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New Progressive Cinema | Making the World Safe for War

By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

If you’re like many people I know, you are having a real problem these days with the type of reporting that’s being churned out by media companies. I’ve cut way back on my watching, listening, and reading of the mainstream news and opinion. I find that the general reporting is just too inauthentic, superficial, one-sided, and intentionally misleading. It’s the narrative that the establishment media creates to justify militarism and violence in the name of spreading democracy. And whether the targeted enemy may be the Russians, Hamas, Iranians, or illegal immigrants – current events are spun with little historical context or instruction on how we got ourselves into this current global morass. If there was really an effort by the media to inform Americans rather than divide and confuse, we might realize that much of the dire global problems confronting us are of our government’s making.

Unlike the media in countries where the state controls much of the information and the message, the American establishment press imposes its own self-censorship and willingly delivers the message orchestrated by the corporate state. But that’s only to be expected in an economic system run by corporatist capitalism – the media is just doing their designated job. Whether its creating a consensus for war or expanding the market for military weapons, the American economy depends on it. Through the willing complicity of the media, the military budget has more than doubled since Sept 11, 2001. Incredibly, the federal outlay for just the nuclear weapons industry is by itself greater than the funding of all welfare programs together. And it remains unknown the billions spent on the secret “dark” government and the high-tech surveillance industry. To justify these enormous expenditures, media must continually cultivate enemies of the state, even if those enemies are American citizens.

In order to keep the scam going, important voices for peace and justice are excluded from the media’s national dialogue. Such articulate, activist journalists as Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, David Swanson, and Glen Greenwald are rarely heard from on all those cable news channels nor published in newspaper op-eds. Their advocacy for democratic accountability subverts the narrative dished out by mainstream media that champions corporatism, free trade, and American empire. But fortunately for those who are paying attention, their astute political analysis is thriving on progressive web sites. Many of them are featured on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman which is broadcast weekdays on many public radio stations (but no longer locally) and on the web (

A longtime witness for peace is Kathy Kelly, the co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and a worldwide activist for the recognition and relief of oppressed people who have been victims of unjust U.S. economic and foreign policy. She has lived and worked with the people of Iraq and has spent this summer in Afghanistan documenting the lives of those living under the threat of U.S. drone attacks. Kathy has come to Norfolk twice in the past few years as a guest of Steve Baggarly and The Norfolk Catholic Worker. She returns to the area once again and will speak at the Naro on September 17 at a film program about the criminality and brutality of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Upcoming Film Events at the Naro

WALKING THE CAMINO: Six Ways to Santiago Various pilgrims, from ages 3 to 73, attempt to cross the entire country of Spain on foot. Equipped with only a backpack, a pair of boots and an open mind, they experience the Camino’s magnetic and miraculous power to transform lives. Each pilgrim throws themselves body and soul into their incredibly challenging trek to Santiago de Compostela, and most importantly, their personal journey to find their true authentic selves. (84 mins) Showing Aug 20 with speakers: Mike Pearson is an author, adventurer, and Professor of Creative Writing at ODU and founder of the ODU Literary Festival.

CODE BLACK  Filmmaker and resident physician Ryan McGarry transports us to the front lines of America’s busiest emergency room, Los Angeles County Hospital’s legendary trauma unit. McGarry and his colleagues exhibit a new attitude about how our society treats those around us who are in pain or suffering. The dedicated staff provides the only safety net available for most of the poor and the uninsured in L.A. county. The film is an intense, doctor’s-eye view into the heart of the American healthcare debate. (80 mins) Showing Aug 27 with speakers and discussion.

THE GREAT CONFUSION: THE 1913 ARMORY SHOW The International Exhibition of Modern Art was held at the unusual location of the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City, and it marked the dawn of Modernism in America. The show drew 90,000 attendees and featured the best “avant-garde” artists and sculptors of Europe including Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, Degas, Picassso, Matisse, and Duchamp. There were also many lesser known American artists in the show. Filmmaker Michael Maglaras’ informative new film highlights the iconic artwork of the show as well as the response by audiences and the critics of the time. (85 mins) Showing Sept 3 with
filmmaker: Michael Maglaras will be in attendance to introduce his film.

LIFE ITSELF In 2013, we lost Roger Ebert—arguably the nation’s best-known and most influential movie critic. Based on his memoir of the same name, Life Itself recounts  Ebert’s fascinating and flawed journey. From a politicized school newspaperman. From Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, to Pulitzer Prize winner, to screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of The Dolls, to television household name along with fellow film critic Gene Siskel. And finally to the miracle of finding love at 50, and to his “third act” as a cancer patient and a major voice on the Internet when he could no longer physically speak. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) who grew up in Hampton. (117 mins) Date to be announced.

THE KILL TEAM Filmmaker Dan Krauss investigates the ongoing story first revealed in a Rolling Stone expose titled “How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians”. Private Adam Winfield was a 21-year-old soldier in Afghanistan when he attempted with the help of his father to alert the military to heinous war crimes his platoon was committing. But Winfield’s pleas went unheeded. Left on his own and with threats to his life, Private Winfield was himself drawn into the moral abyss, forced to make a split-second decision that would change his life forever. Winner of The Grand Jury Prize at Tribeca Film Festival. (79 mins)  Showing Sept 17 with Kathy Kelly. Kathy Kelly is a longtime peace activist in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

FIELD OF DREAMS The 25th Anniversary Showing! Kevin Costner stars as an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice telling him to turn his cornfield into a baseball diamond. He does, but the voice’s directions don’t stop — even after the spirits of deceased ballplayers turn up to play. James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster co-star as a reclusive writer and a young slugger turned doctor, respectively, with Ray Liotta turning in a pivotal performance as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Showing in Faith In Filmseries with Scott Hennessy on Sunday, Sept 14.

"In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act." – George Orwell
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
Column reprinted from Veer Magazine

We are living under a truly Orwellian political system that claims to work for the best interests of the public but in fact will only pass legislation and regulations in the interests of corporations. No matter which politicians are in office, the corporate capitalists dismantle social welfare programs, defund education, push down unions and wages, gut environmental regulations, escape taxation, and fund more war.

Politicians dare not call attention to the scam or speak out for campaign reform; they are raking in too much dough from all the legalized corporate bribery that they receive. So they hide behind nationalism, party politics,  and religion, thinking that they can keep fooling the masses.

Their efforts are aided and abetted by the mainstream media whose tills overflow with the record-breaking political campaign spending that is now allowed. These media barons would never bite the hand that feeds them and so they unquestioningly spout state propaganda that promotes empire and good ole’ American exceptionalism.

Such a mass deception necessitates a perpetual campaign of elaborate lies and denials orchestrated by our two party duopoly. Those who might stand up to the system –  truth tellers, activist journalists, and whistleblowers – are severely punished by the government in an attempt to keep other insiders from coming forth. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange could never receive a fair trial in this country.

And then there is Aaron Swartz, a less renown truthteller whose story will be presented on Wednesday, July 16 in the new documentary The Internets Own Boy. Swartz was a programming prodigy and information activist who developed the basic internet protocol RSS and then co-founded Reddit. Some years later, after cashing in on the sale of Reddit, he chose a life of strong progressive activism. But his commitment to change the world ensnared him in a legal nightmare that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.
In order to better understand Aaron Swartz, we can compare his actions to those of another young student living in Boston at the time. Mark Zuckerberg started his first social network project Facemash by hacking into Harvard University’s network to illegally obtain photos and information about fellow students. He went on to monetize his project and to receive the full backing of Wall Street.

Swartz ran in some of the same social circles as Zuckerberg in Boston and in a similar fashion as  the Facebook founder, he also breached the security of a major university, MIT. But Swartz’s motivation for his hacking was way different. He downloaded and made available for free the publicly funded academic and research papers that were distributed by a for-profit company, JSTOR.

In defiance of the Silicon Valley business model, Swartz was not willing to play the game that Zuckerberg played to create his individual wealth through the privatizing of the internet. Zuckerberg received the protection of the government, and all that was asked of him in return was to hand over his customer’s collected information to be used for worldwide surveillance.

In contrast, Aaron Swartz’ belief was in an open society with free and open information. But he knew that we must first fight for media democracy if there can ever be real government transparency. The monetization and exploitation of the early public airwaves of radio and television led to rampant commercialization that has served the interest of corporate empires rather than the democratic ideal of a well informed citizenry. Now these same forces were about to win control of the internet.

In 2012, Aaron organized a citizen campaign to keep the internet open and free. He fought an uphill battle against an entrenched Congress that represented industries attempting to control content on the internet in a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). His campaign went viral on the web and Congress was astounded by the public outcry against their underhanded actions. The politicians jumped ship and in a brief time, the bill was shelved by the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s easy to see why the government came after Swartz and gave Zuckerberg a free pass. The corporate state may be lenient on hackers, but activism and media democracy are the real threats feared by the establishment. Swartz was just too charismatic and smart to be left alone by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They charged him with felonies that carried a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. He fought the government for two years to gain his freedom and it bankrupted him as well as caused his depression. Aaron Swartz finally succumbed to the forces of darkness in 2013.

If Aaron was still with us today he would undoubtably be leading the fight against the current FCC efforts to squander the promise of the internet on large corporate interests. But his tragic and needless death has made him into an internet martyr for the digerati and young techno hackers. In trying to make an example of Aaron Swartz along with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the government has helped grow the movement for a free internet and for transparency in government. All the military-corporatist forces together cannot eradicate this new interconnected world conscience.

More Upcoming Film Events at the Naro

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, the relationships of four men and four women are entangled as they attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. When they are all invited to a summer solstice celebration at a beautiful country estate, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart. Director Ingmar Bergman’s crowning comic achievement. Showing in Faith in Filmon Sunday, June 22.

IF YOU BUILD IT From the director of Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A. comes a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills. The film follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina and just south of the Virginia state line. Showing Wed, June 25.

CITIZEN KOCH In this searing exposé on the state of democracy in America and the fracturing of the Republican Party, Oscar nominated directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (co-producers of Fahrenheit 9/11 & Bowling for Columbine) follow the big money funding the rise of the Tea Party and right-wing America. Showing Wed, July 2.

Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a loner who worked as a nanny most of her life, and shot over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. Showing Wed, July 9.

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