Starved: Our Food Insecurity Crisis

Starved: Our Food Insecurity Crisis

Directed by Beth Dollinar (WQED Pittsburgh) 2021

Film Review

This documentary documents western Pennsylvania’s severe food crisis, stemming from the Covid lockdowns. An estimated 300,000 residents of the Pittsburgh area have no idea where their next meal is coming from. They include families of minimum wage workers, households trying to survive on disability benefits or experiencing wage cuts due to accidents or health problems, those quarantined for producing a positive PCR test* and those living in “food deserts” without a full service supermarket.

In addition to profiling two local families in this situation, the filmmakers also explore innovative volunteer-based programs dedicated to ensuring universal access to healthy food. These include a giant warehouse leased by a non-profit organization that supplies small “food pantries” throughout Pittsburgh, a hospital food bank that dispenses healthy food parcels on a doctor’s prescription, neighborhood community gardens, 40 farms and families with large backyard gardens who also donate surplus food to people in need.


*At the time this film was made, most laboratories were using a 40 cycle PCR (which is more than 96% likely to be a false positive result). In January the World Health Organization advised laboratories to manually adjust their cycle threshhold downwards where results were inconsistent with clinical presentation.

 

How the Covid Lockdown Saved the Brithdir Mawr Cawd Ecovillage

Saving Our Ecovillage
 
Journeyman Pictures (2020)
 
Film Review
 
This documentary tells the fascinating story of a 25-year-old ecovillage in West Wales that was inadvertently saved from privatization by the UK Covid lockdown in March.
Working together over decades, the 17 residents of Brithdir Mawr Cawd have built a totally self sufficient of grid system through which they provide their own electricity, water and sewage disposal (based on composting toilets). Then in late 2019, when their 25-year lease* expired, the  the owner opted to sell the property instead of renewing it.
 
Faced with the challenge of raising $1 million to buy their own homes, they hired a business advisor to help them create a fundraising plan. Luck was with them. The UK-wide lockdown Boris Johnson ordered in March 2020 (which wreaked havoc on the British real estate market) granted them an automatic six months extension.
 
The business plan they created includes a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) scheme, through which they produce fruits and vegetables for the wider community, in  addition to a massive apple orchard that will produce apple juice, cider and vinegar and a U-pick strawberry and raspberry patch for local residents and tourists.
 
Faced with the continuing lockdown, the landowner has now agreed to give them six years to raise $1 million to buy the property.
 
In the film several Brithdir Mawr Cawd’s members speak candidly about their easons for joining and the advantages and disadvantages of living in a small close-knit community. Prior to Covid, the Welsh ecovillage hosted volunteers who traded their labor for training in off-grid living skills. Brithdir Mawr Cawd was also responsible for pressuring the Welsh Assembly to pass the One Planet Planning Law. The latter allows residents to build carbon neutral structures in designated green spaces.

*At present, Brithdir Mawr Cawd hold “leasehold” title to their land. Although uncommon in the US, with leasehold titl, the homeowner only owns his house and leases the property from a separate landowner. This contrasts with freehold title, where the homeowner owns both the house and land.
 

 

 

The Stone Age: The Prehistoric Origins of European Peoples.

Secrets of the Stone Age

DW (2018)

Film Review

The main focus of this documentary is the massive stone monuments (eg Stonehenge) all human civilizations built between 6,000 and 2,000 BC and the steady migration of farming peoples from the Middle East to Western Europe during the same period.

In Part 1, archeologists explain how they use DNA and isotope analysis to trace the Middle Eastern origin of prehistoric human and cattle remains they find in Europe. Their findings reveal that following the 10,000 BC agricultural revolution, groups of farmers gradually migrated (by sea and overland) from northern Iran and Anatolia* as far west as the Europe’s western coast.

Large stone monoliths are found throughout the Mediterranean and along the west coast of continental Europe, Britain, Ireland and Scotland. These monoliths aren’t present where migrants traveled overland through the Balkans (where they lacked access large boulders). There’s growing evidence they built similar massive structures out of wood. The latter is more prone to decay.


*Anatolia is a large peninsula in northern Turkey.

Part 2 is mainly concerned with 7,000 BC stone edifices (used as homes, livestock pens, and tombs)recently  discovered in southwest Jordan. According to archeologists, these structures represent the oldest known “sedentary”* culture (the Ba’ja) in the world.

This episode also looks at research into the technologies used to transport and position stone monuments that could weigh as much as 130 tonnes. There is compelling evidence the stones were transported over water in massive sailing vessels and over flat inland distances with ramps and teams of oxen.

Fertility statues from this period, along with cultural artifacts found in Stone Age tombs, suggest men and women shared equal status during this period. Likewise forensic examination of skeletal remains reveals a total absence of warfare during this period.


*In cultural anthropology, sedentism refers to the practice of living in one area over and extended period – in contrast to hunter gatherers who were nomadic.

 

The People United: How Rural North Carolina Organized to Block a Hazardous Waste Facility

The Fight of Their Lives

Directed by Michael Arnold (2021)

Film Review

This documentary is the remarkable account of North Carolina activists who successfully blocked the construction of a hazardous waste facility in 1990. In the late eighties, the governor and the state Hazardous Waste Management Commission cooked up a scheme for a private corporation called THERMAchem to incinerate hazardous waste from Alabama, Tennessee and Kentucky in one of North Carolina’s most pristine rural counties.

Residents from four counties targeted as potential incinerator sites were especially angry after learning state officials had covered up dangerous air and water contamination at an existing hazardous waste incinerator.

Granville County activists had the most ingenious method to prevent the state from choosing their county. One of their lawyers bought the land proposed for the new site, broke it up into $5 sections and sold it to 9,000 people from 39 states. Condemning the property of 9,000 people (to build the incinerator) was such an onerous proposition, the Hazardous Waste Commission had no choice but to look elsewhere.

The site ultimately selected was on state agricultural land in Butner in Granville County. Residents from four counties joined forces to block construction of the proposed facility, owing to the incinerator’s proximity to a 2,500 bed hospital for the intellectually handicapped.

Following a year of nonstop protest marches, lawsuits and civil disobedience, on December 13, 1990, the Council of State vetoed a proposal to transfer the land title from the agricultural division to the Hazardous Waste Management Commission. In 1993, THERMAchem left North Carolina to look elsewhere

Most of the film is derived from amateur footage, and TV coverage of the protests (which was surprisingly thorough compared to protest coverage in the northern US).

John le Carré: Speaking Truth to Power

John le Carré (1931-2020) on the Iraq War, Corporate Power, the Exploitation of Africa & More

Democracy Now! (2020)

Film Review

This video is a replay (following his December 12 death) of a 2010 Democracy Now interview with David Cornwell. Famous for spy thrillers under the pen name John Le Carré, Cornwell will always been my favorite novelist. I love his work, in part owing to his exquisite character development and, in part, owing to his scathing critique of the politicization and corruption of Western intelligence services.

Most of this interview relates to the malfeasance of multinational corporations, particularly banks. Cornwell begins with a reference to the $352 of laundered drug money analysts credit for preventing economic collapse in 2008. He then quotes from an International Herald Tribute article about all the banks* who have pleaded to money laundering and paid a fine. After paying a small fine (which Cornwell refers to as “the government’s cut), they resume business as usually without anyone serving a single day in jail.

Conwell also deplores the way both US and UK intelligence services were politicized to justify the illegal US/UK invasion of Iraq. Cornwell personally participated in the 3 million strong UK anti-Iraq war protest in March 2003.

Commentator Amy Goodwin and Cornwell also discuss two of his books: The Constant Gardener (about Big Pharma’s unethical/illegal drug trials in Africa) and The Mission Song about continuous civil war in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Cornwell blames the latter on greedy multinational corporations determined to exploit DRC’s precious mineral resources. My favorite, A Delicate Truth, is a novel about the CIA’s illegal extraordinary rendition scheme. See A Novel About Extraordnary Rendition


*He mentions Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, Union Bank of California, Wachovia, American Express and BankAtlantic.

Extinction Rebellion: How Our Modern Economic System is Killing Life on Earth

XR Money Rebellion – Tackling the Root of the Problem

Extinction Rebellion (2020)

Film Review

This documentary focuses on the role of our present economic system in the destruction of our ecosystem. It specifically highlights the role of our monetary system, in which 97% of our money* is created by private banks (out of thin air) when they issue loans. Money is also created when governments borrow to fund fiscal deficits.

Our only hope of repaying this ever increasing debt is via continuous economic growth, which requires ever increasing resource extraction (mining, oil and gas drilling, etc).

The choice to allow private banks to create our money is a political one. It hasn’t always been that way. In colonial America, the government of each colony created the money necessary to ensure ongoing economic activity. King George III tried to force the American colonies to abolish their sovereign currencies for British pounds created by the (private) Bank of England. This would be a major factor in the call for independence.

Likewise government has the power to issue money directly into the economy to cover deficits. When governments incur debt by borrowing from private financial institutions, this is a political choice.

The film describes a number of possible alternatives to our current debt-based economic system.


*2-3% of the money circulating in the economy is issued by central banks as notes and coins. 97-98% of circulating money is electronic money issued by banks when they make loans. Both banks and governments promote the popular misconception that private banks only loan money they hold in reserves and/or customer’ savings account. This is a fallacy. In fact, the only way money can come into existence in the modern economy is if someone goes into debt. See 97% Owned

 

The 99%: Occupy Everywhere

The 99%: Occupy Everywhere

Directed by Michael Perlman (2013)

Film Review

This is a legacy documentary about the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York city. It includes commentary from several Occupy protestors, from a 90-year old woman who made a daily appearance in Zucuotti Park to support the occupiers, and, most baffling of all, Wall Street economist Jeffrey Sachs. Sachs first came to prominence following the fall of the Soviet Union, when he lead the CIA/Wall Street delegation that administered “shock therapy” to Russia. The “shock therapy” consisted of stripping the country of its financial wealth and handing it over to Wall Street and Russian oligarchs. The process resulted in nearly a decade of misery, as well as a steep reduction in Russian life expectancy.

The film includes some good footage of the mini city that formed in Zuccotti Park to provide occupiers sleeping bags, food, over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and even a library. It also captures dramatic footage of the police beating occupiers bloody, long before the final eviction the FBI coordinated with police in cities across the country. The routine brutality was missing as police were shy about assaulting protestors on camera and asked journalists to leave.

Unsurprisingly I disagreed with nearly all the points Sachs made, except for his call to end wasteful foreign wars, his call to reinstate Glass Steagall and his observation that Obama should have appointed a special prosecutor to investigate the banking-led 2008 financial collapse.

His other comments are either factually inaccurate or merely insipid. Some examples:

  • “I believe in the power of representation because this is what our founding fathers voted for.”

Wrong. The US founding fathers only extended representation to a small minority of the population – white male landowners.

  • “What we need to do is lobby for campaign finance reform.”

Americans tried that, but the Supreme Court overturned campaign finance reform laws in 2010 with Citizens United.

  • “We need to close the deficit.”

We don’t need to close the deficit. Deficit spending is the fastest way to put money in the pockets and bank accounts of working Americans during a recession. What needs to change is we need to stop creating debt by borrowing that money from private banks. The Federal Reserve has the power to issue money directly into the economy to cover deficits, just like central banks do in Canada, Japan and China.

  • “We just need to elect politicians who really represent us?”

Americans tried that in 2016 and 2020 (ie Bernie Sanders), and the Wall Street elite wouldn’t Sanders to run as the Democratic Party candidate.

People who belong to a public library can view the film free on Kanopy. Type Kanopy and the name of your library into a search engine.

Bill Hicks: Dissident Comedian

American: The Bill Hicks Story

Directed by Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas (2009)

Film Review

Prior to watching this documentary, I knew virtually nothing about the late Bill Hicks, an American comedian highly critical of the US government. Drawing on archival footage, photos, and the reminiscence of long time friends, the filmmakers offer a credible reconstruction of his life.

Hicks and his friends Dwight Slade and Kevin Booth first began performing in a Houston adult comedy club at 15.

At 19 he moved to Los Angeles, where he briefly performed at the Hollywood Comedy Store alongside nationally known comics. Following his return to the Comedy Annex in Houston, he met Jay Leno, who helped him finagle a slot on David Letterman.

His career took a nosedive when he became heavily involved in drugs and alcohol. In 1988 (age 27) he cleaned up and moved to New York City. The main outcome of his new found sobriety was the increasing politicization of his act. In the early 1990s, Rodney Dangerfield invited him to do an HBO special in Las Vegas, after seeing him perform with Slade in Chicago. The special included several sets highly critical of the 1991 War on Iraq.

Hicks’s critique of the first Gulf War ultimately played much better in Canada and the UK, where hundreds of people packed into theaters to see him. In 1991, he won the Edinburgh Festival Critics Award.

In 1993, Hicks was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Despite weekly chemotherapy he continued to perform until a month before his death in February 1994.

In March 1993, he and Booth recorded rare footage during the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco Texas. Hicks would be the first (during one of his sets) to make public the information that the Branch Davidians didn’t set fire to their own compound nor fire shots at the FBI (as reported by the mainstream media).

Anyone with a public library card can view the full film at Beamafilm.

 

I am Big Bird

I am Big Bird

Directed by Dave LaMattina and Chad N Walked (2014)

Film Review

This is an extremely moving film about Carroll Spinney, the puppeteer who played Big Bird on Sesame Street from 1969 until a year before his death (at age 85) in 2019. He also played Oscar the Grouch from 1969 until 2015.

The film has lots of great footage of Big Bird riding in limousines, disembarking from planes, and touring the Great Wall of China. To the best of my knowledge, Big Bird is the only fictional character with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. .

My favorite parts of the film were the cartoon showing how Spinney worked the wings, beak, and eyes from inside the costume, Big Bird singing “It Isn’t Easy Being Green” at Muppet creator Jim Henson’s funeral in 1990, and his appearance on Saturday Night Live to respond to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s threat to cancel the PBS subsidy.

This film can be viewed free via participating libraries on Beamafilm. Type “Beanafilm” and the name of your library into your search engine.

 

 

 

 

Who was Marlon Brando?

Marlon Brando: An Actor Named Desire

Directed by Philippe Kohly (2014)

Film Review

This is a very troubling TV documentary one of my favorite actors. Brando was born in Omaha in 1924 to alcoholic parents. His dyslexia got him kicked out of high school at 17, and at 19, he moved to Greenwich Village with his two older  sisters and their families.

By some fluke, he enrolled in Stella Adler’s class in Stanislavsky Method Acting at the New School and began studying Dostoevsky, Freud and Hinduism, as well as allowing his agent to place him in a few small theater roles. He got his first big part when Tennessee Williams drafted him to play Stanley Kowalski in the 1947 Broadway production of Street Car Named Desire (directed by Elia Kazan).

Instantly courted by the film industry, he rejected a system where stars were still “owned” by their studios, In 1949, he moved to France, where he fell in love with a French (male) actor.

In 1950, he returned to the US and accepted his first starring role in The Men, a film about a paralyzed war veteran.

In 1951, he starred in the film version of Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Elia Kazan.

In 1952, he starred in Viva Zapata!, directed by Elia Kazan, about Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

He would fall out with Kazan the same year after his mentor snitched on eight film industry friends to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities.

In 1953, he played Mark Anthony with John Gielgud and other renowned British actors in the film version of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. He also starred in The Wild One as the head of a biker gang. Elvis Presley would emulate the leather jacket he wore in the film and James Dean, the tight tee shirts and jeans.

In 1955 at age 30, Brando won his first Oscar for On the Waterfront and became the most famous actor in the world.

In 1954, he starred in The Egyptian and Napoleon and in 1955, Guys and Dolls. Owing to growing conflict with the film studios, they became increasingly reluctant to cast him. For his next major film (Mutiny on the Bounty – 1962), he demanded total script control and fired three directors. Mutiny was followed by The Chase (1966) and 11 other really bad films in seven years.

During this period, Brando became really active in the civil rights movement and marched on Washington with Martin Luther King in 1963. He also married a French Polynesian actress named Tarita and between 1962 and 1972 Brando served as “king” of the small island of Tetiaroa near Tahiti.

Most critics viewed his film career as over until Francis Ford Coppola battled the studio bosses to have him play Don Vito Carleone in The Godfather (1972). Brando rejected the second Oscar he received for the film, sending a Native American activist in his place to speak about the abominable treatment of indigenous Americans in the US. After The Godfather, he made Last Tango in Paris in 1972 and Apocalypse Now in 1976.

He also made millions doing bit parts in various movies, including the father of Superman in Superman (1978).

The last 20 years of his life were extremely tragic. In 1990, his oldest son Christian shot and killed the boyfriend of his half sister Cheyenne. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter and spent five years in prison. In 1995, Cheyenne committed suicide by hanging herself.

The full film can be seen on Kanopy.