At the time much of the footage for the Oscar-nominated documentary Burma VJ was being shot, its director, Anders Østergaard, wasn’t even in the same hemisphere. Wanting to open a window on the closed country of Burma (a.k.a. Myanmar), the Danish-based filmmaker struck up a groundbreaking remote collaboration with a network of underground citizen reporters, who risked torture, imprisonment and death as they shot then smuggled footage beyond the military dictatorship’s closely guarded borders.
The documentary was originally intended to be a half hour short, profiling a 27-year old video journalist (or VJ) known as Joshua who worked behind Burma’s barbed-wire veil of silence and against the strict media embargo enforced by its military government (which came to power after a coup in 1962). Using a pseudonym to protect his identity, Joshua coordinated illicit on-the-ground coverage for the Democratic Voice of Burma, a non-profit news organization based in Norway. However, when Burma’s ruling junta abruptly ceased subsidies on fuel, which caused the price to skyrocket, destabilizing an economy that was already among the world’s poorest, Joshua and Østergaard’s project took on a far greater significance.
Thousands of the country’s Buddhist monks took to the streets in the latter part of 2007, leading what developed into widespread protests against the intransigent regime. Armed with their wits and hand held video cameras, Joshua and his crew of VJs documented the saffron uprising and the Burmese government’s brutal retaliation to it from the front lines. It was the first time in a generation that the people had dared challenge their leaders, but this was very different to the last uprising in 1988. Footage captured by Joshua and his team was beamed around the world. Vivid images of soldiers viciously beating monks in the street in broad daylight were broadcast via all the major new networks, putting Burma – albeit briefly – at the top of the United Nation’s political agenda. With no room for deniability, Burma’s military leaders were shamed into making concessions. And then the world’s attention moved on.
Fast-forward to 2010, with promises broken and hard fought concessions reneged on, it might be easy for Joshua and his fellow Burmese citizens to feel despondent. However, with Burma VJ, a documentary that combines original footage with dramatic recreations, Joshua and Østergaard hope to raise awareness for the ongoing plight of the Burmese people. At the start of this month their cause was given a massive boost with an Academy Award nomination for their film in the category for Best Documentary feature.
In this interview with Østergaard, a Danish filmmaker who was previously best known for Tintin and Me (a 2003 documentary about comics writer and artist Hergé), the director talks about Burma VJ's dramatic journey from the impoverished streets of Burma to Hollywood’s glittering Kodak Theater, and what the film’s Oscar nomination means for a new generation of citizen journalists and for those fighting oppression around the globe.
Read about the incredible story of this film, and the filmmakers behind it, HERE.
Growing up in the shadow of Disneyland, artist and illustrator Camille Rose Garcia spent a lot of time contemplating the reality of fantasy and the fantasies that make reality palatable.
Just as the white paint flaked and the wood decayed in the once-perfect picket-fenced suburbs that surround Disney's Orange County Fantasyland, on canvas and in print, Garcia's brightly colored fairytale tableaus are juxtaposed with darker elements, as real world forces impinge on her perfect dream worlds.
Much of Garcia's work explores the lie of the American Dream, the loss of it, and how the masses are self-medicating to deal with the aftermath. Though these themes are adult in nature, the on-the-surface beauty of Garcia's art appeals to a younger audience on a more basic level. So when Harper Collins decided to revisit Alice's Adventures in Wonderland amid renewed interest in Lewis Carroll's curious tale (which was first published in 1865), Garcia was a natural choice to re-imagine the visual element of the book.
Read this excellent, in-depth new interview with Camille Rose Garcia to find out what she saw when she followed Alice and a certain well-dressed (and late) White Rabbit down Carroll's most unusual rabbit-hole.
Click HERE to read.
Some people choose the easiest path through life; David Belle prefers to take the most interesting. As the world's premier exponent of parkour, a physical discipline of movement that's as much a philosophy as it is a sport, Belle has carved a career out of taking the unconventional route.
The freeform method of getting around is based on techniques developed at the turn of the last century by a French navel officer called Georges Hébert. Belle's father picked up the baton laid down by Hébert, building upon his techniques while serving in the French military. The passion for the physical discipline-cum-artform was then passed down from father to son. The latter helped brand l'art du déplacement (or art of movement) with its popular name, bringing "parkour" to the awareness of the mainstream through gravity defying appearances on TV and film. Thrusting parkour further into the popular psyche, Belle's stunts have also been showcased on TV commercials for companies such as Nike, Vittel and the BBC that have since gone viral throughout the net.
In 2004 Belle starred in District 13, a French language action movie co-written and co-produced by Luc Besson (who was responsible for the 1997 sci-fi classic The Fifth Element). District 13 was set in the near future in a fictionalized dystopian suburb of Paris, and was the first major film to feature parkour-inspired action sequences. Belle reprised his role as the gang-busting Leïto in a sequel, District 13: Ultimatum, which was released in Europe last year. Featuring spectacular rooftop chase sequences that should thrill action fans, the film is finally getting a North American theatrical release on Friday, February 5.
I called Belle up at his home in Corbeil-Essonnes, in the southern suburbs of Paris to find out more. With the help of a translator, we spoke about the new movie, the stunts it features, the origins of parkour and where it's taking him now.
Read SuicideGirls' exclusive new interview with David Belle.
Scientists who built mathematical models to study the likely outcome of a zombie attack have concluded that an invasion by the walking dead would lead to "a collapse of civilization, with every human infected, or dead."
They predict that in a city of 500,000 people, zombies would outnumber the susceptible population in about three days.
"An outbreak of zombies infecting humans is likely to be disastrous, unless extremely aggressive tactics are employed against the undead," stated researchers from the University of Ottawa and Carleton University in a paper entitled "When Zombies Attack."
Since decapitation is generally considered the best way to deal with this specific type of undead plague, the team consider humanity's best hope to be a swift counter attack. "The most effective way to contain the rise of the undead is to hit hard and hit often."
“Only quick, aggressive attacks can stave off the doomsday scenario,” the team warns.
Are you prepared?
Image: Mike L. Taylor (based on a photo I took at Fangoria)
...And the Connection between Addiction, Universal Healthcare and our Wars on Drugs and Terror
Addiction first took hold of Richard Farrell after a torn knee put an end to hopes of a professional athletics career. That same injury started his relationship with pain medication. One thing led to another, as these things do, and by the time he reached thirty Farrell had succumbed to almost every aspect of the heroin lifestyle.
His journey to redemption is chronicled in his new memoir, What's Left of Us. Farrell was one of the lucky ones; after twenty failed attempts, he slayed his dragon at a run-down, state-funded detox clinic in Massachusetts, and went on to fulfill his potential as an author, journalist, teacher, filmmaker and screenwriter.
Many addicts will not be so fortunate. Clinics such as these are the easy victims of budget cuts. As bankrupt states struggle to pick up the incarceration tab for the collateral damage of the War on Drugs, and our federal government goes deeper into debt to pay for its War on (drug-funded) Terror, Farrell's life experience leads him to pose an important question: Have we forgotten the simple laws of supply and demand? By funding these two never-ending wars are we ineffectually treating the symptoms instead of battling the cause? Wouldn't our money be better spent reducing the demand for drugs?
The state-funded treatment of drug addiction has never been a vote-winning cause (just look at the tap dancing Obama was forced to do recently on the prickly issue of needle exchange programs). Here, in this special guest column, Farrell makes the case for a more enlightened drug (and healthcare) policy and talks of the horrors that will likely transpire if we continue on our current course, which is tantamount to treating cancer with a gold-plated plaster -- ridiculous, ineffectual, expensive and ultimately fatal.
I was there for a friend's birthday party. He's one of the lucky ones who still has a job (he lost pension benefits however and is being forced to take two weeks unpaid leave). Sadly many of his friends haven't been so fortunate. Some had not only lost their jobs but had reached the limits of their unemployment benefit and were taking drastic measures to make ends meet (one ex-insurance agent is now a stripper, another girl with an accounting degree does odd jobs for $10 per hour). Several were also facing the loss of their homes (short sale anyone?).
And with the maximum unemployment benefit in Nevada coming in at $362 per week, health insurance -- especially COBRA -- was way beyond their budgets. So you'd think public health insurance might be a priority for those in Las Vegas. You'd be wrong.
Here's the Top 5 Reasons Why the Public Option is a Bad Idea as expressed to me by the folks I met in Sin City this past weekend:
1. There aren't enough doctors.
2. My health insurance costs $276 per month so I couldn't afford a $200 public option.
3. We need tort reform first.
4. As it is doctors only get 60-65% of what they bill.
5. I can only afford catastrophic health insurance, so for all intents and purposes I'm not insured for regular doctors visits.
You might be forgiven for thinking that the above statements would be reasons for the public option, not against it. And that's what disturbed me the most. These otherwise intelligent people would make a statement that was seemingly pro-public option, then follow up with a passionate argument about how black was really white.
The only explanation for this confused thinking that clearly defied logic was the decades of brainwashing by governments, politicians, and the "health" industry, which has falsely managed to equate universal healthcare with communism and lack of choice in most people's mind. Personally, I'd like everyone to have the option of health care that goes beyond mere emergency room triage. That to me is real choice.
I guess these people were feeling lucky, since they were all happy to roll the dice and play the health industry's wheel of fortune game. You'd think they'd know better -- and that the house always wins.
The health insurance companies have proven that they're no longer worthy of the very responsibilty they're there to uphold. I wouldn't trust them to bill me fairly or accurately for an aspirin, so why would I trust them with something as important as my life?
But at this point, with no general public option, I have no choice.
I make too much to qualify for Medicaid, however like 50%-75% of those that file for bankruptcy (depending on whose figures you believe), even with health insurance, any serious medical condition would still leave me with a level of debt that would be hard to recover from.
Furthermore, my premium has gone up 50% this year -- and at existing premium levels in another 10 years I won't be able to afford to be insured at all. I'll be forced out of the private insurance system at an age when I'll start to need it most -- which of course is precisely the intention of the insurance companies. They want to force out those that are statistically likely to become sick -- hence their rates increase exponentially to the point of unaffordability as one gets older.
According to a World Healthcare Organization survey, America spent 15.2 GDP on health, yet our nation was ranked at #37 for health system performance. Conversely Great Britain, which has a national healthcare system, was ranked at #18 yet spent just 8.2 GDP on health.
Those GDP figures are dated however. America now spends around 17% GDP on health and that's projected to rise to 20% by 2017. Think about it, $2 out of every $10 earnt will go on healthcare. If that's not a tax on life I don't know what is? And what do the poor and middle class get from that monumental healthcare spend? Treatment that's considered worse than that in Costa Rica and the Dominican Republic according to the WHO.
In times of record job losses, we also have record numbers of uninsured. This means the burden of emergency care is being placed on fewer and fewer companies and individuals that are able to pay for plans, which is compounding an already dire situation with massive premium increases and benefit cuts. And with big business failing under the weight of grandfathered in healthcare expenditure, the lack of a public option is even having ramifications for the rich.
It's not surprising therefore that according to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal survey 76% of Americans now want a public option.
However, under a barrage of obscene spending by the health industry on lobbyists, Obama is folding, his plan for a public option is on the verge of being withdrawn.
Don't allow this to happen. Take action now. Call your representative in congress and demand a pledge to support the the public option. Click HERE for a list of their numbers. Call them -- and share what they say in the comments section below.
Are they choosing the health of the health insurance industry over your dead body?
Michael Moore has just confirmed the name of his new movie, Capitalism: A Love Story, which will explore the evils of corporate governance. The Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 filmmaker released a teaser trailer (see above) for the previously untitled film last month.
Capitalism: A Love Story is set for release on Oct 2nd, which marks the one year anniversary of the Senate vote to approve the $700 billion Wall Street bailout/rape/pillage.
Earlier in the year Moore had appealed for whistleblowers from the financial sector to come forward. It'll be interesting to see who stepped up to the plate.
"It will be the perfect date movie," said Moore in a statement released to the press yesterday. "It's got it all -- lust, passion, romance and 14,000 jobs being eliminated every day. It's a forbidden love, one that dare not speak its name. Heck, let's just say it: It's capitalism."
The Cove is a new documentary that exposes the horrific flipside of Flipper. Shot in the historic town of Taiji, Japan -- which is the birthplace of modern day whaling methods -- the film follows activist Ric O'Barry in his crusade to save the 2,000+ dolphins that are captured and/or slaughtered in a remote cove there each year.
Before O'Barry became an activist, he was an unwitting beneficiary of the dolphin trade. A one-time dolphin trainer (the mammals are closely related to whales), O'Barry first made a name for himself in the 1960s working on the Flipper TV series. "I feel somewhat responsible because it was the Flipper TV series that created this multi-billion dollar industry," says O'Barry, who older and wiser is appalled at the idea of dolphins in captivity in zoos and amusement parks around the globe. He now works for the Earth Island Institute, trying to save these wondrous creatures from this fate -- and worse.
His undercover work at the cove, exposing the atrocious practices of the Japanese fishing industry, caught the attention of former National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, who directed the movie about O'Barry's work at the cove. Using high-tech hidden surveillance equipment, the duo were able to capture the covert activities at the well-guarded cove, that had – up until now – been hidden from world view. Even the Japanese dolphin industry it seems is aware that it must remain concealed if it is to continue.
At the end of the film, O'Barry storms the International Whaling Commission with footage from the cove that convinces many to disengage from the corrupt organization which sets whaling quotas which are intertwined with the issue of tolerance for Japan’s dolphin trade. For O'Barry, giving interviews in support of the film is the next step towards exposing the practices of those in the dolphin trade who are happy to perpetrate unmentionable cruelty and ply mercury laden dolphin flesh that in truth is too toxic for human consumption.
Click HERE for SuicideGirls' exclusive interview with Ric O'Barry.
More from my favorite political columnist and voice of extreme reason, FearTheReaper:
It’s really quite interesting to watch the Democrats throw it all away. This time, they seem to think blowing the chance at decent health care reform will aid them in future elections. Or perhaps they have taken so much money from the health care industry that they don’t give a shit. Either way, it doesn’t matter. Fixing health care is the biggest problem facing our country. If we don’t do something drastic, it will completely destroy our economy in the years to come. As it is, we’re in bad shape. Democrats, specifically Senate Democrats, have decided to help the poor insurance industry out as much as possible. Es no bueno.
Click HERE to read FearTheRepaer's summary of the various sick options the Democrats are seriously considering.