals. President Obama’s high-tech drone strikes have opened up new territories within countries that we’re not even at war with as in Pakistan. Of course this can all get very complicated if China or Russia are also in the same region with conflicting interests. A recent example is the U.S.-backed coup in the Ukraine that resulted in the Russian invasion of Crimea and a proxy civil war that has devastated parts of eastern Ukraine.
There is a direct connection between U.S. foreign policy and the economic and racial injustice found here in our own urban ghettos. The trillions of dollars spent on national defense, homeland security, and the ongoing drug war has stolen from our citizens the benefit of social programs, health care, quality education, and stable employment. When the biggest job programs in the country turns out to be military induction as well as prison incarceration, then it becomes painfully obvious that our socioeconomic model is unsustainable.
The ongoing Wednesday night ‘New Non-Fiction Film’ series will include several films that reveal the true cost of our country’s overseas adventures. The acclaimed new film The Look of Silence investigates Indonesia, a country shaped over the years by the genocide perpetrated on its people during the 1960s by the military dictatorship with U.S. backing. We Come As Friends is filmed in war-torn Sudan where multinationals are maneuvering for ownership of natural resources. The forces of neocolonialism by both the U.S. and China are carving Africa’s largest country into two. Burden of Peace exposes the legacy of the U.S.-backed Guatemalan military dictatorship and its massive genocide of indigenous Mayan peoples. As one of the only countries to have ever indicted and convicted its own political leaders, there is much to learn in this up-to-date film about a powerful social justice movement. The ultimate message of these films are full of hope and enlightenment.
I want to believe that if Americans really understood the true legacy of our country’s complicity in these atrocities that they would call for an end to our continued military adventures. These upcoming films shine a ray of truth on the dark underside of an America that too often glorifies military conquest and sanitizes the suffering of millions.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
BEST OF ENEMIES In the summer of 1968, television news changed forever. Dead last in the ratings, ABC hired two towering public intellectuals to debate each other during the Democratic and Republican national conventions. William F. Buckley Jr. was a leading light of the new conservative movement. A liberal Democrat and cousin to Jackie Onassis, Gore Vidal was a leftist novelist and polemicist. Live and unscripted, they kept viewers riveted. Showing Wed, Sept 16.
Kahil Gibran’s THE PROPHET written by celebrated Lebanese-American author Kahlil Gibran, is among the most popular volumes of poetry ever written, selling over 100 million copies in forty languages since its publication in 1923. This animated feature was produced by Salma Hayek and directed by Roger Allers (The Lion King). Opening Friday, Sept 18.
REMBRANDT: From The National Gallery London and Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam For many art lovers, Rembrandt is the greatest artist that ever lived. This recent landmark exhibition focuses on the masterworks he painted in his final years. The filmmakers gained unlimited access to these two world renowned institutions, the film uses interviews with curators and leading art historians, this new film seeks to explore the truth about the man behind the legend. Showing Tuesday, Sept 22 in ‘Exhibition On Screen’ series with Chrysler Museum.
THE REFLEKTOR TAPES: ARCADE FIRE One of the most popular bands of the last decade, Arcade Fire’s last album Reflektor climbed to the top of the charts internationally. This film documents the band’s creative journey as they lay foundations for the album in Jamaica, record in a studio in Montreal, and play an impromptu gig at a Haitian hotel on the first night of Carnival, before bringing their breath-taking live show to packed arenas in Los Angeles and London. Showing Wed, Sept 23.
PAWN SACRIFICE In 1972, Bobby Fischer faced the Soviet Union in the greatest chess match ever played. On the board he fought the Cold War. In his mind he fought his own madness. In a gripping true story set during the height of the Cold War, American chess prodigy Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) finds himself caught between two superpowers when he challenges the Soviet Empire. Directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, Blood Diamond), Pawn Sacrifice chronicles Fischer's terrifying struggles with genius and madness, and the rise and fall of a kid from Brooklyn who captured the imagination of the world. Also starring Liev Schreiber and Peter Sarsgaard. Opening Friday, Sept 25.
PLANT PURE NATION This new film from the makers of the game-changing phenomenon, Forks Over Knives, tells the story of three committed people on a quest to spread the message of one of the most important health breakthroughs of our time. When nutritional scientist and author T. Colin Campbell inspires a Kentucky politician to propose a pilot program documenting the health benefits of a plant-based diet, they inadvertently set in motion a series of events that expose powerful industry forces opposed to the program. Dr. Campbell’s oldest son Nelson decides to try his own grassroots approach in his hometown of Mebane, North Carolina. Showing Wed, Sept 30.
MEET THE PATELS This romantic-comedy documentary directed by first-generation Indian-American siblings Geeta and Ravi Patel. Ravi is soon-to-be-thirty and in search of love after a difficult breakup. The journey takes him all the way to India, where nonstop pressure from his parents and traditional family gradually influence him into the awkward and hopeful prospect of a semi-arranged marriage. Date to be announced.
THE LOOK OF SILENCE This is filmmaker Joshua Oppenheimer's powerful companion piece to the Oscar-nominated The Act of Killing, a film that featured the perpetrators of the 1965 Indonesian genocide (a military regime backed by the U.S.). When the film was shown a few years ago thought the country, a family of survivors discovered how their son was murdered, as well as the identities of the killers. The youngest son, an optometrist named Adi, confronts the men who killed his brother and, while testing their eyesight, asks them to confess and accept responsibility for their actions. Werner Herzog and Errol Morris are the film’s Executive Producers. Showing Wed, Oct 7.
THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION In order to be able to understand the incendiary racial landscape of contemporary America, the history of the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party must be rediscovered. The resurgent demands by “Black Lives Matter” for justice and racial equality were birthed in the 1960s by a cast of larger-than-life personalities including: Huey Newton, Bobby Seale, Eldridge, Kathleen Cleaver, and Fred Hampton. Showing Wed, Oct 14.
WE COME AS FRIENDS At the moment when the Sudan, the continent’s biggest country, is being divided into two nations, an old pathology has re-emerged of western colonialism, the clash of empires, and new episodes of bloody (and holy) wars over land and resources. Showing Wed, Oct 21.
BURDEN OF PEACE Claudia Paz y Paz is the first woman to lead the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala. A country that has systematically massacred nearly 200,000 Mayan Indians with the direct backing of the United States. Her office has recently indicted the country’s President. Showing Wed, Oct 28.
Media Monopoly Versus A Free Press
By Tench Phillips, Veer – May 2015
“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
– A. J. Liebling
We’ve come to take for granted the mergers by media companies in this country over the years. It’s supposed to foster greater efficiency and higher Wall Street prices, right? But this consolidation of media power into the hands of only a few large corporations has allowed for unprecedented commercial and state control of the public dialogue and of the flow of information. In fact political philosopher Naom Chomsky asserts “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.”
Consolidation has also allowed for large, distant companies to control much of the information that comes into our communities. Here in Hampton Roads, most of the home television and radio stations are owned by large broadcast conglomerates with multiple stations in numerous other cities. There is little allegiance to our community from these companies other than as another market to be exploited for company profits. Our area’s citizens are perceived as consumers whose statistics can be compiled and offered up to advertisers for the marketing of their commercial messages. A comprehensive listing of our area’s radio and TV stations showing detailed information about ownership can be found at http://hamptonroads.vartv.com.
Other area media monopolies include the cable and telecommunications companies providing pipelines to our homes and businesses. With so little competition and choice, Cox and Verizon have been able to charge premium prices for internet service and cable channels.
Local newspapers have maintained monopoly presences here for years. The Daily Press operates on the Peninsula and is owned by the Chicago-based multi-media company, Tribune Media. In contrast, The Virginian Pilot is still managed by the locally owned media company Landmark Communications. But this could change at any time since the owners readily acknowledge that they have tried unsuccessfully for years to divest their holdings and find a media conglomerate to buy the paper for the right price.
It wasn’t always like this. In the early part of the last century, the government strictly regulated the public airwaves and limited the number of news sources that a company could own. The role of a local independent press was considered by the founders to be vital for the democratic process. They believed that the press served as a guarantee for the free flow of trusted information and as a watchdog for the abuses of government and corporate power.
But the potential for ever greater corporate profits began to erode the principal of media “localism”. The deregulation championed under Ronald Reagan’s administration accelerated under Clinton. It was sealed with The Telecommunications Act of 1996 that allowed for multiple media outlets to be owned by the same company. Over the last few decades anti-monopoly legislation has systematically been dismantled in this country within all industrial and financial sectors. But the media is not just another industry and the role of a free and independent press is imperative for a democratic society.
A feeding frenzy of big media consolidation has continued unabated even though the politicized FCC has offered some resistance. Today there are just six behemoths that own and control 90% of what we read, what we watch, and what we listen to. These giant content providers also own much of the cable infrastructure. They include Comcast and Warner Brothers (whose recent cable mega-merger was finally abandoned after mounting opposition), along with Murdock’s News Corp, Disney, Viacom, and CBS. These companies own the television networks, publishing houses, and most of the cable stations. They also own the six major Hollywood studios – Paramount, Sony Pictures, Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, and 20th Century Fox. With such corporate control, there’s little wonder that there are so many sequels and so little narrative diversity to be found in movie theaters today.
These companies decide which news events will receive coverage and which ones will be ignored. Try to find independent progressive voices who are allowed to challenge the corporate narrative presented on any of those news shows. The corporate media is the tail that wags the dog. It’s a top-down, hierarchal view of the world delivered from an ideological corporate perch. Only occasionally is big media forced to cover issues in the interests of the country’s poor and minority communities. As when the coverage of recent violence in urban ghettoes of Ferguson and Baltimore has exposed decades of economic inequality and racism by the police.
Reportage on U.S. foreign policy is even worse. The bias of American empire is the media lens through which international events are perceived and interpreted. Whether it’s coverage of the fighting in the Ukraine, the war on ISIS, the numerous civil wars fueled by American interventionism which are raging throughout the Middle East, the coverage of democratic movements in South America, or negotiations of trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Pact – egregious examples of media spin and disinformation occur daily in the corporate press as well as NPR and public media.
That’s why the recent ruling by the FCC in favor of “Net Neutrality” was so important. It means that regardless of corporate control of other media platforms, we can – for the time being – depend on a free and open internet. Even though many of the most popular websites are owned by the large media and web companies, we are offered countless sources for obtaining independent and citizen news reporting. The best example being the subscriber based, non-profit Democracy Now! which is tuned into daily on various platforms by 20 million viewers and listeners in the U.S. and other countries. It’s striking just how different the show is from mainstream news. The reporting on domestic and world events comes from activists and independent journalists who aren’t embedded in the military, the state dept, conservative think tanks, or corporate culture.
Continued vigilance is needed. Congress is now considering a bill to invalidate the FCC ruling on net neutrality. More media mergers are being planned; AT&T and Direct TV have now petitioned the FCC in an effort to consolidate. Legislation to continue the surveillance of American phone calls and emails by the NSA is once again before Congress in an attempt to reauthorize The Patriot Act. The Obama administration is pressing Congress to fast-track the approval of the Trans Pacific Pact trade agreement that undermines decades of environmental and labor legislation as well as net neutrality. These issues remain obscure and misunderstood by most Americans due to the lack of clear coverage given to them by big media.
There are some important media watchdogs that expose the biases and disinformation perpetrated by the establishment press. A web search will connect you with Free Press, FAIR, Global Trade Watch, AdBusters, Democracy Now! and Media Matters.
The ongoing Naro documentary series “New Non-Fiction Film” on Wednesday nights offers alternative programming that covers important issues explored by independent filmmakers and journalists. Many of the informed voices not invited to speak on all those broadcast news programs will receive an airing in the upcoming short documentary ‘Shadows of Liberty’ to be shown on Wed, May 20 as part of The Media Reform Action Tour as a free public showing arranged by the film producers.
Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
SHADOWS OF LIBERTY Canadian filmmaker Jean-Philippe Tremblay takes an intrepid journey through the darker corridors of the American media landscape, where global conglomerates call the shots. Renowned independent journalists, activists and academics give insider accounts of a broken media system. Featuring Danny Glover, Julian Assange, Dan Rather, Amy Goodman, Daniel Ellsberg, Norman Solomon, Jeff Cohen, Robert McChesney, John Nichols, Chris Hedges, and many more. Free and open to the public. (60 mins) Wed, May 20 at 5:30pm
GETT: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem In the modern state of Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce – and a court of judges composed of only orthodox rabbis can legitimate a marriage or its dissolution. Furthermore a divorce or ‘gett' is only possible with full consent from the husband, who in the end has more power than the judges. In this acclaimed Israeli film Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) has been applying for divorce for three years but her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) will not agree. It’s a procedure in which tragedy vies with absurdity, and everything is brought out for judgment, apart from the initial request. In Hebrew and French with subtitles. Showing Wed, May 20 at 7:15pm
THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM Although filmmaker Jon Long’s new movie is a celebration of the world of action sport, it is much more than a sports movie. It is a compelling story about human spirit and self-expression told by those who created a cultural phenomenon. Featuring top pioneers across all the major action and outdoor sports like Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater, Gerry Lopez, Nyjah Houston, Danny Way, Jeremy Jones, Shane McConkey, Robbie Maddison, Robby Naish, Kai Lenny, Quiksilver founder Bob McKnight, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, surf filmmaking legend Bruce Brown (Endless Summer), and mountain biking pioneer Gary Fisher. Showing Wed, June 10
SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION Meet Seymour Bernstein: a virtuoso pianist, veteran New Yorker, and true original who gave up a successful concert career to teach music. In this wonderfully warm, witty, and intimate tribute from his friend, Ethan Hawke, Seymour shares unforgettable stories from his remarkable life and eye-opening words of wisdom, as well as insightful reflections on art, creativity, and the search for fulfillment. Date to be announced.
LAMBERT AND STAMP Way back in the early sixties, aspiring young filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert were searching for the right subject for a film about disaffected youth and the music culture. They finally found in a rock band called the High Numbers a rebelliousness that was just what they were looking for. Eventually abandoning their plans to make the film, they began to mentor and manage the group, which evolved into the iconic band known as The Who. The result was rock 'n' roll history. Date to be announced.
SALAD DAYS: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) examines the early punk scene in the Nation’s Capital. It was a decade when seminal bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Void, Faith, Rites of Spring, Marginal Man, Fugazi, and others released their own records and booked their own shows—without major record label constraints or mainstream media scrutiny. Date to be announced.
'Planetary' Film Event on The 45th Earth Day
|by Tench Phillips (writing in VEER April, 2015)
I find it somewhat revealing how media and business attach the label “environmentalist” to describe anyone who resists the corporate exploitation and degradation of nature, as if a concern for the planet goes counter to reasonable social norms. This kind of subtle marginalization of the green movement has over the years created a narrative that has polarized Americans – those who oppose economic growth at the expense of the biosphere on one side, and on the other side are those more practical, business-minded, job-creating, God-loving traditionalists.
And yet even big business loves the annual celebration of Earth Day. The event has been mostly co-opted by commerce and civic groups for the purpose of greenwashing their logos. Music and performance help create a good time for all. And it does in the end serve some useful purpose – the kids who attend are directed to pick up street litter and recycle trash.
But it didn’t start out that way. The first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970 was a revolutionary event. It has been widely credited with the launching of the modern environmental movement and the subsequent passage of such landmark laws as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. What’s surprising is that all this enlightened legislation was initiated and passed during the Nixon administration. It shows just how much our nation’s politics have lurched to the right.
This year The Naro will be jumping into the fray to commemorate the 45th Earth Day. We will be hosting along with numerous other independent theaters the global theatrical premiere of a stunningly beautiful new film dedicated to “worldview interruption” – the act of seeing the world in a radically different way.
Underlying the message of the film is the Gaia hypothesis – the theory developed by James Lovelock that life itself transformed our planet and its atmosphere into the conditions favorable for the evolution of complex lifeforms. Named for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, Lovelock provided some of the first warnings that industrial society had so critically thwarted Gaia’s self-regulating and co-evolutionary processes, that it was now imperative for us to recognize our interdependence in the whole of the biosphere. The theory has provided science a framework for complex modeling such as predicting climate change. Gaia has also become a potent metaphor, a myth, and continues to grow as a movement.
The filmmakers of Planetary have developed their narrative structure by adapting The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism which is itself based on an ancient Indian system of ayurvedic medicine: the disease, the diagnosis, the cure, and the treatment.
The disease: The health of the planet is fast deteriorating. Our institutions and their leaders have failed us and are effectively taking the world off a cliff. The church and state, along with academia and business perpetuate long-held myths of militarism, corporatism, and man’s dominion over nature. Corporate media dispenses disinformation and political theater, spinning the same old retro stories of scarcity, fear, and the necessity for greater economic growth. Meanwhile the reality of ecological devastation and mass species extinction are both trivialized and denied. Philosopher David Loy states in the film, “We have not only an ecological crisis… but also a kind of story crisis. That is to say there’s something very wrong about the way that we understand who we are, and our relationship with the Earth.” He is among the many clear voices explaining the precarious condition of our biosphere. Others include leading climate change activist Bill McKibben and anthropologist Wade Davis.
The diagnosis: What is the fundamental root cause of the crisis? We hear from Zen Buddhist priests Joan Halifax and Alan Thubten along with Tibetan lama Anam Thubte and the Head of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu school, the 17th Karmapa. They speak about the Western cultural misperception of the self and its perceived separation from nature, from the planet, and from others. Their ancient practices are used to reveal the illusory nature of the false self and our true interconnectiveness with all beings.
The cure: Viewing the earth from a distance erases all borders and encourages us to see the planet as a single, living organism. We hear from NASA astronauts and their life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from outer space. This perspective-altering experience has been described as the “Overview Effect”. Common features of the experience are feelings of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for the biosphere. Cosmologist Brian Swimme adds his unique evolutionary view to the discussion. And we hear from the mindfulness community– the teachers who explore the practical ways to experience and embody these realizations in our personal lives.
The treatment: The development of a planetary citizen movement that encompasses not only protest and civil disobedience, but longer-range strategies that implement radical political and economic change. This has become possible through the network of the world wide web. This “global brain” can also reconnect us with the earth through the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions. Indigenous voices in the movie include Hopi elder Mona Polacca, Lakota Sioux elder Tiokasin Ghosthorse, and African Dagara leader Sobonfu.
Following the showing of Planetary at The Naro, a discussion will be facilitated by the Virginia Chapter of The Sierra Club along with Catherine Kilduff, a staff lawyer with The Center for Biological Diversity, and Tom Ellis, a liberal arts professor and Gaian teacher. Tom is always a favorite with audiences at The Naro, and he will share his studies of Gaia theory and his vision for “the spontaneous remission of the cancer of the Earth.” Planetary shows Wed, April 22. http://weareplanetary.com
More Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
In the upcoming month our “New Non-Fiction Film” series will feature other stories and investigations that will continue the conversation initiated with the showing of Planetary. A film receiving much press is Merchants of Doubt. It examines the methods used by the industrial-media complex in the manufacturing of propaganda used to misinform and confuse the public.
THE HUNTING GROUND From the filmmakers of the game changing film about sexual assault in the military, The Invisible War, comes a startling expose of rape crimes on US campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll that they take on students and their families. Weaving together first person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors from UVA and other prestigious universities as they attempt to pursue – despite incredible push back, harassment and traumatic aftermath – both their education and societal justice. Shows Wed, April 15.
AN HONEST LIAR ‘The Amazing’ Randi has been for years a world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception. The film brings to life Randi’s intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists. A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi’s personal life is discovered, it isn’t clear whether Randi is still the deceiver – or the deceived. Shows Wed, April 29.
MERCHANTS OF DOUBT Inspired by the acclaimed book, Merchants of Doubt takes audiences on a satirical and illuminating journey into the dark heart of the American propaganda machine. Documentarian Robert Kenner (Food Inc) lifts the curtain on a secretive group of charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who are used by corporate media as scientific authorities. But their real purpose is to spread maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change. Presented with Sierra Club of Virginia and CCAN. Shows Wed, May 6.
SALT OF THE EARTH Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity for over forty years. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet's beauty. Sebastião Salgado's life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his later travels, and by German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire). Shows Wed, May 13.
THE WRECKING CREW Behind headliners like Frank Sinatra, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Mamas and Poppas, and The Monkees – the unheralded musicians of The Wrecking Crew created the beats and melodies of the great pop hits of the ’60s. Directed by the son of legendary Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, this vibrant, moving portrait pays tribute to the golden age of the “West Coast Sound” and its secret star-making machine. Date to be announced.
BALLET 422 New York City Ballet, under the artistic direction of Peter Martins, boasts a roster of more than 90 elite dancers and a repertory of works by many of the greatest choreographers in the history of the art form. When 25-year-old NYCB dancer Justin Peck begins to emerge as a promising young choreographer, he is commissioned to create a new ballet for the Company’s 2013 Winter Season. With unprecedented access to an elite world, the film follows Peck as he collaborates with musicians, lighting designers, costume designers and his fellow dancers to create Paz de la Jolla, NYCB’s 422nd new ballet. Date to be announced.
"War is Over! (If You Want It)" - John Lennon
|By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
The first modern draft lottery was held in December 1969. I remember well; my birthdate was drawn early on in the lottery and I was dealt a low draft number. At the time I had a college deferment but I knew that I’d be graduating soon enough and would be inducted to fight the communist menace in Vietnam. I needed to educate myself as to what was actually going on overseas other than the reports I watched on Walter Cronkite and The Evening News.
I was living in Atlanta and attending a rather conservative engineering school. The student body was not politically active and the Army and Navy ROTC programs were popular. The lottery results had split my college buddies into those of us who were now looking at having to go fight overseas and the fortunate ones with high draft numbers who were not to be called up. I was advised by friends and family to enlist in the ROTC so at least to be able to enter the service as an officer.
The counter-culture scene was just then coming into full swing in the South. The Atlanta alternative weekly The Great Speckled Bird contained progressive news along with event listings for music concerts and art happenings around the city. My urban campus was near Piedmont Park and the free concerts on Sunday afternoons were sometimes headlined by The Allman Brothers Band. The popular music of the day that I heard on our college station WREK radio was informing me in a way that seemed more important and vital than my classes at Georgia Tech. My mates and I were just being introduced to cannabis and we were spending our study time getting high, listening to great new music, and expanding our minds in our own way.
My afternoons spent in the park brought me into contact with veterans who were returning from active duty in ‘Nam. Most of these hardened young men were trying to integrate into a rapidly evolving youth culture. When asked about their experiences, their stories were not about courage and valor. They spoke of war atrocities and the mass murder of innocent people. Many seemed psychologically damaged and addicted to hard drugs and alcohol. I slowly realized that I had been lied to by my own government and by my elders; and I knew that I would not participate in the insanity of a needless and unjust war. So I resolved to stay in school for as long as I could. Sometime later I was able to find a sympathetic draft board volunteer who advised me about an arcane but legal way to receive a reclassified lower draft status that kept me out of the service.
The draft lottery had the apparently unforeseen consequence of helping to generate a mass resistance movement of “draft dodgers” who were healthy, young, and well educated. The anti-war movement grew larger and more organized each year. Some conscientious objectors chose prison over enlisting. Others chose to move to Canada – somewhere around 125,000 young men who abandoned the war and their country. The FBI and federal law enforcement grew ever more draconian in their surveillance and apprehension of these young “subversives and agitators”.
Although Nixon campaigned in 1972 on winding down the war, he instead expanded U.S. bombing missions into Laos and Cambodia. Only his personal legal problems coming from the Watergate break-in and his subsequent impeachment and resignation slowed down the military war machine. But the nail in the coffin that ended this grinding war was the leaking by Daniel Ellsberg of The Pentagon Papers (depicted in the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America) and their publication by The New York Times. The mainstream media had turned against the ruling elite. The public was finally fed up with their leaders and their transgressions, and in 1975 the decision was made under President Gerald Ford to pull the plug.
This untold story about the strategic blunders committed by the military at the end of the war and the botched evacuation of Americans and their Vietnamese allies from Saigon is the subject of Rory Kennedy’s new documentary, Last Days in Vietnam. The youngest daughter of Robert Kennedy has directed or produced over 30 films including Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Americans should take heed from these historical lessons so that we don’t let our government continue to start wars that they can never seem to finish.
Upcoming Film Events at The Naro Cinema
GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA No twentieth-century figure has had a more profound effect on the worlds of literature, film, politics, historical debate and the culture wars than Gore Vidal. Gore was one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time. He used the media to wage blistering attacks on hypocrisy and establishment politics. His overview of the state of the Republic and the health of U.S. democracy were his last words and testimony. (90 mins)
Showing Wed, Sept 24 with Angelo Mesisco speaking.
EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD On a three-mast ocean schooner packed with artists, scientists and ambitions worthy of Noah or Columbus, an international crew sets sail for the end of the world – the rapidly melting massifs of North-East Greenland. An epic journey where the brave men and women on board encounter polar bear nightmares, Stone Age playgrounds and entirely new species. But in their encounter with new, unknown parts of the world, the crew of scientists and artists also confront the existential questions of life. (90 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 1 with speaker Victoria Hill, Research Professor specializing in the Arctic with ODU Ocean, Earth, & Atmospheric Sciences.
THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP Nat Hentoff is one of the enduring critical voices of the last 65 years, a writer who championed jazz as an art form. His long-running Village Voice column covering culture and politics influenced and inspired many younger journalists who wrote for the alternative press. The film includes interviews with Hentoff as well as rare footage of the legendary Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bob Dylan, and Lenny Bruce. (86 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 8 with Tom Robotham and Maurice Berube speaking.
LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM Award-winning independent filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s new film chronicles a story few of us have heard before. During the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance crumbles. The prospect of an official evacuation of the remaining Americans and their South Vietnamese allies becomes hopelessly delayed by Congressional gridlock and a delusional U.S. Ambassador. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, a number of Americans take matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many South Vietnamese lives as possible. (98 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 15 with David Swanson who will return to speak at the Naro from his home in Charlottesville. He is a nationally renowned journalist, teacher, peace activist, and author of War Is A Lie, When The World Outlawed War, and War No More: The Case For Abolition.
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