Collapse

 

Collapse is a surprisingly interesting documentary. It takes the format of an interview with investigative journalist,  the late Michael C. Ruppert, editor of the newsletter From The Wilderness, a newsletter that reported on Government corruption, Peak Oil and predicted amongst other things, the 2008 economic collapse.

Michael Ruppert was a former LAPD Narcotics Detective who became disillusioned with the Police Force after discovering links between the CIA, LAPD and cocaine trafficking. To cut a long story short he started the news letter “From the Wilderness” reporting on the misdeeds of government organisations and other stories often overlooked by mainstream media. Often labeled a conspiracy theorist by the establishment, his newsletter nevertheless ended up with 22,000 subscribers at it’s height and Michael was in demand as a public speaker around the world

Filmed in a drab warehouse style setting and consisting of Michael C Ruppert answering questions while chain smoking, you would be forgiven for thinking that this will be a dull film. Quite the opposite. Michael was very passionate about the things he reported, obviously a very intelligent man and his eloquence is evident in the interview. He is able to rattle off facts and figures and dates with considerable ease, and the information he is able to provide the viewer is in turns astounding and horrifying.

The links he is able to draw between world events and the corruption of governments are quite shocking and more than a little depressing. Spending a life reporting on the rotten heart of governments must take it’s toll and he comes across as an intensely troubled man, at one point in the interview breaking down. One does wonder though at how much was truth and how much was blown out of proportion or taken out of context. The viewer would do well to remember though, the old saying “there is no smoke without fire” when forming their own opinions about the film.

Personally I am always interested in watching and reading the “other side” of the news. News reports and articles by independent journalists unfettered by the purse strings of big corporations and politicians. Michael Ruppert was that type of journalist and Collapse is well worth watching.

Sadly it all became too much for Michael and in 2014 he took his own life.

Collapse
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An Interview with Charlotte Fantelli, Writer/Director/Producer – Journey to Le Mans

Charlotte Fantelli

“Challenge yourself to do something you know you could never do – and what you will find is that you can overcome anything…” – Anon

The motor racing documentary “Journey To Le Mans” ( reviewed here ) was an intense and exciting look at the JOTA Sport Team’s entry into the 2014 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) culminating in the race at the prestigious 24 Hours of Le Mans. What made the film even more impressive was that it was the debut film for Charlotte Fantelli, who wrote, directed and produced the documentary. Wanting to know more about her amazing journey I managed to track her down and she very kindly agreed to be interviewed. Read on for an inspiring story.

Documentary Dude You had no previous background in film-making, had never made a film before.  Most people without that sort of experience would never dream of making a film.  Explain how you got the idea and the belief that you could make it happen?

Charlotte Fantelli I had always written films since I was a kid, albeit for my bottom drawer so it was a lifelong dream. I suppose the belief came from a place where I didn’t believe anything was impossible. I’d faced quite a few challenges in my younger years and I think it kinda toughened me up enough to know that I wasn’t scared of getting up again if I failed, which really is quite a liberating state of mind. I also believed if other people had done it why couldn’t I.

The idea came a couple of years before-hand, I have always loved motorsport and while hearing a drivers talk from JOTA Sport while watching the ELMS I was captured by the real feat of human endurance, dedication and physical fitness it took to race. I’d always looked at the cars in awe and yet the men (and women) that drive them and the team that surround them tell the real story, a story that captured my imagination and one I wanted to bring to life.

DD From getting the idea to completion of the film how long did the whole process take? How much of that was actual filming?

CF So the idea was bubbling away for a year or two while I was in business and busy with family and work, it wasn’t until I gave up the business to pursue my film dream that pen hit paper on the project. I pitched it to ITV in Feb (2013), when I had a positive response from them, as in, they agreed to air it (if I funded it). I set about looking at other platforms and financial opportunities for it.  This process took a lot of time and energy, in fact it was still going on after filming started.

We first shot a frame in September 2013 at Paul Ricard Circuit, we finished official race filming at Le Mans June 2014, and picked up a few days filming after this. The post-production started at the end of June and would have finished before our premier day in November 2014, however we had a few issues with this and the international edit took far longer.

DD I understand Simon Dolan was already an investor in one of your businesses.  Given that you had already worked together and that the film revolves around his team JOTA Sport do you think that made things easier for the film than if it was someone completely unknown to you?

CF Of course, Simon was my way in to the team, and without that sort of relationship where you can really be accepted into the heart of the action it couldn’t possibly have been the same. I also think that us being a small production crew and really getting close to all the members of the team helped portray the emotional side of things, for example when Simon had his crash we made a very awkward, very unpleasant few minutes viewing, as well as it being sad it is also very chilling and unnerving, we lived those long minutes (nearly 30) not knowing and our investment in what was going on allowed us to portray it much more realistically.

DD How did you go about assembling your team?

CF I wanted the very very best team possible so I started by finding out who had made films/programmes of this nature. I knew I needed a very experienced crew as I was so inexperienced myself. The obvious productions that came to mind were Top Gear, Fifth Gear and F1. So, I set about contacting directors, producers and crew who had this experience. I met with as many as I could, I learned as much as I could, I asked, I listened and I grew contacts.

I ended up with two guys Stuart Keasley and Adam Parkes from Black Flag TV. Black Flag had fantastic equipment and knowledge of this type of shoot and understood filming cars from every angle, especially the specialist mini cameras as these at times had to be worked into the car – a car that needed every gram to win a race, the aero, the weight etc etc all had to balance and I needed experts to help. It turned out that Stu and Adam were fantastic guys and ended up being my DOPs (Directors of Photography)  and helped shape the whole production with me. I learned that giving them my vision and listening to their expertise, feedback and direction enabled me to get the story I wanted and learn about filmmaking as I went. It was a very give and take dynamic.

The biggest shoot we had a crew of about 20, this was when we hired Blyton Park circuit, here we were able to get tracking shots and other bits we simply couldn’t in race conditions, but usually on race days we were a crew of about 3, I remember Spa circuit where I decided to save money and AC myself… Never again! To all directors, never underestimate the job of an assistant cameraman – I think I still have the scars on my feet! At Le Mans we had three crews who covered the 24 hours, most of them Top Gear guys.

DD As a new unproven film-maker, obtaining funding must have been difficult?

CF Funding was very very difficult. Many people have said surely Simon or Jota helped fund it, but no, firstly it would’ve been a complete conflict of interest and secondly even if we all wanted it, ITV, our biggest UK platform wouldn’t allow any funds to come from that direction, it was made very clear as an impartial editorial piece and not ‘an advert’ it had to be third party funded.

I put in the first £40k from savings my husband and I had from our wedding gifts and house deposit. Next I maxed out my borrowing with two whacking great £25k loans and nearly £10k on credit cards… NOT how I would suggest anyone does it, but I was in deep and kept digging, at one point my £3k overdraft was maxed too and I had two jobs while doing 70hours + a week on Journey to Le Mans.

I was turned down by 147 potential sources of funds as I pushed on with filming regardless. One day I had T.J. Scott the amazing director of Spartacus/Longmire/Black Sails, flying in from LA, he was coming to Silverstone with us and I didn’t even have the money for our passes let alone a film crew… About an hour before his plane took off I secured the £6k I needed and Stu and Adam also chipped in and now own 3% of the film.

Finally on the home straight I secured private funding and one sponsor pontjago.com and together we made it to Le Mans…

DD How did you manage to get  such a big star as Sir Patrick Stewart onboard as a narrator?

CF Again, getting Patrick Stewart came from the same bloody-minded determination as everything else. I asked my husband who he thought should narrate and he said Patrick Stewart, I said ‘fine I’ll get him’. I managed to get his email address and sent a personal note. Knowing he was a huge motorsport fan helped and before long I had his commitment, I just had to talk numbers with his agent. 

DD When Simon Dolan had his crash at the beginning of the season, this must have made you think that the whole project was over?

CF Ha, funnily enough no. When Simon had his accident those first 30 – 40 minutes we only thought about Simon, will he live, walk, you know I don’t think I even thought about the project.  Adam Parkes and I were in the pit lane waiting for Simon to come in when it happened, my son, husband and friends were in the garage and a deathly silence hit, my blood ran cold when I saw what had happened, I just wanted to be with them and the team. Adam however is ex military and was absolutely resolute in his role as DOP to capture everything, so that whatever the outcome we could have made something very special (obviously family and team willing) but as I say it wasn’t really thought of in that way, we all just acted in the moment.

DD Not wanting to give too much away, although the results are in the public domain, the season ending must have been a dream come true for the project?

CF Indeed, I remember being asked the night of the premiere what did you think when the team won. My response then is the same now, I said ‘I thought shit I might actually make my money back’… That week had been full of ups and downs and when we lost Marc Gene on the Wednesday, that was really when I thought it could be over, I mean losing our platinum driver just before the race, if the team didn’t make the finish line there is still a story, but not to make the start line?? So yes, it was very emotional, obviously I was ecstatic and emotionally invested in the team, but selfishly my thoughts were with my own personal family investment as I had given up SO much to be there myself.

DD What was the most challenging part of the film making?

CF All of it. I think though I underestimated the post production, I thought it would all just fall into place as it was a real life story and we had captured it for a season, but it wasn’t like that at all. We had 100 hours of footage and some very big problems in the process, these maybe not the most challenging parts for most filmmakers, but for me they were due to my complete underestimation of the process.

DD Did you ever have any self doubt during the filming and how did you get through it?

CF Self doubt? I probably doubted myself 100 times a day but I didn’t let silly doubts get in my way. I actually and probably very egotistically, had told myself failure wasn’t an option and I truly made myself believe it and live it as if it were a foregone conclusion. I say look at each problem like a hurdle and not a dead end, this way there is ALWAYS a way to jump it, you just have to find the solution.

One night I remember it really hitting home, I was £60k in debt, had no money to film the next stage and on the phone to a friend asking for money. I’d stooped lower than I thought I could, they said no. I just remember hitting the floor in tears and I’m not the crying kind… Ah well, 10 minutes later I’d pulled myself together and tried something else. You just do – when failure isn’t an option.

DD If you were to do it again what, if anything, would you do differently?

CF The post production process. Let’s just say I was let down by my first choice edit suite despite it being booked for months. In haste to find another, I chose poorly and from going with very experienced crew to film with, I went to an inexperienced suite in post production. It turned out to be a very costly mistake and while I admire some of the people who worked hard with me to make it work, I have a £36k insurance payout for a ‘faulty edit’ and a year of my life I wont get back.

DD What has the response to the film been like?

CF It has been very good, although IMdB reviews are mixed, which frustrates me due to the fact 50% of them were American 6 months before the film was released stateside which means people either saw it illegally or gave fake ratings as we were not available in their country. IMdB takes no notice or responsibility of this. Amazon on the other hand, we have awesome 4/5* reviews and have been very well received.

I think you always take criticism to heart when you work so hard and invest in something emotionally, but the whole process has made me a much tougher person and to those who criticise I say ‘I have a film I made from scratch available in around 100 countries across the world, show me what you have done better’.

DD What advice would you give someone wanting to make their first documentary?

CF Surround yourself with experienced people, never pass up an opportunity to learn, throw yourself in and just ‘do’ it. I would suggest people secure funding before they jump in, as I probably risked too much, especially with a family. That said if I hadn’t risked everything, if I had not filmed that season, we wouldn’t have captured the most incredible story, yet to be replicated.

Ultimately believe in yourself and your dream and work harder than you ever thought possible, that is the only route to success.

DD What next for Fantelli Productions?

CF I am having a little time away, time with the family, the process was tougher than I imagined, I have some fabulous opportunities to be part of a production company at Shepperton Studios with Black Flag TV and some TV and film projects that just seem to find me, but I am concentrating on today before I rush in to the next ‘dream’.

DD How can people follow Charlotte Fantelli online?

CF Follow me @Cfantelli

Charlotte Fantelli

An Interview with Mira Rai, star of the film Mira

Mira Rai

Photo Credit: Lloyd Belcher

I recently reviewed the inspiring documentary ‘Mira’ about the young girl from a small village in Nepal who is now setting the trail running world on fire. ( Read the review here )

The New Zealand Trail Running magazine Kiwi Trail Runner recently featured an interview with Mira Rai and have very generously allowed me to reproduce the article here:

Mira Rai – The Nepalese Trail Running Phenomenon

If you don’t already know the name Mira Rai,  I am sure you soon will. This diminutive 24 year old from Nepal has burst onto the international trail running scene seemingly from nowhere, with astonishing success.

A year ago she didn’t even know trail running was a sport. To her it was just a way to get around in an area so remote and mountainous that a journey to buy supplies from the nearest shop can easily take 3-5 hours  on foot. Since then she has won 13 of the 19 races she has entered and had a podium finish in another 4! Her victories include races in the Asian Sky Running Championships in Hong Kong and setting a new women’s record at the Mont Blanc 80km!

Raised in a mud walled house, without power or running water, in a remote village in the Bhojpur region of Eastern Nepal, she grew up as the second of 5 siblings, her parents, subsistence farmers. Life was not easy and regular meals were often dependent on the weather and the quality of the harvest. Mira dropped out of school early to help support the family, carrying sacks of rice to the market for hours over mountain trails. In retrospect this must have been good training for what was to come.

At the age of 14 in search of a better life she ran away from home and joined the rebel Maoist Army. Nepal had been battling a civil war for the previous 10 years but by 2006 the peace treaty between the Maoists and the Nepali Government had already been signed so Mira was fortunate not to see any fighting. Life wasn’t much easier though with the discipline and the daily survival and weapons training but there was regular food and the opportunity to train in sports, to build up her fitness. She learnt Karate and became a brown belt but it was running that gave her the greatest pleasure.

The camp was eventually closed down and her unit absorbed into the Nepali Army. Mira was discharged, and not wanting to return to her former life in the village, travelled to Kathmandu. With limited resources she stayed with friends, and focused on track and road running. However fate, as it so often does, was to play another hand.

One day on a training run she met another runner who told her about a mountain race that was free for Nepali women to enter and so a few days later she found herself on the start line of the ‘Himalayan Outdoor Festival 50km’. The only local woman to enter, she seemed woefully unprepared, clad in a cotton t-shirt, tracksuit pants and without food or water.…………She won the race!

A month later she won the multi stage Mustang Trail Race and it was then that people started taking notice. Well-wishers and friends raised funds for her to compete in Italy, her first ever trip overseas. Last minute Visa problems meant she arrived just before the race but it didn’t stop her winning the Sellaronda, a tough 59 km run through the Italian Dolomites.

More victories followed, bringing her to the attention of Salomon who now sponsor her race and travel expenses. Her multiple successes in Hong Kong have resulted in a soon to be released documentary on her life.

Inspired by her meteoric rise and wanting to know more, we enlisted the help of her mentor, Trail Running Nepal’s Richard Bull, and an interpreter, and managed to track down Mira during a brief return visit to Nepal to ask her a few questions about her new life as an international runner:

When did you first start running and why?

  • I actually started running while I was in the Maoist camps when I was 15. We used to have many sports and I got opportunities to join in. I was pretty capable in running then but you can say that I began from my childhood, running up and down the hills, near my village.

We had heard that you had initially focused on running track, what made you switch to trails?

  • I was still running tracks when I was introduced to trail running for the first time through the Himalayan Outdoor Festival. Since then I’ve seen my strength is on trails and, I leave track now to the experts!

Where is your favorite place to run?

  • I like running anywhere. I don’t have a particular place. But if I had to mention the trails that I have run, I liked Hong Kong and Manaslu (Nepal) trails particularly.

How do you find the trails in the mountains in Nepal different to the ones you have been running in Europe?

  • In terms of difficulty, there is not much difference in the trails of Nepal and those of Europe. But, the trails in Europe are managed and more developed and easier to run on.

What’s a typical training day like for you?

  • In Nepal, I run different distances every day. Sometimes, I run for 1-2 hours, sometimes for 5-6 hours and on occasions, even 9-10 hours. The trainings are similar abroad as well. I train both hard and easy. Usually, I run 5-6 hours a day. For ultra, most is slow fat burning running with sections of high heart rate running.

What does your family think about what you do?

  • My family has been really supportive and encouraging of my pursuit of sports. My parents are very happy with the wins that I have had. I don’t know why I began running in the first place, but when I see my family, I am very happy to have followed this path. 

How did you feel when you first went overseas to race?

  • After I won the Mustang Trail Race, I was invited to participate in an international race. Travelling overseas was a very different and exciting experience for me. I went out of my country for the first time, all on my own. Undoubtedly, there were many obstacles but it still remains one of the most memorable events. The race (Sellaronda) was very difficult; I had to cross four hilltops. But I loved the challenge.

Has it been hard getting sponsorship to run overseas?

  • Getting sponsorship is quite difficult. But I am lucky I got chances. In the beginning, Trail Running Nepal supported me and now Salomon team has been supporting my travel as well.

Have things changed now you are getting international recognition?

  • With me, my country is getting recognition too, and so are the women of our country who have had a challenging childhood and life. More people in my country now have knowledge about trail running; a sport, which is not well known in Nepal. I feel I can push myself even harder now, that I have more people supporting me. Besides this, well, not much has really changed.

How has running changed your life?

  • Running has given a purpose to my life. Also, I earned recognition for myself and my country through running.

Do you think from the time you started running to now, the running scene in Nepal has changed?

  • It hasn’t been long since I started running. The situation hasn’t changed much although I am hopeful that more people now know about trail running than before.

Given your experience with international races, how would you like the running scene in Nepal to progress from here?

  • Many people don’t see trail running as a significant sport in Nepal, although its potential is obvious here. There is no governmental or non-governmental support for trail runners in Nepal. They need to find sponsors or support groups which is very difficult. Development of running trails is important and we runners can work on that.

What advice would you give someone just starting out?

  • Well, the most important thing is that you need to enjoy and secondly, focus is important. When I run, I have no idea what is going around, all I know is that I am running, and I should be running. You should run freely.

Any plans to run in New Zealand in the future?

  • I don’t have particular plans at the moment, but I would love to. I am willing to take up any opportunity that comes my way.

Following this interview, Mira Rai competed in the final race of the World Skyrunner Series, the 110 km Ultra Pirineau in the Spanish Pyrenees. Challenging the Swedish runner Emelie Forsberg for this year’s title, Mira pushed her hard over the mountainous course. In a nail biting duel, the duo were neck and neck for much of the race. At 100 kms Mira was just 90 seconds behind Emilie, who eventually claimed the win and the series title. Mira came in second just 2 minutes behind, and achieved an incredible 2nd place in the series in just her first year of competition. For her to be challenging Emelie Forsberg, the 3 time World Skyrunning Champion so closely hints at great things to come from this phenomenal young runner.

Useful links:

Gonzo

Gonzo Journalism – a style of journalism that is written without claims of objectivity, often including the reporter as part of the story via a first-person narrative.

I had first heard about Gonzo journalism when I watched the documentary ‘High There’ (reviewed here). It was this that led me to discover the works of Hunter S. Thompson, the man whose style of reporting spawned the term.

Hunter S. Thompson was a very talented, very unconventional, and certainly unusual writer, best known for works such as  Hell’s Angels, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail ’72, and The Rum Diary.

I was very keen to learn more about him and his life and first watched the wild and trippy Johnny Depp film ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ a dramatisation based on the book of the same name. Many of the scenes in the film were bizarre and only reinforced the desire to learn the real story about the man and I was lucky enough to find the documentary ‘Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.’

‘Gonzo’ tells the story of Hunter S. Thompson from his early days embedded with the Hells Angels, through the coverage of the McGovern presidential campaign, and into his later years as a supremely famous but drug and alcohol ‘infused’ writer.

Using actual footage from the period, interviews with his contemporaries, including narration by friend, Johnny Depp, as well as interviews with the man himself the film, paints a picture of a very clever writer striving to improve the world through his writing and political commentary. But at the same time one gets the feeling that he was a troubled man, one attempting to either dull or perhaps  even to enhance reality with his considerable alcohol and drug consumption, and eventually becoming a victim of his own fame and fabled excesses.

Gonzo’ is an interesting film, both from the point of view of learning about his life and career but also as a history lesson on the United States during the 60’s and 70’s. The music from that era makes for a great soundtrack but some of the scenes from that period are disturbing and it’s hard to believe that the America we know today has gone through the events portrayed in the film.

Hunter S. Thompson was a wild character and his capacity for alcohol and drug consumption was hard to believe although later scenes do seem to indicate signs of damage, with his slurring words and seeming lack of alertness, (or perhaps he was just “under the influence” while being filmed).

Whatever ones’ opinion on his lifestyle, there is no doubt that he was a supremely talented writer   but one has to wonder how much more could he have achieved and written had he lived a longer  and healthier life?

But then maybe he wouldn’t have been ‘Hunter S. Thompson’

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Journey To Le Mans

“The 24 hours of Le Mans………where man and machine face their limits……..and find what lies beyond them.”

Ok I admit I am a motor racing fan, so could be considered a little biased. Having said that however this is a great film and one I feel that even non motor heads will enjoy.

Journey to Le Mans” follows the JOTA Sport team during the 2014 European Le Mans Series (ELMS) right from pre-season testing through to the final race at Le Mans. For those of you who don’t know, a victory at Le Mans, possibly the premier motor racing event in the world, is the ultimate dream of many a racing driver. The JOTA Sport team has attempted seven times without success.

JOTA  is a racing team privately owned by self made multi-millionaire Simon Dolan, whose own rags to riches  story is worthy of a documentary in its own right. They are racing what is called a sports prototype in the LMP2  class in this very competitive sports car racing competition.

Narrated by Sir Patrick Stewart of Star Trek fame, and British racing driver Tiff Needell, the film pulls you in right from the beginning. Great racing action including actual race footage and commentary, and a clever soundtrack make the film very entertaining.  Slo motion footage of the pit stops and driver changes are fantastic.

But the documentary gives you much more than you would get from just watching a race. You get to experience the back story, the behind the scenes action, the highs and lows, the tragedies and the elation. As a viewer you partake in all the behind the scenes activities as a “fly on the wall” and it almost feels as if you are part of the team.  Candid interviews with the team members and the drivers brings familiarity and helps you to feel involved in the battle for success.

Like life itself there are more than a few plot twists too to keep one guessing.

For the fans there are guest appearances by drivers such as Mark Webber and Alan McNish, as well as plenty of interaction with the team drivers, certainly no lesser pilots themselves,  ex F1 driver and Le Mans winner Marc Gene, Mclaren test driver Oliver Turvey, Filipe Albuquerque, and ex Formula 3 driver and now Sports Car driver Harry Tincknell.

However even if you aren’t a fan , “Journey to Le Mans” is well worth watching as a very entertaining and informative story.

Read my interview with Writer/Director/Producer Charlotte Fantelli here

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Mira

Mira Rai

Photo Credit: Lloyd Belcher

“Chances are like a leaf on the river. You have to grab it as it may never come again” – Mira Rai

A lovely, inspiring short film.

Being an avid trail runner myself I had heard of Mira Rai, the young Nepalese runner who had come out of nowhere to achieve success in international mountain running, so I was very happy to find out that a short film had been made on her life.

Filmed by Hong Kong based film-maker Lloyd Belcher, and funded by donations, the film tells the story of Mira’s humble beginnings, growing up the eldest of 5 children in a mud walled hut in a remote region of Nepal. In an effort to ensure regular food, she ran away to join the Maoist Army during Nepal’s civil war. It was there that she discovered a love of running. After the army was disbanded she tried her hand at track running but with little success . Fate, however, was to play its hand when she by chance entered a 50km mountain race, which she won, and she realised she had found her forté.

Not wanting to spoil the story for you although most of it is already in the public domain, the film is a really inspiring piece of filmmaking. Mira comes across as a simple, innocent girl, with an amazing talent. The visuals are breathtaking. From footage of her races in the Alps to drone shots of her bounding across the Nepalese mountain side like a mountain goat. One particular scene of Mira warming up as steam rises from her body lit up in the rays of the early morning sun really stands out in my memory.

At only 42 mins long it’s not a long film but long enough to inspire you to get out the door and hit the trails.  The support of her well wishers is admirable, and her achievements on the international stage are incredible for anyone, let alone a girl from a tiny village and who couldn’t speak english.

The film is available to rent on Vimeo on demand and is well worth seeing. Proceeds from the film will help fund girl’s sports in Nepal

“Sometimes life’s struggles are preparing you for greater things” – Mira Rai

Mira from Lloyd Belcher Visuals on Vimeo.

CitizenFour

 

“We are building the greatest weapon for oppression in the history of man, yet it’s directors exempt themselves from accountability” – Edward Snowden

I feel everyone on the planet should watch this movie. I’ve watched it twice to fully digest the revelations in the film. It’s like watching a Hollywood spy thriller, but it’s actually real life. It is truly frightening! Not horror movie frightening, more that it is shocking to learn how much we are being spied on by our elected governments.

Citizenfour is about the whistle blower Edward Snowden a remarkable young man, a former NSA intelligence analyst, and now exiled whistleblower, who in 2013 brought the world’s attention to the extent of government surveillance on it’s citizens.

In 2013, after months of encrypted email conversations between himself and the film-maker Laura Poitras, they met in a hotel room in Hong Kong where he was filmed being interviewed by journalist Glenn Greenwald. The interviews took place over the course of a week and despite all activity being confined to within the walls of a hotel room, the footage is gripping. The conversations with this young man and his disclosures are shocking and hard to comprehend. The fact that our right to privacy can no longer be assumed is frightening as government agencies abuse the laws for their own means in an effort to, in their words, make the world a safer place.

Listening to Edward Snowden one has to admire the conviction of this young man, a man who was prepared to give up his comfortable lifestyle, his family, everything that was familiar to him, to know that he could be imprisoned at any moment, because he felt that what he was doing for the government was wrong.

To all outward appearances Snowden is a skinny bespectacled computer geek, however he comes across as a confident and determined young man. At one point he says ,“I am more willing to risk imprisonment or any other negative outcome than risk the curtailment of my intellectual freedom or that of others.”  When I think back to the man I was at his age I know for a fact that I didn’t possess the maturity and conviction that he has, and I take my hat off to him.

Edward now lives in exile in Russia, unable to return to the country of his birth, or indeed no longer able to travel to many other countries for fear of imprisonment under draconian and outdated espionage laws.

The film-maker Laura Poitras is also no stranger to Government harassment, having been repeatedly stopped and searched by US Customs and Border Protection Agents  every time she re-entered the country. All this after making the film “My Country, My Country” about the Iraq War. The harassment was so much that she relocated to Berlin where she is now based.

Edward Snowden has been made out by the US Government to be a traitor, however evidence in the film shows that the Government cannot be trusted. Director of the NSA, Keith Alexander, and Director of Intelligence, James Clapper, are both shown lying to Congress under oath about the extent of the government’s spying on it’s citizens. Another whistleblower, former government intelligence analyst, William Binney, who features in the film, was raided by FBI agents with guns drawn after he protested government abuses that took place after 9/11. The Obama Administration has maintained that if Snowden had made his disclosures to the public through “proper channels,” everything would have been fine, but their treatment of William Binney indicates otherwise. Instead they are now ensuring that we live in fear, with the worry that we are always being watched, our conversations being monitored, our private lives no longer private.

Please watch Citizenfour. It’s a vital part of your education!

Worth reading in conjunction with Citizenfour is Glenn Greenwald’s book “No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, The NSA, and the US Surveillance State

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Ronaldo

I enjoy watching documentaries about famous people. We build up a picture in our heads of how a celebrity is, what they do, how they function, but it’s usually based on half knowledge, based as it is on news reports and social media. What we read is often filtered through someone else’s prejudices and gives us a biased picture of the person.

Documentaries help us form our own opinions, help us to build a broader opinion of a person, and although they too will be filtered through the film-makers biases, hopefully help to fill in the gaps in our knowledge.

Now I’m not a football fan, I don’t watch matches or follow the football news. However I do know who Christiano Ronaldo is. Who doesn’t? His face is seen on billboards all over the world, his achievements are well known.

The film “Ronaldo” although not an in-depth documentary, takes you with the famous footballer for just over a year as he trains, plays and relaxes at home with his son and family.

We learn about his family, where he has come from, how he started. We get to see his brother, who talks about his struggle with addiction, how he coped with it and now manages Ronaldo’s museum, and what it is like to be living in the shadow of his famous brother. It delves into the loss of his father to alcoholism, the fact that his mother originally wanted to abort him, and his life with his young son, who he obviously loves immensely. One gets the impression that he misses his father a great deal and wants to be the best possible parent to his son.

Ronaldo” is not a critical documentary, more a show-piece of the lifestyle of a successful footballer but nevertheless we do get an insight into his life and his thoughts.

There are a few scenes that seem rehearsed or staged, like when Ronaldo asks his son to guess which one of the sports-cars is missing from the garage  but this goes to highlight the seeming insecurity of the man. Perhaps this insecurity is what drives him to be so good? To keep striving for success? This again is pointed to when we see his reaction to his rival Lionel Messi winning multiple Ballon D’ors.

One gets the feeling that despite all the success, all the acclaim, all the material rewards, that he is troubled and not truly happy. We tend to idolise these famous figures, make them larger than life, but really what does come across in a film like this is that they are just as human as the rest of us, with, just like us, all their own personal demons to conquer.

Ronaldo
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Altering Expectations

Altering Expectations

“I probably have the same feelings as the person who crossed the finish line first had….”

“Altering Expectations” is a short film documenting runner Kimberley Teshima as she prepares for and then runs her first Ultra-Marathon, the Oregon Coast 50K.

Filmed by her husband Ethan Newberry, a man otherwise known as “The Ginger Runner” the film is emotional, inspiring and filled with the stunning scenery of the Oregon coast. It’s almost like a tribute to the lady who has captured his heart and whose bravery and determination he obviously admires.

Kimberley is interviewed as she prepares for the race and although having some anxiety at running the distance for the first time she appears confident. The reality of race day however is starkly different and the confidence and pre-race bravado are soon left behind as she battles to beat cutoff times. The clever editing reminds you of her pre-race statements as she battles exhaustion and her mental demons. Along with Kimberley you get to experience her extreme ups and downs, her feelings of disappointment and failure, and her eventual elation at overcoming all the difficulties.

It must have been hard for her husband to keep filming while documenting her low points but film-on he did and the end result is a lovely little documentary that will inspire you to put on some running shoes.

If you haven’t got time to watch a full-on documentary and are looking for something to motivate you then watch “Altering Expectations”.

Me? I’m off for a run!

More films from “The Ginger Runner” can be found here

You can find out more about Kimberley Teshima here

Searching for Hell

 

 

It’s an interesting concept. Send 5 filmmakers out to film their interpretation of Hell. Does Hell exist and what is it? Searching For Hell attempts to find out.

First of all what is Hell? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary there are two simple definitions: 1) the place where the devil lives and where evil people go after they die according to some religions and 2) a very difficult or unpleasant situation or experience.

This gave the filmmakers a broad scope to work from and it makes for an interesting documentary.
Told as 5 separate stories, “Searching For Hell” brings us stories from across the world, in different languages, from different cultures, each providing us with a different interpretation of Hell. Filmed by an impressive roster of independent filmmakers, each story is markedly different from the other, some light hearted, some quite harrowing but each entertaining in their own way. By the end of the film you are given an interesting and at times even shocking insight into different parts of the world and their cultures.

However “Searching For Hell” fails to come up with a definitive answer as to what Hell really is, and in a way thats ok with me. Hell is a fairly abstract concept, after all who do we know that has been there and can tell us about it? It’s interpretation is different for everyone, and the one that is easiest to relate to is the 2nd of the two dictionary definitions; “a very difficult or unpleasant situation or experience.” Three of the stories touch on this and what comes through for me is the amazing resilience of human beings and their ability to endure. This is another film that makes me feel grateful for the life that I have .

I watched “Searching For Hell” on a conventional screen, however it happens to be the first feature documentary film to be screened and distributed worldwide in Virtual Reality Cinema.

If you are interested in watching it, “Searching for Hell” is available via multiple sales channels:

VR Cinema Cineveo – for this you need a headset and smartphone to watch it. I have tried it but am informed that it is like watching the film in real cinema, except that you can do so in the comfort of your own home.

The headsets are available here

 

The app is available only via Google Play store.

The film is also available for purchase or rent on:

Reelhouse

 

and on Indieflix VOD

Indieflix VOD

Also available on Amazon Prime:

Searching For Hell
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You can learn more about the film on the website:

www.searchingforhell.com