Monthly Archives: April 2005

Films that will make you want to change the world

As I said before, I’ve seen several films that made me want to change the world, and with that I mean in a change for the better, obviously. The list looks like this at the moment:

The Corporation – an extremely thorough documentary on the history and influence of the modern multinational corporation. With several surprises, especially for those with strong views pro and con.

Life and Debt – a documentary taking a closer look at how a globalised capitalist economy has affected a small third world nation, in this case Jamaica.

Hotel Rwanda – a feature film based on the events of the Rwandan genocide of 1994. It indirectly deals with the consequences of the power vacuum of the post-colonial era, and shows the West’s indifference to the heartbreaking suffering of millions of africans.

The Edukators – a feature film focusing on three young Germans and their attempts at rebelling against a economic system so pervasive [link to article in Danish, sorry] that only through brave hope and passion can they see a different way to live.


I feel like I’ve forgotten some important ones, but I can’t say which. Maybe it was just Supersize Me, but everybody already seems to know that the golden arches are bad for you.

When I saw “the Corporation” at last year’s Copenhagen documentary film festival, I immediately wanted to go out and get the dvd to show the film to everybody, or at least all who would seem the least bit interested. Back then, the dvd hadn’t even been released in North America, much less Europe where most countries are still waiting for the cinema distribution deals to go through, so I couldn’t actually, legally get my hands on it.

But now, with The Corporation and The Edukators, I think that I’ve found a matching set of films that will shake people up and grab their attention. As soon as I can acquire both in proper legal fashion, I’ll be arranging proper illegal screenings near you, but until then, the best I can do is some bits and pieces I found while researching my essay on the Nike swoosh and the Eiffel Tower as empty signs.

The point being that brands are usually signs empty of meaning until streamlined through cunning marketing strategies to associate certain ideas and values with the brand. I used parts of Naomi Klein’s research on branding (a summary of which can be found here) and stumbled upon this telling song about the power of brands.

Enjoy.

Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei!

This evening I saw a film that made want to change the world.
This is not the first time that a film has made me feel this way, yet this was the first that didn’t leave me with feeling of total impotence. And that is indeed some achievement.

The film is German and is called “Die fetten Jahre sind vorbei“, which rather unceremoniously has been turned the English title: The Edukators, though with the excellent catch phrase “Your days of plenty are numbered.”

The film is about three young Germans, the idealistic Jan, played by the amazing Daniel Brühl of Goodbye Lenin fame, the cool Peter and his heavily indebted girlfriend Jule. In different ways, they’re fed up with an authoritarian system which cares little for the welfare of its members, of being part of something that is so pervasive that is seems impossible to escape, and most of all of the of the hypocrisy of those so rich they cannot find enough things on which to spend their money.

Jan and Peter breaks into rich people’s houses at night, but steal nothing. Instead they rearrange the furniture and other valuables into telling positions and leave a little note: “Your years of plenty are numbered” or, as it may be: “You have too much money”.

This is what you get from seeing the trailer and I won’t reveal much more, but merely say that the film not only understands and shows the sentiment of many young people and the passion and hope that they live with, and even the sentiments of the many older ones against whom they wish to rebel. I was very impressed, and a little shaken.

See, writing all this essay stuff on montage, I naturally sat down and noticed stuff about how the film used montage to achieve its effects, such as the 180 degree rule or the Shot Reverse shot, yet after 30 minutes, I had forgotten all about it. And when the film ended, I realised that I had been tensing my entire body for the last 30 minutes of the film, so immersed I was in the happenings on the screen.

The true magic of the film is that it takes perfectly ordinary people and slowly drags them into unexpected situations but so convincingly that you can relate and understand their actions and reactions throughout.

I wanted to send an email to all my friends in Denmark with semi-leftist sympathies or at least potential for such (and of course, my Bling buddy Nicolaj) to urge them to see this film, to give them that feeling of power and potential that the film left me with. Yet, I am sadly disappointed to see that it isn’t even in Danish cinema distribution. Instead it could only manage a few screenings at the Copenhagen Night film festival this April.

What I’ll actually end up doing in order to change the world is as yet unknown, but I have written this severely heartfelt plea for people to go see this film – which I hope will open their eyes a bit.

Portable players and Digital Rights Management

Instead of writing my essay, I’ve been procrastinating, looking at mp3-players and deciding that they’re just not what I want, yet.

See, the thing is that most mp3-players (or portable digital players as they rightfully should be known) are encumbered by a range of Digital Rights Management (DRM) systems, severely limiting the music files that actually can play on the device.

Apple’s iPod is probably the most famous example. Despite gorgeous design and cool interface, it will only play music imported via its own music program, iTunes, and iTunes will only play the music file formats decided upon by Apple.

The thing is, I don’t want to be limited in this fashion, and instead, I’ve been looking for players that support my music file format of choice, Ogg Vorbis, which is an Open Source file format that is not owned or controlled by any corporation.

There are an increasing number of players that support .ogg, but none of them are as cheap, durable and available as I would like. Indeed, those that look really promising can only be bought in Korea. Though I guess that will change soon enough.

But that doesn’t really solve the greater issue of digital rights management. I hadn’t really dwelt much on the subject earlier, but today I found a talk on the matter that, though it’s rather lengthy, is well worth the read. It explains in layman’s terms why DRM should be avoided, and hints to how Intellectual Property rights may have to be revised in the face of new digital possibilities.

Wardriving

As I sat down last night, supposedly to continue writing my essay discussing “how appropriate the cinematic principle of montage is as a means of conveying the realities of post-socialism” (yes, for one of my Siberian courses), instead, I messed around with my computer a bit. Frustrated with my lack of internet access, I tried to scan my neighbourhood, to see if anybody actually would have any open wi-fi networks active.

Surprisingly, they do. I am writing this in the relative comfort of my own home, using the internet connection of some unsuspecting neighbour. This is called Wardriving, and it is, of course, ethically suspect to some degree. Yet, as long I limit the amount of bandwidth I take up to a minimum of googling, emailing and blogging, I don’t think I’m ruining anybody’s internet experience.

Of course, if you have a Wireless Access Point, you should probably make sure that your local network is properly secured, even if you feel generous enough to share a bit of internet with your fellow man.

In any case, this is just another example of the new variety of grey-zone ethical discussions offered by the digital age (along with such conundrums as Intellectual Property, authority and reliability of Internet-based information resources and whether it really is the porn industry that is driving technological development forward.

Post-colonial blues

Yesterday, I went to see Hotel Rwanda, a heartbreakingly sad account of the massacres of the Rwandan civil war of 1994. The film evokes such intensely raw emotion in order to convey the horrors suffered and the lack of intervention from the UN, that I doubt anyone would be unaffected by it.

The film focuses on the story of the hotel manager of a Kigali luxury hotel, Paul Rusesabagina and his efforts to save the people around him from the massacre. And of all the characters in the film, only one is fictional, based on the Canadian UN commander who led the peace keeping forces in Rwanda. The real commander, Roméo Dallaire, told his version of the story in the documentary Shake Hands with the Devil, which, supposedly, should give a good, factual counterposition to the extremely emotional Hotel Rwanda.

And yet, the worst thing about this film is realising that it isn’t over. Though the civil war may be over in Rwanda, and others have ceased in Angola, Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sudan, they will not win much interest from the western world. Even with the fighting stopped, these countries seem to have little to look forward to, only trying to heal the deep scars of ethnic conflict.

As far as I can tell, in my rather uninformed opinion, these wars are all the predictable results of decolonization gone wrong. Many former European colonies, particularly the Belgian colonies of Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo, were left to their own device by brutal and inefficient colonial powers that in the end cared little for the consequences of their rule. The sudden decolonization of the 1960s has left large parts of Africa in a surging power vacuum that leaves little hope for stability.

And yet, through all of this death, fear and destruction, life goes on. Not just for us who merely turn off the television or put down the newspaper, but also for the africans themselves. Today, I read an interview with journeyman football coach Paul Leroy, currently the coach of national team of DR Congo. His hope is to spread some joy in the wartorn country by qualifying for the World Cup in 2006, football being the passion of choice for millions of congolese. Leroy’s story is certainly one of how the joy of football is universal, no matter the circumstances.

Manchester in pictures

Inspired by this guy Jake’s observant pictures of Chicago [warning: Several hundred hi-res pictures behind this link] and Lauren Greenfield’s excellent pictures of Girl Culture, I’ve tried my own hand at some descriptive shots of Manchester, hopefully later joined by some good shots of student life, as well.

Rabbits!

On the sign to the Faculty of Medicine, University of Manchester

Doorbell on the inside?!

ey, what's that in front of the clock?

Manchester Town Hall..

oh.

bluuue mooon

shade

three pictures of the Manchester Museum of Urban Culture – Urbis:

Urbis

Urbis

Urbis

Tattoo or no?

Rambo actually passed by when I took this photo, and asked what why I was taking a photo of his shop. I explained the contrast between the two shop offers, and he conceded that it was “pretty humorous”.

Lovely thorns, those

A public service announcement from the Manchester City Council

And, finally, a few snaps from my little home.

Kitchen
The Kitchen, spring cleaned.

Back yard
Our lusciously fertile back yard.

Lovely view
My room, with a view.

And finally, a reward for the patient, a little attempt at teaching light to do tricks, using a broken lens from my pair of glasses.

Latin American overtures..

Yesterday, I saw Wim Wenders’ documentary about the Buena Vista Social Club, the record made by a rag tag collection of old Cuban musicians and singers under the gentle supervision of travelling musician and producer, Ry Cooder.

The film contains concert and studio footage, interviews with the musicians and atmospheric footage from the streets of Havana, all mixed together in a rather discordant whole. I actively disliked the cinematography with its constant panning, moving around in a way that almost make the viewer nauseous, and I found the footage unspectacular in general. The film works well in spite of this, due to an extremely worthwhile subject matter. All of the Cuban musicians are charming old men who really enjoy their music, and their life and it shows. And, of course, the music is brilliant.

What the film does convey with great success is a sort of magical Latin American ambience that is hard to explain. A lot of people familiar with the works of Gabriel García Márquez will recognize that light, almost otherworldly human touch.

I often, unsuccessfully recommend the Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano‘s book Memory of Fire to people interested in Latin America. Galeano’s book is a wonderfully poetic three volume work on the history of the New World, divided into hundreds of small stories chronologically ordered and intricately interconnected through the wonders of history itself.

I suppose the sheer size of the work is enough to scare most people away, which is a shame as it is a very light and enjoyable read. Galeano has also written a most wonderful book about football which any football fan (IMNSHO) ought to read.

Finally, to give a small example of Galeano’s style, I’ve picked a piece from his latest book, Upside Down. I hope you’ll excuse the rather heavyhanded translation from the Danish..

“The human refuse: Street urchins, hobos, beggars, prostitutes, transvestites, homosexuals, pickpockets and other petty criminals, drug addicts, drunks, cigarette butt collectors. In 1993, the human refuse of Columbia suddenly appeared from their hiding places beneath the rocks and gathered in protest. The demonstration started at the revelation that the police groups of social purging were killing beggars and selling the corpses to students at the Universidad Libre in Barranquilla for dissection exercises. On that occasion, the storyteller Nicolás Buenaventura told the real story of creation.
Nicolás told the dreck of the system that when God created the world, he continually wound up with bits and pieces left over. While the sun and the moon, time, the land, the seas and the forests were born from the hands of God, he constantly brushed the remaining scraps into the abyss. But God, being fairly preoccupied, forgot to create man and woman, leaving the two no choice but to create themselves. Thus, in depths of the abyss, in the scrap heap of God, woman and man created themselves from the remains of God.
We humans are born from refuse, and that is why we all have a bit of the day, and a bit of the night, and we’re all time and earth and water and air.”

Roskildeee!

With all 115.000 tickets for this year’s Glastonbury festival already sold out (and in the space of just 3 hours, no less), I’ll be looking to the Roskilde Festival to be my musical mecca this year.

And luckily, the line-up looks very promising thus far. Among my favourites are Devendra Banhart, a young folk singer-songwriter with a very unique voice and take on life (think hippie-ish), Bikstok Røgsystem, the first purely Danish take on the Roots-Ragga-Dancehall genres of Jamaica, Chic, “the Beatles of Disco” – superbly dance music, though only Nile Rodgers of the original group is still touring, though mostly due to Bernard Edwards’ tragic death in 1996.

Also, I have great expectations to Femi Kuti and his band, Femi being the son of Nigerian afrobeat legend, Fela Anikulapo Kuti whose afroroots funkjazz is ever enjoyable and Femi taking up the mantle left by his father. Mew is a Danish band that I’ve looking forward to hearing live, their grand yet thoughtful rock music was once described to me as “symphonic post-rock”, whatever that means. Also, ever since I first heard the American hiphop ensemble the Roots’ LP, Do you want more?!!!??! back in the day, I’ve been looking for a chance to see Rahzel live. Known as the “Godfather of Noise”, Rahzel is the foremost exponent of that rarely heard hip hop art of human beat boxing.

On top of that, there’s Mikael Simpson, The Thievery Corporation, Mory Kanté, and all the others that I don’t even know yet. Listening and being surprised by new bands and new music is always the highlight of the Roskilde Festival.

Now all I have to do is buy the ticket..

How bling

My friend Nicolaj, who happens to be an aspiring member of the Danish Conservative Party (especially the youth section for which he represents Denmark in YEPP, often buzzing about Europe for meetings), referred me to the Danish Conservative Youth’s latest membership drive campaign, complete with own webpage.

And I quote from the introductory text:
“Capitalism isn’t just about money – it’s a way of life, if you’re into the cool stuff and have the attitude.”

Being bling is apparently the best way to show political opinions, as this page even suggests sending in your own pictures of how much you’re into your capitalistic lifestyle – champagne, money clip, car, etcetera.
And it works. Being bling and promising people their very own “Kapitalist” T-shirt upon joining the party has doubled membership within the past 3 months. Now, the Danish Conservative Youth has never been known for being hip, but with this latest change of face, they may very well become the new political bling.

It’s curious how politics seem to be just as much a fashion statement as an actual ideology. Just like all the rebellious teenagers in high school prefer the left , and the cool late-twenties academics prefer the liberal radicals, young higher-middle- and upper-class people can now flaunt their political convictions in a cool way.

Of course, Nicolaj is not entirely too happy with this, though he hopes that the initial bling will lure people in, and that they’ll then find a more traditional interest in conservative politics. Still, there must be some limits to how superficial one can be in presenting a political agenda, and turning politics into a lifestyle is more forgiving on the lifestyle than on the politics. I see less of the “compassionate conservative” stance that Nicolaj advocates and more of the I love my things stance in that campaign.

Can you imagine a similarly bling campaign on “socialist.dk” : “I’m down with sharing my relative wealth, yo. It’s not about owning stuff, it’s about sharing.” – hardly very gangsta, is it?

The eventual serenity of the defeated?

Friday night I went to see Der Untergang in my local art cinema. The film which has been a surprise box office in most of continental Europe, did not attract huge crowds in Manchester this Friday evening, only a week after its British premiere, yet I think that it may be among the victorious parts of World War II that this film will make its greatest impression.

The film is long, finding a slow, grinding pace towards the inevitable doom. The final days of the Nazi elite is spent going from the impotent rage caused by failed ambitions, and manic delusions of eminent victory, slowly, surely descending into hopeless, uncompassionate selfdestruction. All orchestracted in such a filmically convincing fashion that I completely forgot myself and felt that total emptiness left behind by the shattered dreams weaved by, apparently, just one man.

The film does indeed put a human face upon these people, whom history has (rightfully) demonized beyond humanity. This is necessary for the point the film is making, and it makes it very well. Just like previous German war films such as Das Boot and Stalingrad, the film tells its story in a matter-of-factly, almost serene tone. Like that of someone who has accepted the past. And that is very powerful.

That is also why, I think that this film should make a greater impact among the Allies of WWII, the Americans, British and Russians who were victorious to such a degree that the German side of the story disappeared completely in the cold war that followed. I’m treading a thin line here, to avoid condoning the Nazi regime from its actions, whilst trying to point out how important those actions, whether we want to admit or not, has been for how the rest of the 20th century.

Two generations have passed since the war, and many people have fought to keep the memory of it alive. Not from some morbid wish to poke at the misery of defeat of an entire nation, but because it is only by understanding how such a fall from grace comes about, and how people survive it, that we can avoid repeating it in the future.

The German confrontation with their most feared ghost, shows that even today it is hard to accept the past, and there are many other cases where the past is long forgotten when it shouldn’t be. When will Russian filmmakers make films of Lenin, Stalin and the rise of the Soviet Bloc? When will American filmmakers make films of the nuclear bombings of Japan? When will the Allies of today stop following the foreign policies created by those Allies of old whose enemies long since have accepted their defeat.

Of the cold war, both the Americans as victors, and the Russians as the collapsed and defeated, both refuse to let past mistakes influence today’s policies. Although much has changed, only a small part of that has been accepted by the powers that be. Learning from the humble and serene teachings of the defeated may be the best way to gain that acceptance.

Isn’t it telling, in a way, that our hand gesture for peace is the old V ?? for victory?