«And then there was silence»

Jan Grarup-photographer-of-war-documentary

Photographer of War

(Krigsfotografen)

Boris B. Bertram

Katrine Sahlstrøm

Denmark

He is asked which picture he cares for the most. That explains his work the most. And, after 25 years of wars, and famines, earthquakes, hells of all sorts, Jan Grarup shows a black and white shot of a couple hand in hand in the rubble, the woman in high heels against a background of smoke. Haiti. «Because it’s all about love».

Bare essentials

More than the images of blood and violence, and there are plenty of them since he witnessed the Rwandan genocide, marking him forever; more than the images of knives at throats, guns to heads, a corpse on a windscreen, his most famous photos are of ruins. Ruins from all over the world: a child who makes a swing from an electric cable in Mosul, behind him fighting rages on; a woman in Mogadishu who looks at the sea from a bombed-out hotel; or Kashmir, with a barber who shaves a man. For a mirror, a glass splinter, because, in fact, we all come back with more beauty than when we left. And except for the adventurers, for the adrenaline junkies who become war correspondents for money and fame, that’s what we are captured by, like moths flying into the danger and the light, as Stanley Greene said – the beauty of naked life. Of life reduced to its bare essentials. With no frills and furbelows, nothing needless. No fictions anymore. A life of brutally honest feelings, including hate, greed, envy, yearning. Everything. Including its opposite. And boundless altruism and idealism.

Parallel stories. Parallel lives

But there’s no point in trying to explain all that. Trying to explain war to those who have never experienced it. And that’s why this documentary on Danish photographer Jan Grarup, one of the best around – winner of the Eugene Smith Prize, the World Press Photo four times, and the 2005 Visa D’Or for Darfur – speaks through its plot but also, above all, through its structure. It is about two parallel stories. Two parallel lives that interchange without ever crossing – about a man who watches the latest news from the Middle East on a rooftop, away from his kids. With them, at dinner, he watches just football.

One moment you are in Copenhagen. In a Jaguar or in a stylish studio, taking powerful portraits, as soulful as paintings, with an old wooden camera, printing them in a water basin. The next, you are in the aisle of a shabby hotel telling your editor that all your equipment was confiscated, in this other, second life where we get used to trouble with the police. To be suspected, spied, arrested, to deal with killers, and jihadists and smugglers, corruption of all kinds. And to corrupt. Because what matters, is only to go through. To get in. To be there, where things happen, in this life where photography is responsibility. And you find yourself saying to a stranger you’ve just met: you are in charge, you find yourself entrusting to him your life, saying: I will follow you, to someone who is a fixer now and is reassuring you, he is saying: we are here to work, not to die, but you know very well that it isn’t true. You know very well that now he is a fixer, yes, and is taking reporters to the front lines, but yesterday he was just a student, a cook, a plumber – like you: someone who at some point, you don’t know when, and why, was called: a veteran, someone to ask advice to, even though the only advice, the only truth, is that it’s not a matter of experience, and caution, but in the end, of fortune, because the truth is that in war you die, and that’s it. And you die badly. But you get used to it: it’s your world. And what matters, is to be there. To get the story. So that no one someday will be able to say: I didn’t know.

And so one moment you walk, calmly, you chat of lenses with a fellow photographer: the next you run under fire. And when you end up in the heat of battle, and you are told that the way out is blocked by three snipers, you know now that fixing it will take at least an hour. So you take off your helmet and take a nap.

Another war

But you try to talk of all that: and it makes no sense. Even with politicians, perhaps even left-wing politicians. Even with Bernard-Henry Lévy, who comes to your studio for a portrait. You talk of Syria. Of Afghanistan. Sudan. And no way. Words sound empty. Because it’s about two parallel worlds that never cross. And that’s why you never return from war. That’s why war marks you forever. It’s not because you feel powerless, as Jan Grarup explains while discussing his book, «And then there was silence», a collection of pictures across over 500 pages and five kilos, so to be physically – and psychologically – hard to disregard: the problem, he says, is the opposite. The problem is, that when you are there, you realize that, more often than not, stopping a conflict takes nothing. And yet, no one acts. No one cares. And nor will your pictures bring any change.

And that’s why, honestly, I detest talking of war. When I am back home, when I am in Europe, I am always the special guest: the one that spices up dinner parties with her stories off the beaten track. And makes you feel like such a good soul. Such a gentle spirit. But it’s just for two hours. Just for the evening. Then, I know: You want me to stay on the rooftop. You don’t want me to darken your days.

the truth is that in war you die, and that’s it

«Tell him I’m sorry»

«Tell him I’m sorry,» Grarup tells his translator to tell a father who has just lost his two sons in Mosul. And who is telling him his story? To him, and who knows to how many other reporters after him. «Tell him I’m sorry, » he repeats. And that’s all he can say before moving on and looking for another grieving father. Another war.

Francesca Borri comes from an international relations background. She worked in the Balkans and the Middle East, specifically Israel and Palestine, as a human rights officer. Since 2012, Francesca has covered the war in Syria as a freelance reporter.

Photographer of War premieres on September 19 and will compete at the 30th Nordisk Panorama Film Festival


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The new uprising

Hong Kong-Editorial-MTR

In Hong Kong in the early 90s – before China’s takeover in 1997 – I spent a night sitting ont the 66th floor at the very top of the restaurant Revolving 66, rotating around the pulsating iridescent city, while glimpsing China behind the dark woods on the horizon. Since those times, the liberal population has experienced the growing presence of Communist China, fearing extensive control and surveillance. And with the China-friendly Hong Kong government’s proposition for the extradition of «criminals», its inhabitants got infuriated this summer. An unprecedented 2 million people, out of a total population of 7,4 million were protesting in the streets.

But can we glimpse something different and far deeper going on this time – which sets this incident apart from the umbrella-movement in Hong Kong in 2014 and the demonstrations at Tiananmen square 25 years ago? There might be something else happening, comparable to the yellow vests in France or the extensive environmental protests of Extinction Rebellion.

Today, more anarchist-oriented collectives in Hong Kong claim that the demonstrators are consciously presented as stereotypical rebels. Disquieting scenes with police, organized marches and oppositional leaders are seen as something to be avoided since they can easily be taken hold of, termed «criminals» and renegades, and the consequence is years of bitter disappointment. This is what happened with the umbrella movement, which started with the slogan of the intellectuals «Occupy the center with peace and love» – but without tangible results.

In Hong Kong, many protesters have chosen direct action, while others chose a pacific non-violent approach. And the groups dislike each other. The first groups don’t want small discussions, a search for consensus or endless talk, but chose direct action instead. YouTube videos show them cutting down surveillance cameras. They use masks and umbrellas to avoid being recognized. An action can be to crowd the subway to jam the network, another can be letting big groups cash out their money from the banks, causing a significant commotion.

That USA or foreign powers should be behind the uprising, like a new colour revolution, is implausible. Yet, Hong Kong does receive some help to pull the weight: Twitter has closed 936 accounts connected to the Chinese authorities and Facebook has stopped 5 accounts, 7 Facebook pages, and 3 groups. Also, 210 YouTube channels have been closed. Totalitarian China is manipulating the population with 480 million submissions annually (2017) – derailing critical debate. But even if there is some outside support, what we see is really a grassroots uprising.

The new protest reform mentioned by the anarchists doesn’t look for a framing «narrative» about the incidents in Hong Kong – which can too easily be simplified, categorized or dismissed. They reject the «scholastic» fraction of students («Demosisto») and the nationalists on the right («Nativists») – as being too involved with ruling institutions.

Do you assume that it is the «left» who are rebelling in Hong Kong? For them, the left is synonymous with the communist party, and they would see a rich businessman and party-member as a typical leftist. Young people in Hong Kong also use «the left» more as a term for the suppressed generation that came before them – which patiently waited for change. Nothing happened. Today, most would rather identify with the negation of China, as a non-China, as a nationalistic free space.

Some of the demands that have been raised are that the extradition deal must be canceled completely, that Hong Kong’s «China-initiated» leader Carrie Lam must resign, and that free democratic elections must be held.

Dismissal of power

The deeper issue here is «dismissal» of traditional concentrations of power. The desire is to weaken the legitimacy of the powerful: kings, the clergy, politicians, and capitalists. People are wary of the few ruling or representing the many. Instead of new vertical power structures, more horizontal networks and local communities are being sought.

In philosophy, this is called «destitution». Destitution means disposal, where old metaphysical or hegemonic principles are weakened or delegitimized. The old regime is not simply replaced with new institutions. The point is rather that authoritarian state, the military and the rich shouldn’t be allowed to keep their grasp on us forever. Thus, destitution means saying no, removing the current suppression without establishing a new power.

Do you assume that it is the «left» who are rebelling in Hong Kong?

Philosophers like Martin Heidegger, Michel Foucault, and Georgio Agamben have long shown us how power has been consolidated, how metaphysical epochal patterns have dominated throughout history, by way of doxa or diagrams («despositifs»), or simply through predominant ideologies. Our current technological and administrative society is the last instance of this development. This is the new «biopolitics» where the state controls the bodies of its citizens through enormous systems of control, taxes, fees, and surveillance – a development in which China leads the way.

The new

We can only hope that violence doesn’t spread in Hong Kong, so that China intervenes with military units, creating a spiral of violence which would further legitimize moves that would create a deadlock for years to come. China, after all, is a country where people tend to «disappear» – not exactly a place you want to be extradited to.

We are touched emotionally by the power of the new, by the young and the coming communities. Like the young student in front of the row of tanks in 1989. Or the videos we see today, where the police beat up protesting youth. The reactions are not only demonstrated by their mothers who take to the streets but also in the governmental and business sectors have demonstrated a broad support Hong Kong’s values and fight for freedom.

We ought to hope for the downfall of vertical power structures – even if it may take this whole century.


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Silence. Stillness. Serendipity

venezuela-dona-maria-and-her-dreamfeatured

100 years of solitude turned into 12 years of blood-bound companionship and hard-gained trust. A limitless dry horizon where exoticism never arrived, colour never came through the tail of a rainbow, and water is more precious than gold. Doña Maria and her Dreams, the iconic book and travel series from photographer Horst Friedrichs, which led him to win the Lead Gold Award – the most prestigious in photography – was born under the spell of real adventure and the doom and gloom of hard logistics in a Venezuela slowly disappearing into the oblivion of oil and politics, and frightfully gaining a reputation as a test tube for theory and practice gone wrong. Starting in the country’s northwest Lara State and moving in the same direction to the region of Falcón, Horst spent twelve years meeting the same families for similar periods of time each year, paying a much anticipated visit and looking for shade and smiles under the tiny rooftops which had stood time and temper, and the odd storm or two.

No pirate ships

But why would anyone want to travel thousands of miles to photograph a barren, forgotten land where there were no pirate ships, no wars, no famine, no drama, and apparently no news? Why would anyone want to see places where time had stood still like a clever lizard waiting for its prey, or meet old blind potters, wrinkled and sun-toasted chair makers, wary stone cutters? Why would anyone choose black crows over shiny parrots?

The series covers the routines and trials of daily life in the barren lands of the Venezuelan «desert», a frontier place where magic has taken over from rule books and institutional laws, and where windswept villages are silent but respectful witnesses of the rituals and traditions of small communities who learned fast and early to take care of themselves.

It might be a harsh place where children never heard of Gulliver’s Travels or Robinson Crusoe, and where stray dogs would make a feast of Lilliput’s inhabitants, but where freedom and fantasy run through the veins and dried-up riverbeds.

barren and abandoned as it is, this is a place of survival and sacrifice

Yet, barren and abandoned as it is, this is a place of survival and sacrifice, where luck and chance play no game, and where the daily routines of each family easily emulate decades of oral tradition, stories whispered through open doors and windows where old faces peek as ancient shadows. Faces like the rough but protective bark of trees, scarred by heat and silent defiance of the elements. Characters like Señor Aranguren who had the flair of a distinguished English lord but whose chickens were more precious than all Savile Row suits.

Or 114-year-old (if records existed) Doña Ruperta, whose endless stories about her many children and grandchildren never ceased to amuse and amaze, and which could have filled hundreds of pages of dusty books. With her «broken bird» hands folded delicately on her lap, the wind she heard never seemed to bring news, only the promise, ever distant, of much-needed rain. Sometimes, when the wind blew in the most unusual ways from the Quíbor Valley into Guadelupe, she said an evil spirit might drop by without notice or a formal invitation. That´s why she believed every guest was precious because you never knew whom you might find at the dinner table.

Shape and sharpness

The comings and goings of Horst made him meet the characters and hear the stories that quietly shaped the book. Unforgettable characters like Doña Maria Castillo, the frail face and stubborn body which became the cover of the series, who never let her blindness stop her will to produce beautiful clay pots shaped by wrinkled strong hands. A will that never failed her particular way of «seeing» what others could only imagine in dreams. From their first casual meeting in 1993 to her death a few years later, and through the talks and tears with Aquilino, her son who continued to sit down on her chair to mold clay as she had done for decades, the book started to take shape and sharpness.

venezuela-Dona Maria and her Dreams
Doña Maria and her Dreams, photographs by Horst Friedrichs

The same shape and sharpness which Diego Crespo said each one of the stones he carefully collected had. Stones laid bare in his tiny room or hidden between curling trees or metal tins because Diego was not a museum curator or a famous art collector. He just had a particular thing for stones as if their angles shaped the hearts of his loved ones. The same quiet passion which Señor Eustiquio, the Cocuy-maker who squeezed the precious juice of the Agaves, needed to have to perform an ancient ritual and technique to fight the thirst you seemingly find in a barren land. But as barren as the land might have been, it was the land where Doña Maria could «see» no borders at all.

Silence. Stillness. Serendipity.


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A deeply touching goodbye

leonard cohen-documentary-MTR

Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love

Nick Broomfield

Nick BroomfieldMarc HoeferlinShani HintonKyle Gibbon

USA

Many will already know of the relationship between Canadian artist Leonard Cohen and the Norwegian Marianne Ihlen. Not least after the singer, songwriter, and poet – also facing the end of his life –sent a loving, last letter to the dying Ihlen in 2016, which got rather widespread media attention. Ihlen, who inspired So Long, Marianne and other well-known songs of his, passed away two days after she received the letter. Three months later, Cohen was also no longer amongst us.

This letter holds a central position in acclaimed British documentary filmmaker Nick Broomfield’s film on Ihlen and Cohen. Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love premiered at Sundance Film Festival at the end of January, and then got to open Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival a month later. This was where I got to see the film, which is a fascinating and moving portrait of two people who clearly had a deep impact on each other.

Controversial portraits

Broomfield’s previous film Whitney: Can I Be Me (2017) described the singer Whitney Houston’s life and tragic death. Among his previous films are Kurt & Courtney (1998), about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s relationship to Courtney Love, and Biggie & Tupac (2002) about rappers The Notorious B.I.G. (also known as Biggie Smalls) and Tupac Shakur, both having been shot dead. In other words, Broomfield is not unfamiliar to docs about deceased musicians.

The director has nonetheless described Marianne & Leonard: Words of Love as the first love story he has ever told. Broomfield’s previous films on musicians have usually dug into the conflicts in their lives (and deaths), sometimes in a controversial manner. Kurt & Courtney, for instance, contained rather serious allegations against Courtney Love and discussed whether her husband’s death was, in fact, a suicide. (Although the film concluded that there was not much hold in the speculations of this not being the case.)

Free Love

In contrast, Broomfield’s film about Ihlen and Cohen is a warm portrait of the two protagonists, even though it doesn’t shy away from problems in their relationship. In addition, Broomfield – who often takes part in front of the camera in his films – has a personal starting point for this documentary.

As a young man of 20 in 1968, he got to know Ihlen himself at the Greek artist colony Hydra, and was, for a short period, her lover. She had moved to the island several years earlier with her first husband, the Norwegian writer Axel Jensen. According to the accounts given in the film, their marriage was not particularly happy. After she and Jensen had parted, Ihlen entered into a relationship with another writer at the island, whose name was Leonard Cohen.

Cohen himself admits to having almost been obsessed with sexual encounters with various women, of which the opportunities as a touring musician were plentiful.

The film depicts the free-spirited life on the island, which attracted various artists and people searching for a deeper meaning – or escaping from something in their past. Cohen is portrayed as a caring stepfather for Ilhen and Jensen’s son «Little Axel» – but little doubt is left that the Hydra’s bohemian scene, with its embrace of free love, excessive drug-taking, and frequent acts of neglect, wasn’t always healthy for the minors.

The film also tells the story of Leonard Cohen’s career, from when he gave up writing novels to, instead, write and compose songs – and learned to enjoy performing them. This led to periods of recording and other music-related work in his homeland of Canada, as well as extensive touring around the world. For many years, he frequently returned to Marianne at Hydra, but the other periods were hardly constructive for their relationship, to put it mildly. In the film, Cohen himself admits to having almost been obsessed with sexual encounters with various women, of which the opportunities as a touring musician were plentiful.

Important source of inspiration

Ihlen has often been described as Cohen’s muse, an aspect this film also emphasizes. According to Broomfield, she even had a similar function for him, being the one who encouraged him to become a documentary filmmaker.

Today, the term «muse» can seem somewhat outdated, as a romantic notion of the young woman who inspires the gifted, male artist through her sheer beauty and (preferably sexual) availability. However, some people undeniably have a talent for releasing the creative urge of others, whether they are the artist’s lover, creative consultant or, for that matter, «coach». In the film, the female songwriter and artist Julie Felix also speaks of Ihlen as her muse. The documentary makes an effort to depict the traits that made up the Norwegian woman’s ability to inspire, and underlines how important her role was in this respect.

leonard cohen-doc-MTR-post1
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love, a film by Nick Broomfield

Nevertheless, the film focuses mostly on the romantic relationship between Marianne and Leonard, told in a well-functioning combination of new interviews and older archive material. The film also uses recordings of both Ihlen and Cohen as voice over-narration, heightening the feeling of closeness.

love can last forever, even if relationships come to an end.

Marianne Ihlen eventually moved back to Norway, where she remarried and chose a more conventional life. The film thereby conveys the message that love can be found several times during a lifetime, without weakening the impression that the bond between her and Leonard Cohen was indeed special. Among the film’s interviewees is Ihlen’s Norwegian friend Jan Christian Mollestad (who also is one of the film’s executive producers), and through his recording, we witness her reaction when she received the aforementioned letter from Cohen. Accompanied by Mollestad’s eyewitness description, this is a deeply touching moment – where some simple, but beautiful words confirm that love can last forever, even if relationships come to an end.


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Another one bites the dust

Sheep Hero-featured

Sheep Hero

(Schapenheld)

Ton van Zantvoort

Ton van ZantvoortMarc ThelosenKoert Davidse

the Netherlands

When I imagine a shepherd, I imagine a peaceful, nomadic existence somewhere in the mountains – a lonesome character surrounded by green hills and sheep. This ancient occupation, dating back thousands of years, is something I would have thought survived only in the most rural of places,

until I watched Sheep Hero, a documentary about modern-day shepherd Stijn from the Netherlands. As a result of the film, the hardships shepherds face in current society soon contrasted my romantic vision of sheep herding.

Keeping tradition alive

Stijn became a shepherd because he wanted to keep the tradition alive, and in spite of everything, he still holds on to this ideal. When I talked to the filmmaker, Ton van Zantvoort, after the screening at Kosovo’s Dokufest, he explains his reasons for making Sheep Hero. «It’s not really about the sheep», he says, with a wry smile. «People laughed at me in the beginning, for making a film about a shepherd, but it’s a universal story. Stijn, like everyone else, has to provide for his family, so he worries about his financial situation». Apparently, making an honest living is not enough if you want to survive in this dog-eat-dog world. «My purpose is always to criticize society. I want to make people think about which way we’re going,» says van Zantvoort.

Due to the free market, companies can hire someone cheaper to graze the land where Stijn lives.

Does everything today have to be cost-efficient? In Sheep Hero, Stijn deals with countless challenges that have nothing to do with his profession; he is forced to become an entrepreneur, promoting his work at fairs and lobbying at political hearings. Due to the free market, companies can hire someone cheaper to graze where Stijn lives, resulting in him driving for hours looking for land for his own sheep. He has several such confrontations with «civilization»; at one point he is herding the sheep through town, in the middle of traffic, and people get annoyed. Then, the police give him a 300-euro fine for not picking up some droppings in the street. Things get more absurd when Stijn’s own parents go to meet the police and clean up the poo. «Back in the day people would have fought over those droppings – it makes for great fertilizer,» van Zantvoort comments. I guess times are changing.

A threat to the system

Our sheep hero is a kind of anti-hero. In vain, Stijn tries to find more ways to earn money, by organizing barbecues and cutting the sheep’s wool in public. He stresses over his financial situation and bickers with his family. I share his frustration – the pressure to make profit is forcing him out of his comfort zone. Does it have to be like this? Do we have to play by these rules? Stijn is not a political activist; he just wants to be a self-sufficient shepherd – but by merely being who he is, he poses a threat to the system. With this documentary, van Zantvoort invites us to see what he sees. «The question is, how to live in a world that conflicts with your ideals? And the conclusion is it’s really hard. You have to follow the rules; only as long as you work, pay your rent and your insurance, and lead a 9-5 life, will you fit in». By always seeking more growth, our society model is limiting our possibilities. We are trapped in a rigid structure where there’s no room for a sustainable lifestyle – because it’s not profitable enough.

Heep Hero-post1
Sheep Hero, a film by Ton van Zantvoort

«The fact is, that even the shepherd today needs to function within a neoliberal system. People say, oh, he’s not an entrepreneur – well exactly, that’s why he became a shepherd,» says van Zantvoort. The filmmaker admits to being quite pessimistic. «We’re stuck in this system. Stijn tried, and it didn’t work. I’m hoping people will wake up, but if we don’t change our economic system, we need to produce more and more, which is not sustainable – I mean, even a child can see that. But people prefer to put their heads in the sand.» I remember Stein’s words early in the film, where he explained how the sheep keep the heathland healthy, while the machines brought in by competing companies destroy the soil and the biodiversity of the area. The traditional method is obviously better for the environment; the question is, if our cost efficiency-obsessed society is willing to choose quality over profit. What will it take to shift the focus from profit to what is actually beneficial for the natural world, and thus for us?

Failure is not…

It’s not over ’till it’s over, though, and somehow, Stijn’s story inspires me. Failure is not failing to win against the system – failure is giving in to the system. «As a documentarist, I feel a bit obliged; I need to tell these stories. And the film should speak for itself. Hopefully, it will make people think, and act. Because now it’s up to you; I did my part.» van Zantvoort uses Stijn’s story to say something universal, and his documentary is an invitation to take action. We should not be swayed into thinking like the economic system that represses us. After all, it’s our life, and it’s our responsibility not to sit idly by while our ideals get trampled.

See all the upcoming Sheep Hero screening datesHERE


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Citizen basic income or negative tax

universal basic income

Now that September has arrived, and many are on their way back to work, let me present some arguments in favour of basic income.

Citizen basic income – which has occasionally been suggested by various political parties on the left – can be a solution to assist the poor and those in need, but also those who find themselves unemployed while contributing to society in other ways without getting paid. Not all human activities are «profitable».

Unfortunately, both the Labour Organizations and the parties on the right remain conservative, valuing traditional paid labour over all else. In their book about citizen basic income (Borgerlønn – ideen som endrer spillet), Ingeborg Eliassen and Sven Egil Omdal are critical of conservative parties who want to «strengthen the work-policy». Also, the politicians of the Labour Party, whose leaders, like Hadia Tajik, tell the authors how important it is to fulfill one’s duty: «going to work at nine in the morning shouldn’t be seen as a burden.» She is also skeptical toward technology, «as they will change our work-life.» And the leader of the Labour Union Hans-Christian Gabrielsen is negative to the idea of citizen wages, as it «touches on one of the deepest values of the labour movement: Working should be beneficial.»

Not all human activities are «profitable».

The point is that the traditional paid labour that Solberg, Tajik and Gabrielsen emphasizes, can prove to be out of synch with automatic technologies and new values.

Production capacity

Why, indeed, should wage labour remain so central? Karl Marx criticized traditional wage labour 160 years ago, as he understood the significance of mechanical automation. Marx writes that «…work hours, on which current wealth is based, is a poor basis compared to this new [automated machines and systems] created by big industry itself. […] the work hours stop and must stop being the unit of measure.»1

And 15 years ago, in A Grammar of the Multitude, the Italian philosopher Paul Virno problematized the division between paid and unpaid labour – between traditional industrial labour and working people in the new knowledge society. As Virno points out in accordance with Marx, abstract (and scientific) knowledge has become «no less than the decisive production force», where traditional and physically repetitive work only makes for a part.

For example, today the world has collected a collective knowledge which entrepreneurs, programmers, investors, and others draw on when new products and services are created. The Norwegian economist Kalle Moene also mentions these more invisible social values we all have contributed to – which provides the foundation for the success of techno-entrepreneurs and investors.

More and more economists argue that most of the economic growth the world has experienced the last decades is less a result of the physical work we invest, rather being the result of everything the generations before us have invested in research, education and the development of increasingly effective machines. (according to the book by Omdal and Eliassen).

Unfortunately, the politicians’ insistence on «productive» work – on increasing gross domestic product (GDP) – has led to a situation where instead of benefiting of 100 years of economic growth through more spare time, we have changed the whole profit for increased consumption. As the anarchist David Graeber has described, we have ended up with a series of bullshit jobs, making products that no one really needs.

we have changed the whole profit for increased consumption.

Welfare

Innovatively, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern no longer wants to measure the national productivity in GDP, but wants to govern based on a «budget of well-being». She criticizes GDP and growth for being a poor yardstick for good living conditions. Consequently, New Zealand’s budget is directed towards mental health, reduced child poverty, minorities, reduced CO2-emissions as well as digitalization efforts. The society is measured by 61 parameters – everything from loneliness, trust with the politicians, and equal access to water resources.

Such budgeting is something entirely new. But the authorities of the kingdom of Bhutan launched their «Gross National Happiness», which became a more important measure than BNP – to be included in the constitution at a later point. Today, the UN also publishes their World Happiness Report, apparently based on point 22 in the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948): «Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security […] and is entitled to the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.»

Negative tax

The book Citizen Basic Income (Borgerlønn) takes care to also present objections to an unchecked guaranteed income. Like how people might lose their motivation to work But why can’t a rich country like Norway work toward citizen basic income, simplifying its enormous bureaucratic apparatus of control such as pensions, parental leave and state support. As a society, Norway could be breaking a new path, rather than riding the old carousel of work and exhaustion.

At the same time, universal citizen basic income without restrictions is probably naïve and hardly sustainable in the long run. Providing generous social benefits can easily double state expenditure – and debs – just like Emmanuel Macron’s predecessor François Hollande experienced. The crucial point should be the long – term productive capacity – with creative force, appreciated difference, individual freedom, community, mental development and a minimum of material welfare. Instead of universal citizen basic income, you could introduce «negative taxes», where those who earn enough pay taxes and those who earn close to a determined «minimum wage» 1000 euros per month has been suggested), get a gradual compensation – which could be automated through algorithms by the tax authorities. As a negative tax, the citizen basic income will be adjusted relative to the recipient’s needs.

Italy, for example, has now introduced «citizen’s income» which will provide 2,7 million people with a negative tax or basic income – of about 5000 Euro per year. This will be available for families earning less than 9360 Euros and who make themselves available for work. At the launch of this initiative, the authorities were surprised that far less people than expected grasped the opportunity.

To share

But how to finance the citizen basic income? It can be through resource rent or a basic rate of interest on historical common investments and the planetary resources. In Norway, hydrological power plants pay 33% basic interest tax in addition to business tax. Oil companies pay 55% surtax to be allowed to extract the values that millions of years of geological evolution has stored at the bottom of the sea. And the fish farms who also are polluting should also pay rent of some kind. We can acquire basic rent from the use of natural resources, minerals, land for construction, or even the air for mobile networks. If more parties both nationally and with international solidarity were mentally prepared to share to a larger extent, they could contribute to the common treasury of citizen basic income.

Are Norwegians ready to consider that oil and fish aren’t altogether «Norwegian»? I would here remind you of the anarchist slogan «Property is theft!» – for who owns the water, the atmosphere, the wind, and the sun?

«Property is theft!»

Such basic interest rates could also benefit idealists, altruists or creative people who forgo a life led by profit, and instead chose «unprofitable» careers. As is also is mentioned by Omdal and Eliassen.
And what about all the freelancers in the world (In the US half the people rely on such work to some extent) and those whose work is taken over by automation and new technologies. Or those who don’t happen to be private inheritors to overpriced properties?

Isn’t it time to listen to Marx and politicize the significance of new technologies and increased diversity? It is time to introduce policies where the many who are active but unsalaried or who do not have access to work are met by solidary and support in the form of citizen wages.


1 Grundrisse der Kritik der Politischen Ökonomie, Chapter «notes about machines», 1858, my translation.


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Learning about the world of multiple cinemas

mediascape-featured-MTR

Mediascapes. Pratiche dell'immagine e antropologia culturale

Ivan Bargna

Meltemi Editore

Italy

For more than one hundred years, the cinema of the global north was considered the norm with all other uses treated as particular cases of «ethnographic» film. This view changed gradually within the context of a broader shift associated with the «mediascape» context – a word coined by Arjun Appadurai in order to simultaneously denote media, as well as the world created from it. The idea of «mediascape» indicated the importance of our visual environments, and simultaneously highlighted the fluid and fragmented nature of cultures as a result of intensifying global flows. Today, the climate crisis made us aware that the world is one and «we are all on the same boat». But the rising hostility towards those coming to Europe to save their lives on real – not figural boats – indicates that even in Europe, the once proverbial bastion of multiculturalism, respect for cultural diversity is at risk of being forgotten. Thus, it is important to understand that our one global world is composed of a plentitude of cultures, fluid, fragmented and diverse, and that cinema is part of this plentitude. This is the goal of Mediascapes, a book edited by Ivan Bargna, an Italian anthropologist, specialized in media and the arts, professor at the prestigious Italian Universities Bicocca and Bocconi in Milan, art curator, and ethnographer who conducts research in the Cameroon Grassfields.

A net of interactions

Mediation is not marginal or secondary in relation to a reality accessible in its immediacy – the reality is always already mediated. What we consider real is constructed in a net of interactions between various media, old and new, familiar and foreign. Thus, claims Bargna in his introduction, understanding cultural diversity requires that we pay attention to the processes by which different social formations produce and reproduce themselves, creating a proper media landscape and participating in the global mediascape. The contributions in the book investigate how the daily planetary flow of image, video, film, and television fictions are locally remodeled and re-mediated with political, social and personal strategies.

Diverse “souths” of the world are not limited to passively consume what has been produced elsewhere but actively produce audiovisual cultures.

Active production

The book documents the multi-centric contemporary world and invites the reader to re-think the differences between north and south, between centre and periphery. It makes visible how diverse «souths» of the world are not limited to passively consume what has been produced elsewhere, but actively produce audiovisual cultures that remediate tradition and modernity. This is particularly important and innovative because it shows how cultural creativity is exercised not only in production, but also in circulation and consumption not limited to redistribute what was produced, but poetically re-contextualize and reinvent what has been generated elsewhere.

In her article «Political spectacle, imagined landscapes and monarchic eco-propaganda on the north of Thailand», Amalia Rossi reports about the research performed in 2008-2009 in the northern Thai province of Nan, where particular pressures for control of strategic natural resources are accompanied by one true «war of images». Sara Beretta, in «Dgeneration: video and subjects of contemporary China», presents the latest, digital or Dgeneration of Chinese filmmakers. Her research discloses social and cultural reality in which those films are produced. The infrastructure of the pirate market before and after the web has made an alternative space possible for the circulation, consumption, and production of information, images and signifiers, stimulating self-reflection of a generation that does not aim to change society, but nevertheless represents and interprets its fractures (p. 100). Fiammetta Martegani in «Did David Betray His Soldiers? An ethnographic reading of the representation of the soldier in art and in Israeli cinema», analyses iconographic representations rooted in visual arts and animated cinema, applied within the Arab-Israeli conflict. Giovana Santanera in «Afro-modernity in powder: video experiences from Lagos to Duala» reports on her research on video production in Lagos, Nigeria and Douala, Cameroon, confirming the democratic nature of low cost, easy to use digital technologies, while also detecting pluralities of experience in what people say and do with the media, confirming the heterogeneity of «African modernity». Virginia Evi in «The land of the Red Men. Ethnography of a cinematographic experience», compares the production of the film The Land of the Red Men by Marco Bechis, one that describes the fight for the land of Guarani Kaiowa in Matto Grosso do Sul in Brazil, and the local uses of the film three years after its premiere at the 2008 Venice Film Festival – in particular, the role of the film within the political claims of the Kaiowa. Sara Mramani in «Artistic expression, representational practices and migrant spaces. The Milanese case of via Padova», shows the potentials and limits of visual anthropology, starting with the knowledge that every representation is not only a social and cultural construction but also an instrument in the fight for acknowledgment and self-determination of the individual and group. Finally, Ivan Bargna in «Spectacle of pain and aesthetics of poverty. About Enjoy Poverty by Renzo Martens» focuses on the video made by the Dutch artist in DR Congo in 2009 to analyze the relationship between humanitarianism and the production of images contributing to the construction of the other as a «victim». In the video, artistic activism takes the form of an almost ethnographic docu-fiction and remains ambiguous: the objective of artist-ethnographer is not to reach a representation that is most adequate or most participating in the pain of the other, but to demonstrate the limits of representation, including the impossibility to remain outside (p. 17)

Cultural creativity is exercised not only in production but also in circulation and consumption.

This precious book importantly contributes to the knowledge about contemporary mediascapes, in particular on various uses of cinema around the globe. It will be an interesting read not only for experts but also for non-expert audiences curious about cinema and the world beyond their own. It’s a pity it only exists in Italian. For now.


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Re-foresting the desert humans made

great-green-wall-africa-climate-change

The Great Green Wall

Jared P. Scott

Fernando MeirellesSarah MacdonaldAlexander AsenSian Kevill

UK

«All our hope is in the rain,» says a farmer in The Great Green Wall. For 27 years, he has been working the land in Senegal, but because of increasing droughts and desertification, yields are dwindling. Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, a belt below the Sahara stretching across the continent, is on the frontlines of climate change, its degradation driving resource scarcity, mass migration, and conflict. The young are turning to a new mantra: «Go to Europe, or die trying.»

Many prefer to risk the hugely dangerous journey via Libya over the prospect of a future with nothing to eat for their families. The documentary, which has its World Premiere at Venice Film Festival, outlines a third option to starvation or exile, one that depends on collective action. The Great Green Wall is an initiative of the pan-national African Union to replant trees, creating a mosaic of restored lands to combat the effects of environmental crisis.

Jared P. Scott is attached as director to The Great Green Wall, but the real face of the film is Mali-born musician and activist Inna Modja. We join her as she takes the 8,000-kilometre journey across the region from Senegal to Ethiopia. Her aim is to collaborate with musicians along the way, creating an album that incorporates the region’s cultural traditions, which will raise funds for Great Green Wall projects. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is a backer, and City of God director Fernando Meirelles is on board as Executive Producer. It’s a slickly packaged multi-media push to spotlight the issue, in other words, with big-name clout.

An African dream

«How can we create an African dream?» Modja asks early on, determined to lend her voice to a more upbeat vision of the continent, and better prospects to stem the exodus, in a region where over 80% of the population subsist on some form of agriculture. Thomas Sankara, the revolutionary who became president of Burkina Faso in the ‘80s, before his untimely death by assassination, is held up as the guiding spirit of the Great Green Wall, in his vision of pan-African self-reliance, and his own agenda of replanting more than ten million trees to combat the Sahel’s desertification. «We will dare to invent the future,» he said — a quote that opens the film.

the real face of the film is Mali-born musician and activist Inna Modja

The film’s idealistic rhetoric is geared to inspire in a manner that assumes self-help by the peoples of the Sahel can triumph over corporate and colonial exploitation by a global elite with conveniently selective attention. But it is not a film that glosses over grave challenges internal to the region that stall the implementation of the expansive tree wall — a plan dismissed by many as over-ambitious — even as it insists that a change of mindset is imperative for it to be possible.

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The Great Green Wall, a film by Jared P. Scott

In each nation where she stops, Modja speaks with locals hard-hit by the region’s instability. The shrinking of Lake Chad has had massive humanitarian repercussions, including heightened vulnerability to radicalisation. Teenage girls abducted by Boko Haram in Nigeria, forced into marriage and trained to carry out suicide bombings, share their stories, as do young men educated by armed groups to kill who are now battling stigmatisation as they endeavour to regain their lives. In Niger, which has the highest birth rate on the planet, with women averaging seven children, we encounter mothers with newborns in a maternity ward, discussing their hopes to release their children from poverty. At a migrant crossing point, men have returned after being imprisoned in Libya, or their boats capsizing, a better life still elusive («We only found the sea,» says one). Some have horror stories at the hands of corrupt traffickers. They are in limbo, ashamed to return home penniless.

The desert follows

One advocate of the Great Green Wall mentions, in passing, a quote he once heard: «The forest precedes man, and desert follows.» He doesn’t say it, but it’s from Chateaubriand, a nineteenth-century French aristocrat and Romantic who liked to pen exotic novels and gorge himself on steak. Perhaps it’s easy to offer up eloquent phrases of pithy cynicism, and no solutions, when not faced with only sand to eat.

Perhaps it’s easy to offer up eloquent phrases of pithy cynicism, and no solutions, when not faced with only sand to eat.

Arriving in Ethiopia, Modja finds the horrors of the ‘80s famine the world knows from television are still fresh, and nobody wants to talk about it. But more than three decades on, the land is transformed. A farmer in Tigray recounts how with hard work they replanted the greenery. Modja grasps onto this as «a perfect example for the rest of the Sahel» — proof that if only resources were mobilised, reality would respond. It’s projected that 60 million Africans south of the Sahara could migrate by 2045 if nothing drastic is done to halt desertification. Whether or not we embrace the film’s optimism that its call to action will be answered, it makes crystal clear what is at stake.


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A brutal chain of events

Our Boys-HBO-featured

Our Boys

Hagai LeviJoseph CedarTawfik Abu-Wael

MoviePlus ProductionsKeshet Media Group

United States, Israel

A mutilated body is discovered in a forested area on the outskirts of Western Jerusalem. Identification is difficult because it has been burned alive, but it turns out to be Muhammed Abu Khdeir, a Palestinian boy from Shuafat in the Eastern parts of the city.

«Jews do not burn kids, I know the Israeli racism, but Jews do not do a thing like this,» says the police officer in charge of the investigation at the crime scene. The boy had been abducted from the deserted street outside his home early the same morning, and it would be natural to suspect radical Jewish settlers, but the police officer’s first reaction could be described as self-denial. Or, maybe it is deep and sincere disbelief. The question is left open.

The gruesome murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir was part of a chain of events that shattered Palestine and Israel during the summer of 2014. Eventually, it led to the so-called Operation Protective Edge, the Israeli invasion of the Gaza Strip that cost more than 2,000 Palestinian lives during July and August of that year. Now, Israeli director and screenwriter Joseph Cedar, with Hagai Levi and Tawfik Abu-Wael, have created a 10-episode miniseries, based on these events. It is a dramatization of the tragic development with lots of original footage, providing a unique and disturbing insight into the psychological processes that, once again, led the Israeli-Palestinian conflict astray.

Out of control

Cedar has chosen the abduction and murder of three young Israelis as the trigger. One dark evening they hitchhiked outside a West Bank settlement in the Hebron foothills and picked up by Palestinians connected to the Hamas. This led to a massive search operation as we follow the popular reaction. The abducted youngsters were students at a yeshiva, a religious academy, and in that world the obvious reaction is prayer. The case became high profile, and thousands of religious Israelis gathered for mass prayer for «our boys» – the title of the miniseries.

This is presented as a dilemma. On the one hand, the mass prayers could be seen as a strong sign of solidarity with the boys’ families, but on the other hand, it is a dangerous phenomenon that could easily get out of control. Which is exactly what happens.

«What happens if the prayers go unanswered? What if they do not return home alive?» says Shimon from the Shabak, the Israeli security services. His operational area is Jewish extremism, and he is not in doubt that a reaction will come from that dark underworld. He tries to calm thing down by asking representatives of the worried families to discourage the mass prayers, but the parents go through hell, and if they dare to hold on to the most human of hopes they can be accused of incitement? Shimon is told by colleagues.

When the boys are found dead 18 days after their disappearance, hell breaks loose. People run amok in the streets of Jerusalem, shouting «Death to the Arabs!», and the same night, Muhammed Abu Khdeir is abducted.

Abu Khdeir

Widespread shock and anger gripped the Israeli population – but for different reasons, which is also clear in today’s reactions to the miniseries presenting some bitter truths. The abduction and murder of the yeshiva boys was a despicable act, and the grief of the families is understandable, but were they innocent, being part of the settlement enterprise and the occupation?

That kind of indescribable cruelty had not been seen before.

It is hard to talk about innocence in this connection. Still many participated in the hate and saw the following Gaza war as an understandable and logical reaction. At the same time, the murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir transgressed all limits of violence and demonstrated the moral abyss in the conflict. That kind of indescribable cruelty had not been seen before. But one of the culprits, Yochi Har Zahav of the extreme settler youth, claims that vengeance is something natural. This is what the Bible is all about. «The problem is that you assume Jews are incapable of cruelty toward their enemy,» he says when he is taken in for questioning.

Asymmetry

This is creepy, but it is real. In the episodes that have been screened so far, we get to feel the moral considerations of Shimon, but he is up against the whole system and political considerations. «They sanctify death, we sanctify life. We sanctify compassion. That is the secret of our strength and the foundation of our unity,» we hear prime minister Netanyahu say at the funeral for the boys.

Our Boys-inpost1
Our Boys, an HBO miniseries

Joseph Cedar illustrates this way of thinking by describing how the two cases are handled by the Israeli authorities. When the three Jewish boys are abducted there is no doubt that terrorists are behind the act and a massive manhunt is launched without hesitation. Yet, when the Palestinian youth disappears from his Shuafat home and one single patrol car is sent to investigate, all kinds of motives are in play, and the worried father is treated with deep suspicion.

The present Israeli debate mirrors the same feelings. Yair Netanyahu, the son of the prime minister, has tweeted his deep anger against Joseph Cedar for displaying the Jewish extremism, while others laud him for touching such a sensitive topic. The miniseries will run on HBO well into October, but even though it is still «a developing story,» it is not too early to say that Cedar has made a very important statement and created an extremely well-told story that doubles as a necessary tool for understanding the tragic dynamics of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.


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A story rarely told

romania-dead-nation

Dead Nation

(Tara Moarta)

Radu Jade

Ada Solomon

Romania

«Mr. Dirty Jew, you Dirty Jew, and fuck off Dirty Jew are the 3 different ways to address a Jew», notes Dr. Emil Dorian, a Romanian Jewish poet, and medical doctor. It is the spring of 1940 and Dorian, writing in his diary, is recounting a caustic joke making the rounds in Bucharest reflecting the plight of Romania’s Jews.

Dorian’s diary serves as the basis for Romanian filmmaker Radu Jude’s documentary Dead Nation, a thought-provoking film produced in a minimalistic visual style. The entire film is based on static photos taken by a Romanian photo studio during the 1930s and 40s. These visuals almost never serve as illustrations of the text but rather are used as ironic counterpoint.

Exacerbating persecution

The photos, comprising smiling portraits of Romanians in traditional folk costumes, family events, church leaders, soldiers, and community celebrations are juxtaposed with voiceover, describing Romania’s exacerbating persecution of the country’s Jews provided by Dorian’s writings, radio newscasts, and patriotic Romanian songs. The photos and excerpts span a ten-year period, from 1937 to 1946.

It is remarkable nowadays to come across a film made by an Eastern European filmmaker that is so unabashed in its criticism of his native country

The biting implication of Jude’s juxtapositions, though never directly stated, is that Romanians of every stripe had a hand in tormenting the country’s Jews during the Holocaust. It is remarkable nowadays to come across a film made by an Eastern European filmmaker that is so unabashed in its criticism of his native country, coming at a time when many regional governments, riding a tide of rightwing nationalism, attempt to whitewash their countries’ complicity in the Holocaust. Recent legislation in Poland making it a criminal offense to imply Poland was responsible for Holocaust-related war crimes, along with similar laws passed by the Ukrainian government in 2015, has been widely criticized as an attempt to obfuscate the collaboration of citizens from those countries with the Nazis. Lithuania, Latvia, and Hungary have also enacted policies aimed at denying their involvement. In the case of Romania, a country which has the dubious claim of having killed more Jews than any other of the Nazi allies (an estimated 300,000), it is to their credit that Jude was able to make this film seemingly without interference.

Legacy

That legacy, as documented in real-time by Dorian, includes a year-by-year tabulation of increasing Romanian anti-Semitism that becomes toxic long before the country joins forces with the Nazis. In 1938, Dorian himself is fired from his job as a doctor when the government disallows Jews from working for state organizations; Jewish patients are expelled from hospitals, the state radio plays songs about Jews «sucking our blood», and synagogues are burned. In 1939 Jewish medical students were not allowed to take their exams. In 1940 Jewish soldiers were thrown off trains and killed by their comrades, while Jewish doctors were not allowed to treat Christian patients. In 1941 women participated in a program where the tongues and eyes of Jews were cut out. In 1942 lethal gas was tested on Jews and Romanian soldiers participate in the liquidation of Jewish communities in Odesa and other parts of Ukraine.

Romania, at first, claimed to be neutral, then sided with Hitler and helped invade Ukraine, then switched to the Allies, before finally aligning with the USSR

A byproduct of the film is that information imparted in Dorian’s diary sheds significant light on some of the ongoing controversies about who in the West knew what was happening during the Holocaust and when did they know about it – and, therefore, why wasn’t more done to stop the killing?

A known fate

If an isolated doctor in Bucharest knew that Jews were being gassed in 1942, or that in 1943 a train carrying Jews from Thessaloniki passing through Romania on its way to Poland was headed for a «known fate», as Dorian states, is it possible the Allies did not know about the gas chambers that awaited the them?

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Dead Nation, a film by Radu Jude

Jude’s decision to stick with a radical, minimalistic, non-narrated style creates a significant emotional impact yet does create several problems. Viewers without any background knowledge surrounding Romania’s involvement in World War II may find it hard to follow the sequence of historical events alluded to but never explained (Romania, at first, claimed to be neutral, then sided with Hitler and helped invade Ukraine, then switched to the Allies, before finally aligning with the USSR).

Dead Nation is an important film that illustrates how the scapegoating of a minority group can grow rapidly and unabatedly with disastrous results. It will hopefully be widely shown, especially throughout Romania and Eastern Europe.


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