Documentary Sunday!

There’s no time like winter time (in Armidale at least) to stay in doors, safely tucked up in front of the heater; and since we’ve hit that time in the year when the outside climate is truly foul I’ve decided to put my time to good use, not through further university studies, but through catching up on a wide range of real life world issues that seem to be going on outside the world of academia.

With this in mind I am instituting ‘Documentary Sunday’ where my aim is to watch a series of random documentaries about a broad range of things that I find mildly interesting. Some will be issues I have heard about before and sometimes they will be things I’m coming to for the first time in the hopes of being educated on a topic that I don’t even know that I’m going to find amazing…yet.

To kick off I’ll be talking about three documentaries this week: Deep Web (2015), More than Honey (2013) and Cropsey (2009).There’s no real rhyme or reason for why I picked these. On the day, as I sat in front of iTunes, they were just the three that fate threw up at me.

DeepWeb

Deep Web 2015, Alex Winter (dir.)., Keanu Reeves (narrator). 

The deep web, much like the dark web, is a concept that I’ve heard about from time to time but one that has always seemed so technologically above me that I have pushed aside investigating what it actually is. When I saw this documentary advertised in iTunes for .99 cents I was more drawn to it because Keanu Reeves was narrating and Alex Winter was directing (Bill and Ted for all you non 80’s children) that I actually decided to give it a spin and the fact that it was about this deep web mystery was only a passing attraction. Once I started watching though I was really taken in by it all and surprised that there is this sub-world of people, communing online, in this kind of culture within the culture of the Internet – it’s both attractive and scary at the same time. Clearly this is something that Winter has an interest in too, a quick Google search revealed that he has also done a documentary on Napster (RIP Napster, I still miss you). Touching on wiki leaks and the early days of cypher punks and hacking, the heart of The Deep Web is the story of the trial of Ross Ulbricht AKA: The Dread Pirate Roberts AKA: DPR; the admin of The Silk Road, which is a deep web site that came under scrutiny a few years back because of the relative ease with which people could buy and sell drugs. Although there were numerous other conversations and sales going on, it was ultimately the narcotics trade that attracted the attention of the authorities, who immediately started to trace DPR so that they could bust him and his ring of cyber dealers. Their search ultimately lead them to 29 year old mathematician and numerical/scientific genius Ross, who they caught logged into the site at a public library in the SFN area. His arrest and subsequent indictment and trial though have raised a number of questions about how the government managed to find him, if he is the sole person responsible for the site and how much right the government has to personal online content. These are all excellent questions and complex issues. Although the doco invariably paints the figure of DPR as some kind of cyber Robin Hood, I did feel that it highlighted some very scary facts about what can and cannot be used to prosecute private citizens, while also highlighting some often overlooked facts in the ongoing and seemingly never ending drug war. Of course I would need to do more research into this story before I could voice any kind of opinion as to the guilt or innocence of the man at the centre of the scandal – not that it would make my difference what I think anyway since a) he is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole; and b) who cares what one internet blogger from the other side of the world really thinks anyway?

Having watched The Deep Web, I still also have a lot of questions about the deep web and TOR and the dark web as well, but I am not in a hurry to get those answered. Computers and I share a strained relationship at best and while in my wildest fantasies I might wish I had half the skill or understanding of Trinity from the Matrix movies, in real life the odds of me being able to hack into a hotmail account are slim to none.

I did enjoy this documentary a great deal though because it adds another layer to my knowledge of the many layers of society that are functioning all around us. Real life double lives are being played out in real life and virtual worlds all over, without any clue as the existence of each other. It’s often easy to forget that in the modern age of technology the idea of never really knowing the people around you takes on an entirely new meaning. Sites like the Silk Road don’t operate with a select clientele, they’re visited by millions of people world wide, people that aren’t just buying heroin or trading in LSD, people that are trying to build a community and trying to escape the ever tightening grip of the nanny state. I wonder if we’ll ever come to a place where complete online freedom exists and where the threat of exposure will thus keep politicians and criminals honest. I’m sure there would be positives and negatives to the situation. Back to the case of DPR though, I do feel for the young man. Much like Julian Assange I am sorrowful that, regardless of his involvement, he is being scapegoated so that both users or the dark web and members of the government can save face. It’s self preservation in the new millennium landscape. People. We never change.

More_than_Honey

More than Honey 2013, Markus Imhoof (dir.).

Bees. So terrifying and brilliant. Captivating and horrific. I’ve been interested in bees since the first time I came across a swarm hanging in the tree in my front yard. I was terrified of course and hid in the living room behind the safety of the glass windows watching them do their bee things. They were so organised and so deadly. Although Australia hads a reputation for killer animals, snakes and spiders don’t bother me so much and you don’t get crocodiles or wild boars in my neck of the woods. Bees though do terrify me, no matter where you live, you can’t avoid coming across them and, unlike other deadly animals, you never really know what they’re about and they’re often so inconspicuous that you don’t know they’re there until they’re stinging you.
As I’ve gotten older I have decided to try and conquer my fear of the humble bee. Eventually I’d like to even get the the point where I could keep them. Over the last decade or so I’ve been keeping a lazy eye on the bee sickness that is killing off millions of bees all over the world, and choking back an ice cold dread while I process the meaning of what bee extinction really equates to within the context of how we as humans live our lazy lives. It’s a conclusion that’s worse than any horror film and the more research that’s done suggests that while it is a combination of things that is making the bees sick, all of them can ultimately be traced back to man. Not only are we killing ourselves through global warming, obesity and greed, we’re trying to kill off natures pollinators too. It really is the lowest ebb of humanity isn’t it?

This film, rather than being a scare campaign though, looks at bees all over the world; how they’re bred and moved, why they die and how their most valuable product (honey of course) is made and distributed. It’s quite a thing to line up the single elderly European bee keeper, who smokes his bees with a cigar and wears no protective garments, beside the industrial bee keepers of California and the itinerant workers of China who must hand pollinate because all of their bees have died out.

I was spellbound by the genius of the hive and the community in which the bees functioned and infatuated with the up close camera work that observed their daily comings and goings from the hive. So too, I was bought to tears as whole colonies were invested with mites and parasites or had to be gassed to death because of bacterial infections within the colony and the hive. The scene where the Swiss man has to burn and bury his sick bees was particularly hard to watch. Unlike his American counterparts, his is a small business and his bees are like family. Comparatively the larger company in the US showed no concern for breaking down and redistributing their hives. Killing bees willy-nilly as they wildly processed their honey. It’s all about consumerism and greed.

The plight of bees is such an interesting one I think because it is such an in your face example of how it has become the status quo for human kind to flirt with its own destruction, always assuming it can medicate or buy its way back from completely irreparable environmental doom. Even though we know that if the bees die our food availability will be cut drastically, we continue to turn a blind eye to the problem. Where bees try to fight back (killer bees) we freak out and want to kill them. It’s like we really have completely lost touch with the natural world. Maybe we have. I wonder, how much have we really lost because of that?

I guess this is in the polar opposite corner to The Deep Web, which made it such a good choice to watch. No one person can be involved in every issue that is going on in the world today but the more we educate ourselves by looking into different topics, topics outside our comfort zone, the better chance we might have to put our amazing luck (as people with high speed internet access and a wealth of knowledge only a click away) to good use.

Again, at .99 cents this is a compelling film and highly recommended.

Cropsey_Poster

Cropsey 2009, Barbara Brancaccio, Joshua Zeaman (dir.).

This has been on my ‘to watch’ list for some time and I am glad that I finally got around to it. Don’t be confused by the trailer though, while the film starts out as an investigation of Staten Island’s Urban Legend of Cropsey, the escaped mental patient and perhaps hook wielding serial child killer, it quickly becomes a true crime investigation, which examines the disappearance of a group of Staten Island children with learning disabilities.

It’s a genuinely compelling case and I appreciated the fact that the directors were both quick to acknowledge that Andre Rand (the suspected basis for the Cropsey legend) is another example of the tendency that the public has to scapegoat people rather than dealing with difficult issues.

More breathtaking to little old uneducated me, was the discussion that happened about Willowbrook State School and the real life, appalling history of that institution. As someone only vaguely familiar with Geraldo Rivera, I always wondered how it was he came to be famous and now I know that it was his expose of Willowbrook that did it. Although the film doesn’t show large portions of that expose, it does show enough for the viewer to be both moved and sickened by the conditions that people were living in.
As someone not American, Cropsey highlights another part of American life that I have always found interesting and that is the way in which buildings are often abandoned and left to wreck and ruin. While I am not supposing that Australia doesn’t have it’s own share of abandoned buildings, factories and prisons, there is that haunting feeling that the Willowbrook School, like other sites that I have seen, was just walked away from one day – as if everyone just disappeared – and everything on the site was just left to rot.

Having watched the movie and both sides of the argument, I am not sure if I am convinced of Andre Rand’s guilt. Yes, there are an abundance of events that seem to be a little too coincidental to be true if he isn’t responsible for at least some of the disappearances; but the whole idea that Rand was some kind of underground cult leader, heading a band of homeless people that were living underneath the Willowbrook State School amid a network of tunnels seems a bit too far fetched to believe.

This was nothing like I thought it would be, but I am glad I watched it and I enjoyed it a great deal. Certainly, it is a great example of how guilt and innocence can be influenced by society and the press and about the birth of urban legends.

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