I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO – A documentary by Raoul Peck

A film about James Baldwin (1924-87)‘s life and work


“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”

“Freedom is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.”

“Life is tragic simply because the earth turns and the sun inexorably rises and sets, and one day, for each of us, the sun will go down for the last, last time. Perhaps the whole root of our trouble, the human trouble, is that we will sacrifice all the beauty of our lives, will imprison ourselves in totems, taboos, crosses, blood sacrifices, steeples, mosques, races, armies, flags, nations, in order to deny the fact of death, the only fact we have. It seems to me that one ought to rejoice in the fact of death–ought to decide, indeed, to earn one’s death by confronting with passion the conundrum of life. One is responsible for life: It is the small beacon in that terrifying darkness from which we come and to which we shall return.” ― In: “The Fire Next Time”

Historic debate between James Baldwin vs. William F. Buckley Jr., in 1965, at Cambridge University on the question: “Is the American Dream at the expense of the American Negro?”

Dirt! The Movie

Dirt! The Movie

Dirt! The Movie is a 2009 American documentary film directed by filmmakers Gene Rosow and Bill Benenson and narrated by Jamie Lee Curtis. It was inspired by the book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth by William Bryant Logan. The film explores the relationship between humans and soil, including its necessity for human life and impacts by society. Dirt! The Movie was an official selection for the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and won several awards, including the best documentary award at the 2009 Visions/Voices Environmental Film Festival and the “Best film for our future” award at the 2009 Mendocino Film Festival. (Wikipedia)

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Dirt shiva1

“Floods, drought, climate change, and even war are all directly related to the fate of humble dirt. Made from the same elements as stars, plants, and human beings, dirt is very much alive. One teaspoon of dirt contains a billion organisms working in balance to sustain a series of complex, thriving communities that are invisibly a part of our daily lives. DIRT! The Movie tells the story of Earth’s most valuable and underappreciated source of fertility — from its miraculous beginning to its tragic degradation. This insightful and timely film tells the story of the glorious and unappreciated material beneath our feet.

Narrated by Jaimie Lee Curtis and inspired by William Bryant Logan’s acclaimed book Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of the Earth, DIRT! The Movie introduces viewers to dirt’s fascinating history. Four billion years of evolution have created the dirt that recycles our water, gives us food, and provides us with shelter. But humanity has endangered this vital living resource with destructive methods of agriculture, mining practices, and urban development, with catastrophic results: mass starvation, drought, and global warming.

The filmmakers travel around the world to capture the stories of global visionaries who are discovering new ways to repair humanity’s relationship with soil, checking in with Dr. Vandana Shiva to discuss her fight to prevent world hunger by preserving biodiversity in India, and documenting the tree planting work of renowned photographer Sebastião Salgado and his wife Lélia in Brazil. From farmers rediscovering sustainable agriculture and scientists discovering connections with soil to inmates learning job skills in a prison horticulture program and children eating from edible schoolyards, DIRT! The Movie brings to life the environmental, economic, social, and political importance of soil and suggests ways we can create new possibilities for all life on Earth.” = PBS INDEPENDENT LENS


corporation_ver3_xlgTHE CORPORATION (2003) 
by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott

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by Michael Winterbottom // Book by Naomi Klein

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age_of_stupid_ver2_xlgTHE AGE OF STUPID (2009)
by Franny Armstrong [FilmsForAction]

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capitalism_a_love_story_ver2CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY (2009)
by Michael Moore

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disruption-movie-featuredDISRUPTION (2014)

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by Peter Joseph

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FOOD INC. [FilmsForAction]

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GASLAND by Josh Fox

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“Market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change.” NAOMI KLEIN @ THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING

Art by Evgeny Parfenov

“Time is tight, to be sure. But we could commit ourselves, tomorrow, to radically cutting our fossil fuel emissions and beginning the shift to zero-carbon sources of energy based on renewable technology, with a full-blown transition underway within the decade. We have the tools to do that. And if we did, the seas would still rise and the storms would still come, but we would stand a much greater chance of preventing truly catastrophic warming. Indeed, entire nations could be saved from the waves.

So my mind keeps coming back to the question: what is wrong with us? I think the answer is far more simple than many have led us to believe: we have not done the things that are necessary to lower emissions because those things fundamentally conflict with deregulated capitalism, the reigning ideology for the entire period we have been struggling to find a way out of this crisis. We are stuck because the actions that would give us the best chance of averting catastrophe – and would benefit the vast majority – are extremely threatening to an elite minority that has a stranglehold over our economy, our political process, and most of our major media outlets. That problem might not have been insurmountable had it presented itself at another point in our history. But it is our great collective misfortune that the scientific community made its decisive diagnosis of the climate threat at the precise moment when those elites were enjoying more unfettered political, cultural, and intellectual power than at any point since the 1920s. Indeed, governments and scientists began talking seriously about radical cuts to greenhouse gas emissions in 1988 – the exact year that marked the dawning of what came to be called “globalisation,” with the signing of the agreement representing the world’s largest bilateral trade relationship between Canada and the US, later to be expanded into the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with the inclusion of Mexico.

The three policy pillars of this new era are familiar to us all: privatisation of the public sphere, deregulation of the corporate sector, and lower corporate taxation, paid for with cuts to public spending. Much has been written about the real-world costs of these policies – the instability of financial markets, the excesses of the super-rich, and the desperation of the increasingly disposable poor, as well as the failing state of public infrastructure and services. Very little, however, has been written about how market fundamentalism has, from the very first moments, systematically sabotaged our collective response to climate change.”

Naomi Klein
This Changes Everything
@ The Guardian

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The Secret of the Seven Sisters – The Shameful Story of Oil [A 4-part series that reveals how a secret pact formed a cartel that controls the world’s oil]


The Secret of the Seven Sisters

 A four-part series that reveals how a secret pact formed a cartel that controls the world’s oil.


On August 28, 1928, in the Scottish highlands, began the secret story of oil.

Three men had an appointment at Achnacarry Castle – a Dutchman, an American and an Englishman.

The Dutchman was Henry Deterding, a man nicknamed the Napoleon of Oil, having exploited a find in Sumatra. He joined forces with a rich ship owner and painted Shell salesman and together the two men founded Royal Dutch Shell.

The American was Walter C. Teagle and he represents the Standard Oil Company, founded by John D. Rockefeller at the age of 31 – the future Exxon. Oil wells, transport, refining and distribution of oil – everything is controlled by Standard Oil.

The Englishman, Sir John Cadman, was the director of the Anglo-Persian oil Company, soon to become BP. On the initiative of a young Winston Churchill, the British government had taken a stake in BP and the Royal Navy switched its fuel from coal to oil. With fuel-hungry ships, planes and tanks, oil became “the blood of every battle”.

The new automobile industry was developing fast, and the Ford T was selling by the million. The world was thirsty for oil, and companies were waging a merciless contest but the competition was making the market unstable.

That August night, the three men decided to stop fighting and to start sharing out the world’s oil. Their vision was that production zones, transport costs, sales prices – everything would be agreed and shared. And so began a great cartel, whose purpose was to dominate the world, by controlling its oil.

Four others soon joined them, and they came to be known as the Seven Sisters – the biggest oil companies in the world.

7 (1)

EPISODE 1 – Desert Storms

In the first episode, we travel across the Middle East, through both time and space.

Since that notorious meeting at Achnacarry Castle on August 28, 1928, they have never ceased to plot, to plan and to scheme.Throughout the region’s modern history, since the discovery of oil, the Seven Sisters have sought to control the balance of power.

They have supported monarchies in Iran and Saudi Arabia, opposed the creation of OPEC, profiting from the Iran-Iraq war, leading to the ultimate destruction of Saddam Hussein and Iraq.

The Seven Sisters were always present, and almost always came out on top.

We waged the Iran-Iraq war and I say we waged it, because one country had to be used to destroy the other. As they already benefit from the oil bonanza, and they’re building up financal reserves, from time to time they have to be bled.”

– Xavier Houzel, an oil trader

EPISODE 2 – The Black El Dorado

At the end of the 1960s, the Seven Sisters, the major oil companies, controlled 85 percent of the world’s oil reserves. Today, they control just 10 percent.

New hunting grounds are therefore required, and the Sisters have turned their gaze towards Africa. With peak oil, wars in the Middle East, and the rise in crude prices, Africa is the oil companies’ new battleground.

“Everybody thought there could be oil in Sudan but nobody knew anything. It was revealed through exploration by the American company Chevron, towards the end of the 70s. And that was the beginning of the second civil war, which went on until 2002. It lasted for 19 years and cost a million and a half lives and the oil business was at the heart of it.

– Gerard Prunier, a historian

In their bid to dominate Africa, the Sisters installed a king in Libya, a dictator in Gabon, fought the nationalisation of oil resources in Algeria, and through corruption, war and assassinations, brought Nigeria to its knees.But the real story, the secret story of oil, begins far from Africa.

Oil may be flowing into the holds of huge tankers, but in Lagos, petrol shortages are chronic.

The country’s four refineries are obsolete and the continent’s main oil exporter is forced to import refined petrol – a paradox that reaps fortunes for a handful of oil companies.

Encouraged by the companies, corruption has become a system of government – some $50bn are estimated to have ‘disappeared’ out of the $350bn received since independence.

But new players have now joined the great oil game.

China, with its growing appetite for energy, has found new friends in Sudan, and the Chinese builders have moved in. Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir is proud of his co-operation with China – a dam on the Nile, roads, and stadiums.

In order to export 500,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil fields in the South – China financed and built the Heglig pipeline connected to Port Sudan – now South Sudan’s precious oil is shipped through North Sudan to Chinese ports.

In a bid to secure oil supplies out of Libya, the US, the UK and the Seven Sisters made peace with the once shunned Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, until he was killed during the Libyan uprising of 2011, but the flow of Libyan oil remains uninterrupted.

In need of funds for rebuilding, Libya is now back to pumping more than a million barrels of oil per day. And the Sisters are happy to oblige.

EPISODE 3 – The Dancing Bear

In the Caucasus, the US and Russia are vying for control of the region. The great oil game is in full swing. Whoever controls the Caucasus and its roads, controls the transport of oil from the Caspian Sea.

Tbilisi, Erevan and Baku – the three capitals of the Caucasus. The oil from Baku in Azerbaijan is a strategic priority
for all the major companies.

From the fortunes of the Nobel family to the Russian revolution, to World War II, oil from the Caucasus and the Caspian has played a central role. Lenin fixated on conquering the Azeri capital Baku for its oil, as did Stalin and Hitler.

On his birthday in 1941, Adolf Hitler received a chocolate and cream birthday cake, representing a map. He chose the slice with Baku on it.

On June 22nd 1941, the armies of the Third Reich invaded Russia. The crucial battle of Stalingrad was the key to the road to the Caucasus and Baku’s oil, and would decide the outcome of the war.

Stalin told his troops: “Fighting for one’s oil is fighting for one’s freedom.”

After World War II, President Nikita Krushchev would build the Soviet empire and its Red Army with revenues from the USSR’s new-found oil reserves.

Decades later, oil would bring that empire to its knees, when Saudi Arabia and the US would conspire to open up the oil taps, flood the markets, and bring the price of oil down to $13 per barrel. Russian oligarchs would take up the oil mantle, only to be put in their place by their president, Vladimir Putin, who knows that oil is power.

The US and Putin‘s Russia would prop up despots, and exploit regional conflicts to maintain a grip on the oil fields of the Caucusus and the Caspian.

But they would not have counted on the rise of a new, strong and hungry China, with an almost limitless appetite for oil and energy. Today, the US, Russia and China contest the control of the former USSR’s fossil fuel reserves, and the supply routes. A three-handed match, with the world as spectators, between three ferocious beasts – The American eagle, the Russian bear, and the Chinese dragon.

EPISODE 4 – A Time for Lies

Peak oil – the point in time at which the highest rate of oil extraction has been reached, and after which world production will start decline. Many geologists and the International Energy Agency say the world’s crude oil output reached its peak in 2006.

But while there may be less oil coming out of the ground, the demand for it is definitely on the rise.

The final episode of this series explores what happens when oil becomes more and more inaccessible, while at the same time, new powers like China and India try to fulfill their growing energy needs.

And countries like Iran, while suffering international sanctions, have welcomed these new oil buyers, who put business ahead of lectures on human rights and nuclear ambitions.

At the same time, oil-producing countries have had enough with the Seven Sisters controlling their oil assets. Nationalisation of oil reserves around the world has ushered in a new generation of oil companies all vying for a slice of the oil pie.

These are the new Seven Sisters.

Saudi Arabia’s Saudi Aramco, the largest and most sophisticated oil company in the world; Russia’s Gazprom, a company that Russia’s President Vladimir Putin wrested away from the oligarchs; The China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), which, along with its subsidiary, Petrochina, is the world’s secnd largest company in terms of market value; The National Iranian Oil Company, which has a monopoly on exploration, extraction, transportation and exportation of crude oil in Iran – OPEC’s second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia; Venezuela’s PDVSA, a company the late president Hugo Chavez dismantled and rebuilt into his country’s economic engine and part of his diplomatic arsenal; Brazil’s Petrobras, a leader in deep water oil production, that pumps out 2 million barrels of crude oil a day; and Malaysia’s Petronas – Asia’s most profitable company in 2012.

Mainly state-owned, the new Seven Sisters control a third of the world’s oil and gas production, and more than a third of the world’s reserves. The old Seven Sisters, by comparison, produce a tenth of the world’s oil, and control only three percent of the reserves.

The balance has shifted.

BBC’s “The Truth About Climate Change” (Presented by David Attenborough)


David Attenborough, English naturalist and broadcaster

BBC: “The Truth About Climate Change”
Presented by David Attenborough
Documentary / 120 min
Download torrent

FINDING FELA: Kuti’s Music Is a Weapon (A Review of Alex Gibney’s Documentary)


BestofFelaI just watched at Toronto’s Hot Docs Finding Fela, Alex Gibney‘s doc about the King of Afrobeat, Nigeria’s hipest “rock star”, the wild and exuberant Fela Kuti.

I’m under the impression that I’ve seen one of the greatest music documentaries ever, but one which is so great mainly because it goes beyond music. It fits the music into a broader context; the focus here is not only the musical start, but how he acts in the “public arena”, inside “the agora”, the Nigerian stage in which the music plays its social role.

In Fela Kuti’s case, it seems that we see in action an ideal of music as both a celebration and a protest, both a party and a riot. Fela Kuti’s songs are no downers; they’re supposed to uplift us into a joyous mood. He invites us, seduces us, into a luxurious world of colourful melodies and syncopated rhythms. There’s no asceticism here, only the spontaneous flow outwards of a will to joy. If we let it act, it’s epidemic: this music infects with joy and invites to dance with its powerful uninterrupted groove.

This man’s groovy hymns to joy, however, were somewhat mixed with an element of rebellion, of outrage. I suppose it’s hard to live in Nigeria and not be enraged, for instance, by being policed by highly violent and authoritarian soldiers, acting all for the sake of the wealthy oil men of the economical elite! Lagos is a megalopolis with some many problems – from malnutrition to several deficits in public health facilities – that it’s one of the cities analysed by Mike Davis’s important book Planet of Slums

 Fela Kuti, when he rages, I believe we can discover in him some anarchist traits, as well as a bit of a Christian Messiah Complex… He rages against authority, the State, like a shouting anarchist, but then he delights himself with his own power over his audience, enjoys being regarded as some kind of Black Messiah, celebrates through music a society in microcosm – happening himside his “Afrikan Shrine!” – in which is ideal is made flesh. The triumphs and tribulations of this bold artist, with outspoken political rebeliousness, is the theme of Alex Gibney’s biographical journey, which intersects with the Broadway spectacle devoted to Fela that the film also documents.

ZARIt’s a film about the struggles of existence, the politics of resistance and deviance, the joys and griefs of a human being who dares to go beyond moral prohibitions and aesthetic dogmas, and makes his own way. Like the dare-devil in Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Fela Kuti choose the path of danger: a rope-dancer with his saxophone, over the abyss, as the Last Men down on the ground amaze at his courage and get some enthusiasm from this incendiary fountain of warmth and power. Zarathustra could have said to Fela what he adressed to the dare-devil: “Thou has made danger thy calling, therein there is nothing contemptible. Now thou perished by thy calling, therefore I will bury thee with mine own hands.”

It’s also a powerful emotional experience to “witness” as Fela grieves after the death of his mother, killed by the military Dictartorship of his country. It’s clearly a scar in his psyche, it’s the ultimate tragic experience that he lives through, and that could have killed him; it’s astonishing how he not only survives this terrible blow (a mother, thrown from a window to her death, killed by a gang of police because of the rabid persecution endured by Fela). We wonder how he could manage to gather energy to rise up from this grief, and from all his other griefs (at one scene, he shows his back and his butt to the camera for it to witness a whole series of terrible scars, inflicted by policemen, in several beatings Fela was “awarded” by Nigeria’s status quo). He managed to keep on writing music as weapons for social transformation – and existential celebration. Until AIDS brought him down.

One month ago, surrounded by the ancient walls of La Citadelle, in Québec, I was intensely amazed by a concert by Fela’s son, Seun Kuti; both father and son are great saxophonists, who play passionately, and with wildly loosened intensity. Then, Icould get a taste of what must have felt like to be inside the African Shrine during a Kuti cerimonial. The force of the his son’s music is such that it invokes a Dionysian response in the audience; it’s not exactly punk rock (even tough stuff like “I.M.F. (International Motherfuckers)” is punkier than most punk bands ever get to) but it certainly contains as much raw power as Iggy & The Stooges in the 1970s or MC5 some years earlier.

Seun Kuti, Fela’s son, with “I.M.F. = International Mother Fuckers”

Alex Gibney

Alex Gibney, director of “Finding Fella”

Fela Kuti’s music – and his his son’s Seun keeps breathing life into it… – has a power to transcend boundaries and confines. It has already made the “leap forward”: it was from Africa, nowadays is already of the world, the whole wide world. Fela is all around the globe on the world music catalogues. The genesis of his sound, Gibney’s film documents, lies in a mixture between groovy North-American soul and funk (James Brown, Funkadelic, Parliament, Stevie Wonder) and rhythms and grooves born-out of native African soil. There’s something of the “born to be wild” attitude to him, very rock’n’rollish, and yet he was actually playing jazz. African jazz mixed with the popular grooves of the time, and then infused with radical political activism, influenced by Malcolm X, Franz Fanon, The Black Panther Party, and all sorts of revolutionary pamphletarism.

Fela Kuti is portrayed in the film as a cultural icon of massive proportion – similar to Bob Marley or Jimi Hendrix – in the ampleur of innovation and change that he produced on the cultural “scene”. Innovation never comes “out of the blue”, as a “fluke”, a lucky helping hand from fat: Fela Kuti struggled for it and mastered it. Music after Fela is not the same as it was before him. There would be no American bands sounding like the Talking Heads or Vampire Weekend, for instance, if it wasn’t for Fela and Afrobeat. Hip hop movement was certainly inspired by his example, also – and there’s a lot of Fela to be found in the art of grandfathers of rap such as Gil Scott-Heron or The Last Poets.

When he died of AIDS and a public funeral was set for him, more than a million people went to pay their respects and to say the last goodbye to Fela Kuti. His corpse was lying still, behind the glass walls of a transparent coffin. This huge crowd at the man’s funeral is enough proof of how much Nigerians loved him, and how they mourned his loss, the silence that death threw over his voice, his sax, his hips. Fela’s boldness is a rare virtue – most of us don’t dare to act in such a wild, outbursting mode, like a human volcano unafraid of expelling hot lava.

The film doesn’t idealize him totally, only partially; it’s also a critical appraisal, for example, of extravagant behaviour. Gibney’s film question the hyperbole of his sexuality – in a certain point of his life, he marries 27 wifes in the same day, like a rock star in a polygomous nation of his own. Some hardcore machismo is portrayed as Fela deals with her harem of groupies, turned-into-housemaids-and-sex-servants.

His “madness” is also hinted to: especially after his mother’s death, the grief turned Kuti into spiritualism, egyptology, excentric gurus (who might have been charlatans and oportunists…). It’s as if he can’t let go of some faith in the survival of his mother, and that explains the emotional force that lead Fela Kuti to participate in cults in which one of his wifes was supposedly “receiving” the spirit of his deceased mother.

One of the main virtues of Alex Gibbey’s film is that it never looks down at Fela with contempt or with moralistic reproaches: it rather tries to understand the events of his life and how he re-acted to them: even tough two of Fela’s brothers were doctors, he didn’t search for adequate treatment for HIV, denying until the last day the value of Western medicine, and relying instead in African remedies that, he believed, would never let him down. When he started getting skin lesions due to the advancement of the disease, he said he was merely changing skins – like a snake.

It might be said he under-estimated death. Or it can be said that he fought death like Muhammad Ali in a boxing-ring. Fela’s energy to live was astonishing, but his living organism had to finally give up to more powerful forces, who reclaimed him back to the bosom of the Earth. After having witnessing a synthesis of his life and work in 2 awesome hours at the Alex Gibney’s film, I fell Fela Kuti is an earthly plant which, while it existed, burned with intense fire, sang with enthusiastic melody, fought against apathy and conformity with all his strenght, sparking several “reactions” across the globe. Such a man is a power of Nature that can’t be ignored. More and more, this dead man become alivier and alivier to us, as the Afrobeat Dionysus, the Nigerian Saxophoenix, which lives on through his music and deeds.

After this film, more than ever, it seems that F(or) E(ver) L(ives) A(frica) won’t be soon forgotten.


Listen to some of Fela’s albums:






Flight from Death – The Quest for Immortality [Full Documentary]


“Patrick Shen’s award-winning “Flight From Death: The Quest for Immortality” is a provocative study of “death denial” in cultures around the world. It draws upon the expertise of scholars, theologians and philosophers to examine how human behavior is influenced by the universal fear of death, especially in a post-9/11 climate of terrorism. It’s a stimulating, ultimately life-affirming film, filled with big ideas and revelatory footage.” -Seattle Times

Gabriel Byrne“Narrated by Golden Globe Winner Gabriel Byrne (Usual Suspects, HBO’s In Treatment, Miller’s Crossing), this 7-time Best Documentary award-winning film is the most comprehensive and mind-blowing investigation of humankind’s relationship with death ever captured on film. Hailed by many viewers as a “life-transformational film,” Flight from Death uncovers death anxiety as a possible root cause of many of our behaviors on a psychological, spiritual, and cultural level.

the-denial-of-death-e9b699lFollowing the work of the late cultural anthropologist, Ernest Becker, and his Pulitzer Prize-winning book Denial of Death, this documentary explores the ongoing research of a group of social psychologists that may forever change the way we look at ourselves and the world. Over the last twenty-five years, this team of researchers has conducted over 300 laboratory studies, which substantiate Becker’s claim that death anxiety is a primary motivator of human behavior, specifically aggression and violence.

Flight from Death features an all-star cast of scholars, authors, philosophers, and researchers including Sam Keen, Robert Jay Lifton, Irvin Yalom, and Sheldon Solomon culminating in a film that is “not only thought-provoking but also entertaining and put together with a lot of class” (Eric Campos, Film Threat). Three years in the making and beautifully photographed in eight different countries, Flight from Death is “a stimulating, ultimately life-affirming film, filled with big ideas and revelatory footage” (Jeff Shannon, Seattle Times).”




ORWELL ROLLS IN HIS GRAVE [Watch Full Documentary]


“Has America entered an Orwellian world of doublespeak where outright lies can pass for the truth? Are Americans being sold a bill of goods by a handful of transnational media corporations and political elites whose interest have little in common with the interests of the American people? Does the corporate media reflect public opinion or create it? Did the media help George W. Bush steal the presidency and market the war in Iraq? Are Americans being given the information a democracy needs to survive or have they been electronically lobotomized? ORWELL ROLLS IN HIS GRAVE explores what media doesn’t like to talk about – itself.”

Includes appearances from:
MICHAEL MOORE, film director and author
GREG PALAST, author of The Best Democracy Money Can Buy [click to download ebook]
DANNY SCHECTER, author and former roducer for ABC and CNN
TONY BENN, former member of the British Pariliament
CHARLES LEWIS, director of the center for Public Integrity
And many more

Writen & Directed by Robert Kane Pappas

Wattstax Documents the “Black Woodstock” Concert Held 7 Years After the Watts Riots (1973)

Wattstax Picture Logokinopoisk.ru
By Josh Jones. Reblogged from Open Culture.

Recent events in Missouri have brought back painful memories for many of the brutal treatment of protestors by police during the Civil Rights Movement. Others see specters of the riots in cities like Detroit, Washington, DC, and the beleaguered Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder. These are battles we would like to think belong to the past, but in remembering them, we should also remember peaceful expressions of solidarity and nonviolent responses to persistent social injustice. One such response came in the form of a massive concert at the L.A. Coliseum put on by Memphis’ Stax records in 1972, seven years after the Watts riots. Featuring some of Stax’ biggest names— Isaac Hayes, Albert King, The Staples Singers, and more — the Wattstax music festival brought in more than 100,000 attendees and raised thousands of dollars for local causes, becoming known informally as the “black Woodstock.”

The idea came from West Coast Stax exec Forrest Hamilton and future Stax president Al Bell, who hoped, he said, to “put on a small concert to help draw attention to, and to raise funds for the Watts Summer Festival” as well as “to create, motivate, and instill a sense of pride in the citizens of the Watts community.” To make sure everyone could attend, rich or poor, the organizers sold tickets for a dollar each. Rev. Jesse Jackson gave the invocation, leading the thousands of concertgoers in a call-and-response reading of William H. Borders’ poem “I Am – Somebody.” There to film the event was Mel Stuart, director of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The resulting documentary features incredible performances from Stax’ full roster of artists at the time (see a swaggering Isaac Hayes play “Shaft”). Despite security concerns from LA officials, still nervous about a gathering of “more than two black people” in one place, says Bell, the concert was a peaceful and joyously funky occasion: “you saw the Crips and Bloods sitting side by side—no problems.”

The film intercuts concert footage with man-on-the street interviews and “trenchant musings” from a then little-known Richard Pryor, who offers “sharp insight into the realities of life for black Americans, circa 1972.” It’s a moment of “get-down entertainment, raised-fist political rally, and stand-up spiritual revival” characteristic of the post-Civil Rights, Vietnam era movement, writes the PBS description of Wattstax. Unfortunately, the documentary “was considered too racy, political, and black to receive wide theatrical release or television broadcast” despite a “noted” Cannes screening and a 1974 Golden Globe nomination. It’s been a cult favorite for years, but deserves to be more widely seen, as a record of the hope and celebration of black America after the rage and despair of the late-60s. The messages of Wattstax still resonate. As Bell says, “forty years later, I hear African Americans in the audiences reacting the same scenes, the same way they did forty years ago.”