Drone, film on extra-judicial killing


This video says about itself:

DRONE TRAILER (Official version)

The secret CIA drone war. People living under the drones and young dronepilots coming to terms with killing through joysticks. DRONE uncovers crucial secrets of the CIA drone program, and shows how drones have changed war and possibly our future. See the documentary that inspired Homeland!

Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei and produced by Flimmer Film.

By Joanne Laurier in the USA:

Drone, a Norwegian-made documentary: “We just made orphans out of all these children”

29 January 2016

Directed by Tonje Hessen Schei

Drone, directed by Norwegian filmmaker Tonje Hessen Schei, about the illegal CIA drone program, has been screened at various documentary film festivals and played in certain theaters in North America.

The use of drones by the United States for purposes of assassinations has greatly increased over the past decade. Hessen Schei’s movie brings together opponents of this specialized killing tool, including authors, commentators, human rights attorneys and investigative journalists.

The real heart and strength of Drone lies in its interviews with two former drone operators from the US Air Force, Brandon Bryant and Michael Haas, both young men suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bryant and Haas served in time periods that straddled the presidencies of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. One of Bryant’s entries in his diary: “On the battlefield there are no sides, just bloodshed. Total war. Every horror witnessed. I wish my eyes would rot.”

Hessen Schei presents images and stories focusing on the northwestern Pakistani province of Waziristan, a region that has been a particular target of homicidal American drone bombing.

Reprieve, the British human rights organization whose founder, Clive Stafford Smith, is interviewed in the film, points out: “To date, the United States has used drones to execute without trial some 4,700 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia—all countries against whom it has not declared war. The US’ drones programme is a covert war being carried out by the CIA.”

In the documentary, Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, further observes that “nowhere has been more bombed by the CIA than Waziristan. The first recorded CIA drone strike in Pakistan took place in 2004. The number of those strikes has accelerated.” He calls it “an industrialized killing program.”

In Waziristan, a young drone strike survivor, Zubair Ur Rehman, shyly tells the camera that “the drones circulate 24 hours a day. Two or three at a time. Always two, but often three or four. When we hear the sound of the drones, we get scared. We can’t work, play or go to school. It is only when it’s cloudy that we don’t hear the drones.”

The barbaric strikes, which have increased sharply under the Obama administration, are illegal under international and US law and amount to war crimes. In the Hessen Schei film, Pakistani photojournalist Noor Behram displays his dossier of devastating photographs of child victims of drone attacks: “Every time I sleep, I hear the cries of the children.”

Drone also deals with the attacks on the would-be rescuers of the victims of the drone strikes. This is what the American military refers to as a “double tap.” Missiles are launched, killing and injuring people. Moments later, when nearby residents race to the scene to help the wounded, another round of missiles is fired. As one analyst points out, the US government, in many cases, has no idea whom they are killing.

From Drone, children with missile pieces

Imran Khan, Chairman of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, affirms that “when people gather round to save the injured [from a drone strike], there’s another drone attack! … You can hear the cries of the injured for hours because no one goes to help them.”

Another of the movie’s commentators emphasizes, “It’s never been easier for an American president to carry out killing operations at the ends of the earth … and when you define the world as a battlefield, it’s a very broad range of operations you can carry out.”

According to Woods: “You’ve got the president signing off on particular death lists; you have the US Air Force flying the drones; the Central Intelligence Agency responsible for the strikes; CENTCOM [United States Central Command] involved in launching and targeting of strikes; NSA [National Security Agency] providing intelligence for strikes … the entire apparatus of the United States government has been bent towards the process of targeted killings over the past decade.”

As a means of recruiting drone pilots, the military has developed “militainment”—war presented as entertainment. In the warped minds of the armed forces’ top brass, video gamers have skill sets that it values.

Former drone operator Bryant, who served as a sensor operator for the Predator program from 2007 to 2011, movingly explains that “I didn’t really understand what it meant to kill at first. … We sat in a box for nearly 12-hour shifts. … We’re the ultimate voyeurs. The ultimate Peeping Toms. No one is going to catch us. We’re getting orders to take these peoples’ lives. It was just a point and click.”

One of Drone’s interviewed experts argues the more distant the perpetrator is from the victim, the crueler the act of killing. The separation in space creates and encourages indifference. He refers to “the psychology of distance.”

Haas, who served in the US military from 2005 to 2011, participated in targeted killing runs from his computer at the Creech Air Force Base in Nevada that ended the lives of insurgents and others in Afghanistan some 8,000 miles away: “I joined when I was barely 20 years old. I did not know what I was in for. I thought it was the coolest damn thing in the world. Play video games all day and then the reality hits you that you may have to kill somebody.

“In our control room, they had a picture of the September 11 [2001] plane hitting the second [World Trade Center] building. They make you pissed off all over again just before you go do your job. ‘These guys have to die. These guys deserve to die.’ And you’ve got to make it happen.”

As opposed to the remorse felt by the former airmen, Andy Von Flotow, chairman of Insitu, which builds unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the state of Washington, was in on the ground floor in the development of drones. He boasts that “we started this unmanned aircraft business in the early 1990s, shortly after GPS made it possible.” His company built a small airplane with a camera on it in 1999 to help tuna fisherman. While the fishermen did not buy the planes, “George Bush took us into his adventures.” Flotow claims that “we have 25 percent of unmanned flight hours in Iraq and Afghanistan. … War is an opportunity to do business.”

One of the most intense moments in the film occurs when Bryant opens up to the filmmakers: “I didn’t really understand what it meant to kill at first. It was horrible. The first time was horrible. The second time was horrible. The third time was numbing. The fourth time was numbing. But of course the first time sticks with you the longest [he describes the procedure]. … Then I watched this man bleed out … and I imagined his last moments. I knew I had ended something I had no right to end. I swore an oath, I did what I was supposed to do. I followed through with it. … It was like an image of myself was cracking up and breaking apart.

Earlier in the film, he says: “Over the last five and one half years, 1,626 people were killed in the operations I took part in. … When I looked at that number, I was ready to put a bullet in my brain.”

Fellow drone operator Haas discloses that “you never knew who you were killing because you never actually see a face—just silhouettes and it’s easy to have that detachment and that lack of sympathy for human life. And it’s easy just to think of them as something else. They’re not really people, they’re just terrorists.” His military superiors, he remarks, “don’t have to take that shot or bear the burden—I’m the one who has to bear that burden. They don’t have to do the actions or live with the repercussions … and we just made orphans out of all these children. They don’t have to live with that. I do.”

The CIA drones program is global assassination without trial. The operations of this state-run murder machine are kept shrouded in secrecy by the Obama administration. While the outlook of the creators of Drone is not strong––essentially consisting of appeals to the United Nations and the Pakistani government––the movie provides further insight into the lawless and ruthless character of US foreign policy.

Son of Saul, film on Auschwitz mass murder


This video is called Son of Saul Trailer 1 (2015) – Geza Rohrig Holocaust Drama Movie HD.

By Dorota Niemitz:

A modern Antigone: Son of Saul by László Nemes

28 January 2016

Directed by László Nemes; written by Nemes and Clara Royer, based on the book The Scrolls of Auschwitz and various prisoners’ memoirs

Hungarian filmmaker László Nemes’s debut feature film, Son of Saul, treats almost unimaginable horror: a day and a half in the life of a member of the Sonderkommando [special unit], made up of prisoners who staffed the gas chambers, at the Auschwitz II-Birkenau concentration camp. More than one million people were murdered at Auschwitz from 1942 to 1944, 90 percent of them Jews, transported from all over German-occupied Europe.

Henryk Mandelbaum, the last survivor of the Sonderkommando at Auschwitz, who died in 2008, called the unit members living corpses. Their average life expectancy in the position was two to four months. Under threat of death, the Nazis used them to conduct people to the gas chambers and burn their bodies in the crematoriums.

Most of the death camp Sonderkommando members were Jews. An aspect of the Nazis’ diabolical plan was to make the victims partially responsible for the Holocaust. To other camp inmates they were traitors. Only about 200 of them survived the war.

The unit members had to extract gold teeth, remove jewelry and other valuables, cut hair and disinfect the chambers. After reducing the burnt corpses to ash, they had to throw them into the nearby river. Isolated for fear of spreading panic, they received more food than other prisoners, but had little time for sleep or rest. The work was constant, the tempo brutal. Many, of course, could not cope and experienced nervous breakdowns, some committed suicide. After being forced to cover traces of the Nazi crimes, the “bearers of secrets” themselves were shot.

Nemes’s Son of Saul depicts the events of October 7, 1944, when one of the biggest Sonderkommando uprisings took place. Some 450 out of 663 special unit prisoners took part in the revolt. Learning that they were slated for extermination, the prisoners attacked the SS and Kapos with two machine guns, axes, knives and grenades, killing three and wounding 12 German soldiers, as well as blowing up Crematorium IV. The rebellion was quickly crushed by the SS.

All the insurgents were killed. Those who managed to escape and reach the nearby village, Rajsko, were surrounded in a barn and blown up with hand grenades. Five young Jewish women who worked for the Weichsel-Union-Metallwerke, a munitions plant within the Auschwitz complex, and who had smuggled small amounts of gunpowder to aid the uprising, were later hanged.

Unlike previous portrayals of the Sonderkommando, such as the one in Tim Blake Nelson’s The Grey Zone, which treated the conduct of the individual members as “shameful,” Son of Saul is a sincere attempt to depict the complex reality of the concentration camp and the multiplicity of connections between victims and their oppressors.

Saul (Géza Röhrig) is a Hungarian Jew who––humiliated and paralyzed in the face of the enormous scale of the hellish mass murder––numbly collaborates with the Nazis to stay alive. After witnessing the murder of a teenage boy who has just arrived in a transport from Hungary, and believing the youth might be his son born out of wedlock, Saul decides to steal the body to ensure the boy’s proper burial.

The recreated reality of the movie is brutally precise and historically accurate. Cinematographer Mátyás Erdély uses a technique similar to that of the Dardenne brothers, following his main character very closely, providing a deliberately narrow field of vision, to immerse the viewer in the immediate surroundings. We can almost smell the dirt on Saul’s body, feel his torment. Screams and moans in Yiddish, Hungarian, Polish, Russian and German substitute for a soundtrack and broaden the imagery’s realism.

Despite the blurry background, we are well aware of what is taking place at all times. It is precisely the lack of details that horrifies the most. Then there are the scenes in which terrible discoveries are subtly conveyed, such as the realization that the mountains of dust shoveled into the river are composed of human remains.

Judaism forbids cremation of the body and treats it as a sin. The corpse needs to be wrapped in a tallit, a special fringed garment, and buried as quickly after death as possible.

Like Sophocles’ Antigone, who defies the tyrant Creon’s edict forbidding the burial of her rebel brother, Polynices, Saul revolts against the brutal laws of the Nazi totalitarian state in defense of human and, to him, divine principles. He knows beforehand the rules and the consequences––his “crime” is conscious and deliberate. Until the very end Saul remains untouched by and indifferent toward the authority that will crush him. Suffering beyond endurance, he accepts his fate: He can do nothing but die.

Saul dies, but all is not lost for humanity. We know the Nazi regime ultimately collapsed, like that of the of the King of Thebes in Greek mythology.

In Son of Saul Nemes accomplishes something rare for a modern artist, skillfully reviving the principles and themes of an ancient drama, sculpting the essence of a human tragedy. The viewer might question the uncompromising religious values Saul stands for. But it is undeniable that his clash with the camp authorities is of immense importance to human beings today who sense the vast gap between their innate sense of “what is right” and the doings of the global rulers.

Saul is defending an old and annihilated order, now only an unreal shadow. By desperately searching for a rabbi in a world where such an individual’s functions have been obliterated, he seeks to link the nonexistent with the existent. The respect paid to the body of what might be his offspring becomes a symbol of universal honor paid to all those slaughtered and then burnt in defiance of their religion in the inferno of crematoriums. Stealing the boy’s body becomes an act of retribution: the extermination of the Jews will not be completed because something will be left of them, even if in a grave.

In Nemes’s film, there is little room for subjectivity nor much interest in Saul’s individual personality: the man is a universal “self” and represents the community of people caught up by forces bigger and independent of themselves. He is an actor confronted on the stage not only with his oppressors, but with the chorus of camp resistance members who accuse him of “failing the living for the sake of the dead.” One of the chorus members, a Soviet soldier, even kicks him in the gut.

There is something fixated and even psychotic in Saul’s determination. It makes him endanger his own life––and the lives of others––to fulfill his “duty.” Had he not lost the gunpowder due to his obsession with the dead body, would the uprising have been successful?

It is perhaps difficult to identify with the cold, robot-like, half-dead Saul. But it is also difficult to condemn him. His face, although at times it resembles a predator’s, should invoke some compassion. Saul’s condition speaks to something broader than his own individual fate: the wretchedness of all those forced against their will to toil for a system they did not create, merely to survive.

Despite the film’s physical and intellectual constraints, which reduce the conflict largely to the ethical plane and omit any reference to the historical roots of the horrors it depicts, Son of Saul is a valuable artistic achievement. It is a matter of utmost importance that such a work reaches global cinemas. Fascist political tendencies are again on the rise and various European governments are adopting Nazi-style measures against refugees, including the confiscation of their money and valuables upon entry into miserable camps.

Hieronymus Bosch, new film on ancient painter


This video says about itself:

Jheronimus Bosch, Touched by the devil – Official Trailer

2 December 2015

This new Dutch film, by Pieter van Huystee, is on late medieval-early Renaissance painter Jheronimus Bosch (or Hieronymus, or Jeroen Bosch) (about 1450 – 9 August 1516).

More precisely, the film is on the complex preparations for having an exhibition to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the death of the painter in the North Brabant Museum in Den Bosch, the city where he was born and worked.

This 30 November 2015 video is about that exhibition.

The preparations for it were so complex as not one of Bosch’s paintings was in Den Bosch. Most of his work is not in Dutch museums. The biggest collection is in the Prado museum in Madrid. The Spanish King Philip II ruled over the Netherlands until the Dutch revolt and had Bosch paintings brought to Spain. Other work is in Belgium, Italy, France, Germany and the USA.

I went to this film, on 22 January 2016 in a packed cinema.

According to experts, only about 25 paintings are certainly by Bosch. Others may be from Jheronimus Bosch’s workshop (sometimes with more than one artist working at the same painting, like Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder later); or by artists inspired by Bosch.

While preparing the exhibition, researchers found out that some work, attributed to Bosch, cannot have been by the famous master, as the wood was from trees which did not live yet when Bosch died. They also discovered an unknown drawing which Bosch had most probably drawn.

They also discovered what the subject of a Bosch triptych in Venice, Italy was: it depicted a (fictitious) female saint, St. Uncumber, killed by crucifixion.

This video shows some of the research.

Though only about 25 paintings are (almost) certainly by Bosch, he depicted owls scores of times. He definitely knew the differences between owl species, like barn owl and little owl.

Human embracing tawny owl, detail from Bosch's Garden of earthly delights

The film suggests the owls are in the paintings and drawings as symbols of the devil. This superstition about owls was widespread in Europe about 1500. We are not sure whether Bosch shared it.

Bosch also depicted other birds, including the kingfisher and the goldfinch.

His work is full of many details. Because of that, the new research, including macro photography, for the jubilee exhibition was able to make new discoveries.

We know more or less which art is by Bosch. We know something about his life from Den Bosch city records. However, we don’t really know about the connections between his life and his work.

There are not any writings by Bosch about how he saw his work.

Well, maybe there is one: a sentence in Latin above a drawing, about innovating oneself being better than relying on other people’s innovations. Is that Latin sentence by Bosch? We don’t know. We don’t know Hieronymus Bosch’s handwriting.

There may be one other connection between Bosch’s life and art, a Prado museum art historian says in the film. When Hieronymus was small, there was a big fire in Den Bosch. Though it did not burn his home, that fire must have left a big impression on the child. It may explain why there are so often fires in Bosch’s paintings; mainly hellfire.

Like other painters of his age, Bosch often depicted heaven and hell. With more hell and less heaven than his contemporaries. Maybe in this Bosch was a bit similar to actresses today, who prefer playing evil scheming women like Ms Alexis Colby in the Dynasty TV series, to goody two shoes style virtuous roles.

Bosch, like the Latin sentence above the drawing says, was an innovator (which medieval patrons of arts often disliked). Bosch depicted fantasy (eg, half animal, half human) beings never depicted before.

He was one of the first artists to depict common people; not just angels and people at the top of political or church hierarchies.

As Alan Woods points out, Bosch lived in turbulent times, and these times reflect in his art. One year after Bosch died, Martin Luther started the religious Reformation. Already before that, the stability of feudal society had been undermined: by the Black Death plague, by wars, by persecution of ‘witches’, by the rise of the urban bourgeoisie which eventually became rivals of the nobility and Roman Catholic clergy ruling classes.

King Philip II of Spain tried to restore feudal stability by forcibly oppressing the revolt against his rule in the Low Countries. He tried it by concentrating secular and religious power in one hand: his own hand, as absolute monarch ‘by the grace of God’. His El Escorial building, both a palace and a monastery, symbolized this unification of power. Philip brought Jeroen Bosch art to the Escorial, where some of it still is. Alan Woods writes that King Philip II did not understand Jeroen Bosch’s sharp criticism of the powers that be. Bosch’s art says that in choosing between good, leading to paradise, and evil, leading to hell, also many religious and political authorities choose evil and should burn in hell. Among his many depictions of priests, monks and nuns, not one shows these religious people in a favourable light.

Jeroen Bosch, detail of the Garden of earthly delights

This detail of Bosch’s Garden of earthly delights shows a nun with a pig’s body. On the left of the detail is a being, half fantasy animal, half noble knight.

This 20 January 2016 video is about Bosch’s Garden of earthly delights.

A main theme in Bosch’s work is money corrupting people, including popes, monarchs and other elite people. As shown, eg, in his painting The hay wain. Today, in different ways, money still corrupts, helps to kindle flames of wars, etc. That is, according to Woods, why Bosch is still relevant today.

This video series is the BBC documentary Hieronymus Bosch and the delights of hell.

Oscar nominations in Hollywood, USA


This video from the USA says about itself:

The Oscars‘ horrible lack of diversity, explained in 2 minutes

16 January 2015

The average Oscar voter is a 63-year-old white man, so it’s no surprise that there is a horrible lack of diversity in this year’s Academy Award nominations.

The Academy Proves That Oscars Are Only For White People, Again. Oh, you thought non-white actors would get Oscar noms? Here.

A Twitter message by Marlon James in the USA on 14 January 2016 says:

#OscarsSoWhite that the bear in [the film] Revenant would have snagged a nomination if she were polar.

By David Walsh in the USA:

The 88th Academy Awards nominations

15 January 2016

The 88th Academy Award nominations, announced Thursday morning, revealed the usual muddle-headedness, liberal good intentions and severe limitations of the social grouping that decides these things. The awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, will take place on February 28 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. …

Two honest films about American life, The Big Short––on the 2008 financial crisis and Wall Street criminality––and Spotlight ––about sexual abuse by Catholic priests––collected a number of nominations. Both films were named in the best picture and best directing categories; both had a supporting actor nominated (Christian Bale in The Big Short and Mark Ruffalo in Spotlight, respectively); both screenplays (one adapted and one original) were nominated. The Big Short received a total of five nominations and Spotlight six.

Harry Potter film actor Alan Rickman, RIP


This video from the USA says about itself:

14 January 2016

This morning we found out that Alan Rickman was taken from us at the age of 69 from cancer. John Iadarola delivers his Final Judgment on Alan Rickman.

From daily The Morning Star in Britain:

Film and stage star Rickman dies age 69

Friday 15th January 2016

ACTOR and film director Alan Rickman died from cancer yesterday aged 69.

The highly respected star and Labour supporter, hailing from a working-class west London family, had a prolific career on stage and screen after graduating from drama school Rada in 1974.

He shot to stardom in 1988 when he played Bruce Willis’s nemesis Hans Gruber in Die Hard before attracting a new generation of fans playing Professor Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films.

Mr Rickman’s wife Rima Horton was a Labour councillor for Kensington and Chelsea and he once said in an interview that he “was born a card-carrying member of the Labour Party.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Mr Rickman was “one of the greatest actors of his generation.”

Guardian journalist Katherine Viner worked with Mr Rickman on a play called My Name is Rachel Corrie, which he directed, about a US campaigner killed in Gaza by an Israeli army bulldozer while trying to protect a Palestinian family’s home from demolition.

Ms Viner described him as “the most loyal, playful and generous of friends.”

Filming birds in flight, video


This video from the USA says about itself:

THE MESSENGER “BEHIND THE SCENES”

12 January 2016

Faced with the challenge of filming tiny songbirds in night flight, The Messenger Film Crew had to find a way to make the invisible visible. The wind tunnel used by scientists at Western University’s Advanced Facility for Avian Research, offered a unique solution.

See also here.