Khine Wai Zaw, human rights activist, watches Burma VJ and shares his story

burma_vj_02Burma VJ has been met with very positive reviews in the UK following its release last week, with a 94% Rotten Tomatoes rating, but what do the Burmese depicted in the film make of it?

In his first contribution to Netribution, JJ Kim travelled to the heart of the pro-democracy movement in Thailand to watch the film with Khine Wai Zaw - who was involved the Saffron Uprising of 2007 - and hear his story. It's a fascinating insight into the benefit of social-documentaries from someone who grew up within the heart of the former British colony under the rule of the Junta.

It is Friday 9th July 2009. With the award winning “Burma VJ” released in British cinemas, many people get their first glimpse of the Saffron Revolution (2007) - the most comprehensively documented of many horror stories from Burma’s near half-century under oppressive military rule. Meanwhile, it is business as usual for the many organisations working in Burma’s neighbouring countries – in safety – to bring democracy back to the world’s second most corrupt country (Transparency International 2008).

The heart of the Burmese pro-democracy movement is in Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand, on the Burmese border, a six-hour bus-ride from Chiang Mai, where much of Burma VJ was produced and even directed remotely. A transient town - with many Burmese migrant workers and Non-Governmental Organisations of all kinds - Mae Sot is home to many politicians, educators, religious leaders and activists who have been forced into exile. However, far from running away from their pasts, many have set up organisations to support those suffering in Burma and inform the world of the extreme injustices inflicted on civilians by the nation’s totalitarian military regime.

“Modern technology has made the movement very different. When we watch this film we can gain an almost real experience... Many Burmese people are talking about it in blogs and internet chat. I don’t know if many people are watching it though – they have to be very careful...
If we get caught with it we will go to prison. If they find someone selling it there will be further punishment. I think its most important that this film is seen inside Burma."
Khine Wai Zaw

One such organisation, is the All Arakan Students’ and Youths’ Congress (AASYC), a largely political group based in both Thailand and Bangladesh. The AASYC office – walls adorned with banners saying “Free Arakan” and “SPDC out” (referring to the regime’s official name – The State Peace and Development Council) - is where I met with Khine Wai Zaw, to discuss his participation in the Saffron Revolution and  watch the film, Burma VJ.

Khine Wai Zaw, as he has made himself known since leaving Burma in December 2007, grew up in Mrauk-U, an ancient city in Arakan State, an area colonised by the Burmese in 1784. He had told me many times before about life growing up under martial law – in constant fear of surveillance. “In my hometown we saw soldiers everyday,” he began hesitantly. ”In groups of at least 4 with rifles or M16 machine guns. Sometimes, they would go to the market and buy things but pay very little or go to traditional local events so we used to fight them. They would come back the next day with more military so many of my brothers had to leave the city and now they can never go home because the soldiers are looking for them.

However, these things are rarely talked about in Burma – out of pure fear of incarceration or worse. Military intelligence officials in civilian clothing are on every corner, in work places and in every teashop, eagerly seeking a chance to report a “traitor” to their superiors, condemning them to imprisonment, torture or even murder for expressing their opinions. “In Yangon, we had to discuss politics very slowly and carefully because our brothers were involved in underground political activities - we would be watched all the time and many brothers had to leave.”

Burma VJ tells the story of the Saffron Revolution of 2007, the first nationwide uprising in Burma for 19 years. The revolt was brought to a sudden halt when over a hundred civilians, including monks and students were shot dead and far more were detained without trial.

The roots of the uprising

“The soldiers began to shoot and in the same moment many people that we had been protesting with all day turned on us and started beating us; it became apparent that these people were also working for the SPDC... I saw many girls falling – they were very afraid! That was the last day I protested.”
Khine Wai Zaw

On the 15th September 2007, 20 year-old Khine Wai Zaw could tell something was different as he prepared for the two-day journey to Yangon (Rangoon), where he would stay with his Aunt and Uncle. That day, Khine Wai Zaw saw something he’d never seen before: monks and other civilians demonstrating against the government, openly talking to crowds about political ideals such as democracy and human rights.  “I had never seen protests before. Many people had closed their shops and restaurants. Many policemen and soldiers were talking on their phones and many monks were chanting and marching. I was excited and a little scared. I had goose-bumps”

burma_vj1By the 25th of September, millions were mobilised across the country- monks, teachers, writers, students and housewives alike were marching through the streets calling for a justice that they barely understood. “I didn’t know much about democracy at that time but I knew that I wanted to change our system because everyday I faced many difficulties. In every street in Yangon there were many prostitutes, many beggars and many soldiers walking and in vehicles.“

At first many watched the monks from the sidelines, apprehensive to join in. Scenes from Burma VJ show a march through downtown Yangon while thousands watch from their windows cheering and clapping from their windows. “They were afraid. Even though they were clapping their hands, they were afraid. I think one thousand people were watching us and then they joined us slowly, slowly. “ Khine Wai Zaw recalls from another part of town where he joined in the demonstration.

Whilst watching the film with Khine Wai Zaw and three young Arakanese girls - the atmosphere was infectious. Excited murmurs quickly turned into laughter and cheers from the AASYC office while the girls saw sights they had never imagined: literally thousands of civilians defying the system and expressing their anti-military sentiments loud and proud.

But the atmosphere quickly changed once the first signs of violence came to the screen. (continued...)

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Behind the scenes: Jackboots on Whitehall

churchill puppetJackboots on Whitehall has been called the "British Team America," countless times for its use of puppets, but there's a lot more to the film than that.

It gives us an alternative World War II scenario, in which the Nazis managed to invade Britain. The debut writer/directors, brothers Ed (25) and Rory McHenry (22), have managed to entice an impressive array of stars into lending their voices to the film, including Ewan MacGregor, Rosamund Pike and Alan Cumming as a very camp Hitler.

The production is something of a family effort, as the brothers' dad, David McHenry is on production design (his credits include Love and Death on Long Island (1997) and Becoming Jane (2007) among much TV work), their two younger brothers Dom and Jack are helping with the puppets and mum, actress Maureen Bennett is often on set.

The movie is being shot at the Three Mills Studio in Bow, East London. When I visited the set last month, the crew were pretty busy blowing up Hadrian's Wall, the site of a spectacular battle between the Brits - led by MacGregor's Chris, a farmer with exceptionally large hands - and the Nazis, who are copying the invasion tactics of the Romans.

Producer Karl Richards gave us a tour of the set and workshops, before we got the chance to sit down with the McHenry brothers. The sets are full of background details that will reward close watching, as famous London streets get a German-style makeover, whereas Scotland is portrayed as a mysterious, tribal nation that provides the backdrop to a showdown with the Nazis.

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Before Pirate Bay & Cluetrain: The Temporary Autonomous Zone

pirate bay demo

A rushed three hour write-up on the Pirate Bay en route to the Star and Shadow cinema in Newcastle on Friday, got me looking back to the first time the Pirate Bayern was in the news, when I wrote a piece here linking it to Hakim Bay's Pirate Utopias and the Temporary Autonomous Zone which was written back in spring 1990, long before the birth of the Web. If Cluetrain is the text that precursed social networks and user-generated media, the TAZ pre-empted the Web - both perhaps the first document to name it and is prophetic of many of its features.

It begins by talking of the 'pirate utopias' of the 18th century as islands and remote hidouts, scattered through an "information network" and goes onto define a Web evolving within that net. It's scarily ahead of its time:

"we'll use the term Web to refer to the alternate horizontal open structure of info- exchange, the non-hierarchic network, and reserve the term counter-Net to indicate clandestine illegal and rebellious use of the Web, including actual data-piracy and other forms of leeching off the Net itself."

He goes on, suggesting that re-use of what we find is part of our biological nature,  and that because the web removes production and distribution costs, free non-hierarchical access is assumed as standard:

"(Digression: Before you condemn the Web or counter-Net for its "parasitism," which can never be a truly revolutionary force, ask yourself what "production" consists of in the Age of Simulation. What is the "productive class"? Perhaps you'll be forced to admit that these terms seem to have lost their meaning. In any case the answers to such questions are so complex that the TAZ tends to ignore them altogether and simply picks up what it can use. "Culture is our Nature"-- and we are the thieving magpies, or the hunter/gatherers of the world of CommTech.)"

He doesn't have much hope for efforts to limit technical control of what he calls 'data piracy', citing chaos theory, which is not to assume there's no model to produce good content in the face of collapsing presales (watch this space!):

"Like Gibson and Sterling I am assuming that the official Net will never succeed in shutting down the Web or the counter-Net--that data-piracy, unauthorized transmissions and the free flow of information can never be frozen. (In fact, as I understand it, chaos theory predicts that any universal Control-system is impossible.)"

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Milk, Chocolat and Pi as the Co-Op moves into the film business

Finally some exciting news out of the Croisette - Britain's fifth largest retailer, the UK's biggest farmer and the world's biggest seller of fair trade, non-animal tested and ethically sourced products and services, the Co-Op, is moving into film distribution, starting with the hotly awaited docs Burma VJ and The Vanishing of the Bees.

We often lament in my flat the march to sell out, that has seen the loss of once exclusively Fair Trade Green and Blacks to Cadburys, Pret a Manger to McDonalds, BodyShop to L'Oreal and Innocent to Coke, but often forget a Manchester-founded stalwart whose principles have neither diminished nor been bought out. Continuing to expand in the UK, and my local 24-hour corner shop, the news of the Co-Op's involvement in the social documentary area of the film business, especially given its huge marketing and retail space across its 2,500 stores and its ethical bank, is the best film news I've heard all year. Forget the Auto Workers Union owning 45% of Chrysler - the Co-Op is entirely member and worker owned, and with 3 million members is the UK's largest membership organisation. Best of all, with a film like The Vanishing of the Bees, the co-op is in the rare position of being able to effect a part of the change called in the films, through its farming, investment and trading practices.

Burma VJ poster

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and I don't think ScreenDaily have written this up yet ;-) Press release clippings follow:

This unique two-way partnership will see Dogwoof and The Co-operative jointly financing the marketing and distribution costs associated with campaigning films on important issues, starting with BURMA VJ and THE VANISHING OF THE BEES.

Both films, which will be premiered in the UK later this year, reflect two of The Co-operative’s hard hitting campaigns – to support the oppressed people of Burma and to help reverse the decline in the honeybee population.

Paul Monaghan, Head of Social Goals and Sustainability at The Co-operative, said:

“We recognise the power of film to motivate people to take action and drive change, and hope that these films will help mobilise our members and the general public.

“The Co-operative, the UK’s largest member-owned business, has three million members and a unique 165 year history of campaigning for change. With support from our customer-members, we have been campaigning for democracy in Burma for years and are leading the fight to save the honeybee. “

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Simon Pegg - How to Lose Friends and Alientate People

simon_pegg_1Fresh back from a whistle top promotional tour where he faced a grilling by hundreds of journalists, Simon Pegg stepped straight into his latest role – playing a celebrity obsessed magazine writer who has a terrible knack of upsetting everyone including the people he’s sent to interview. In How To Lose Friends And Alienate People, Pegg plays British hack Sidney Young who lands a highly coveted job on an upscale Manhattan based glossy called Sharps. But his dream of finding himself on the inside the glamorous world of premiers, parties and rubbing shoulders with beautiful starlets goes disastrously, hilariously wrong thanks to a series of spectacular gaffs.

“It was interesting because I started the film directly after doing a big block of press for Hot Fuzz so I had literally just been in contact with about 600 journalists,” says Pegg.

“So it was fascinating and funny and not as weird as you might think it was. I didn’t suddenly think ‘oh I’m on the other side of it now and now I understand them.’ I think journalists are individuals and I wouldn’t presume to say they are all the same.

How To Lose Friends And Alienate People is loosely based on British journalist Toby Young’s memoir of his time working on Vanity Fair magazine. But, as Pegg points out, although the book is the inspiration, the film is vastly different.

“The film is very much an adaptation of the book and I’m keen to stress that,” says Pegg. “The book doesn’t really lend itself to being a film in a sense, because it’s very anecdotal and it’s filled with huge tracts about philosophy and it’s very much a book and an enjoyable one, but in order to make it into a film Peter (Straughan, screenwriter) had to shape it as such so it is pretty different.”

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The Yes Men fix the world. We ask what keeps them going?

yesmenAs the Yes Men - the thinking-person's Sacha Baron Cohen - see their latest film released in the UK, Netribution sneaks its way into a secretive underground political cell known only as 'Soho House' to find them out and learn more.

The Independent's Johann Hari recently asked the question: "when you are just one person sitting on a warming planet – when you see economies collapsing, wars raging, and reasons for fear on every corner – how should you react? What can you do?". Many of us, he argued, settle for defiant pessimism: "I can't make any difference. It's all going to happen, whatever I do. The political conversation.. has nothing to do with me anyway", leading us to buy a bigger lock for our door, distrust our neighbours and not go out much, other than to occasionally let rip and collapse in a drunken mess on Latvian stag weekends.

I was fortunate enough to put the question to the Yes Men - who seem to have taken the crown of accessible yet uncompromising political satire - when I met them in London a few weeks ago ahead of the release of the pant-shittingly hilarious The Yes Men Fix the World - winner of the Audience award at Berlin, and 'best documentary of the year' according to the New Scientist. Andy Bichlbaum explained that they simply "do things that are fun". Pessimism is avoided, he said, "if you do what you are drawn to and think it can have a positive effect, if you do want you want to do and it's enjoyable. The despair comes from not doing anything and just sitting there and letting things happen."

Indeed it was frustration with the status quo which led them into Yes-ing the first place: "I started it more or less when I was in college and there was a certain frustration." says Andy. "It could seem pointless to be in a march, while [this was] something that could give me more satisfaction, that we had more fun doing."

newyorktimes_specialStill not funded to prank all year round (wot no Channel 4 series?), the pair hold down day jobs as University lecturers while jetting around the world pretending to be people that they aren't. Few by now will have missed the infamous stunt where Bichlbaum was invited on to BBC News 24 as a representative of Dow Chemical, and proceded to do the one thing the owner of the chemical plant behind the disaster which has killed an estimated 25,000 people and disabled many more has never done - and apologise unreservedly for the disaster, promising to shut the plant and pay out some $12bn in compensation and clean-up (25 years on, the ground water there is still is toxic, and litigation continues). Dow's stock price collapsed by some $2bn before the stunt was revealed.

The Yes Men Fix the World, after a slightly awkward start, gallops into one of the funniest documentaries I've seen in years that had me both in tears, as the pair visited Bhopal today; and stitches, as executives at a VIP annual petrochemical luncheon learn that the candles they are holding are made from the flesh of an Exxon janitor, as part of a cunning plan to recycle climate chaos casualties into a fuel source. The film takes us behind the scenes of the pair's thinking, planning and stunts - with few areas avoiding their attention. We see them share a stage with Mayor Nagin in New Orleans where post-disaster relief has become mass-privatisation, with only four state schools left in the entire city; uncover Halliburton's executive protection survival suit; and - in one of their most touching stunts - handed out 80,000 alternative 'good news' copies of the New York Times, declaring peace in Iraq, a restructure of the economy and a new maximum wage law (PDF). With more stunts planned in the run up to Copenhagen, the men don't seem to sleep - indeed for the film's release in the UK, the pair handed out beautifully branded B'EauPal water in Soho, and at the Dow offices:

yesmen1What seems remarkable - besides their  ability to get away with these things - is the balance between focusing on local issues and the bigger picture, which is summed up by Andy as the point that "we've entrusted our destiny to this crazy ideology [consumerism] that has now gone bankrupt and it's obvious it's gone bankrupt. But we really need to sever our ties with it." It's a message no longer exclusive to radicals and the far left - taking centre stage from Franny Armstrong's Age of Stupid to Douglas Rushkoff's Life Inc to Annie Leonards' brilliantly concise and informative 20-minute Creative Commons short The Story of Stuff (which taught me that every bin bag of rubbish in my house is matched with 70 bags of rubbish created in the production of that waste - and that 99% of goods Americans buy will be binned within six months). In short, as Leonard says, "you cannot run a linear system (of production and consumption) on a finite planet indefinitely". Even Disney seems to agree, with Wall*E and its accompanying website, being perhaps the most grimly disturbing illustration out of any of them of the consequences of business as usual, of a society built first and foremost around consumerism, greed and short term, unsustainable thinking.

So, are these guys the answer? Heroic cultural leaders such as Bichlbaum and Mike Bonnano, Banksy and Kalle Lasn, Armstrong and Rushkoff, Mark Thomas and Michael Moore, Colbert and Stewart - sticking the finger up to Goliath as they press for the change we want but don't know how to get, while cracking some good jokes?

Actually, this is the second bad response to the problems of the world Hari identified in his article, giving our leaders and cultural figures sole responsibility for change, investing in them superhuman expectations to make up for the rot that we all see and sigh for, while letting us once more sit back and put our feet up, trusting that Obama or the Yes Men will sort it out. It's just as dangerous as apathy:

"Both these moods leave you – the ordinary citizen – inert. All you can do is focus on your own personal life and wait, for disaster or salvation. But these twin dispositions leave out the real option that is waiting for you. It is the only one that has ever delivered political change in the past, and it is the only one that will pull us out of the ditch now. It is where ordinary individual citizens – you – come together and raise their voices and offer solutions of their own."

yesmen3This echoes the Yes Men's message, as Mike explains: "it's only by individual action that things change. There's not driving a car, that kind of thing, then there's also putting pressure on corporations and the government to change. Specifically putting pressure on our elected leaders to make sure that they have the mandate to pass the laws that we hope to see at Copenhagen. There's tons of organisations here that are doing it, from the more radical ones like Plane Stupid, to groups like Friends of the Earth."

And if they wanted to follow in the Yes Men's shoes, any advice? "It's not very hard, that's what I'd say to begin with. It's not rocket science" explained Andy. "You can watch our movie, figure out how we do it and go and do it. It's one technique amongst many for getting the message out there. And for supporting a big movement that's making change."

To help this further, the Yes Men have created a website that both explains how they do it, gives ideas, and encourages groups to mobilise around specific issues. At challenge.theyesmen.org you can sign up to stunts - from a campaign against the targetted recruitment of ethnic minorities and the ultra-poor for the military, to the Raging Grannies Action League for US health care reform.

Johann Hari argues it's actions such as these that move civilisation forward, and that as a species we depend on such movements:

"Far from being some dreamy call to kumbaya, collective political action is the single biggest reason your life is incalculably better than that of your great-grandparents. When people first called for equality for women, when people first started to conduct scientific experiments, when people first suggested paid weekends and holidays for ordinary workers, they were greeted by the same glib pessimism we hear today. It'll never happen! What can we do?...

Who was the leader of feminism? Who was the leader of scientific progress? Who was the leader of workers' rights? Sure, there were inspirational individuals along the way. But they happened as a result of millions of ordinary people demanding it, and never giving up. If we had waited for leaders to spontaneously see the light, we would be waiting still."

Or as Bilchbaum says, "Now that the world is in great danger, we really have to figure this out. It's a great moment."

The Yes Men Fix the World is now on general release in the UK, and will feature a live satellite screening and event beamed from the Sheffield Showroom on Tuesday, August 11th. More information from their website and after the link below. It is released in the US from October 17th.

Posters from the Yes Men Poster design contest.

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Sally Potter: “The beginning of a new way of looking at film”

sally_potter"Anyone can be a filmmaker. What's really hard is to make a good, interesting film. A computer doesn't help you write a better novel; writing in a notebook longhand is just as good.

"So technology can't do the job for you, but it can make the medium more accessible to more people... Within a short time, I could get 30,000 people coming to my site, from countries where Rage doesn't have distribution, and they're talking to each other about the themes they relate to in it. That's something that's so new and extraordinary, really."

Orlando director Sally Potter's latest film, Rage, will be the first feature-length film to premiere on mobile phones. With an ensemble cast including Eddie Izzard, Judi Dench, Diane Wiest, Jude Law and Steve Buscemi, the first of seven episodes of the film will be streamed on Monday on Babelgum's free mobile platform, across the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy and Spain, with a new episode of the film every day. The mobile launch will be closely followed by the DVD launch, an interactive satellite premiere across a number of UK cinemas (including the British Film Institute) and a live-stream on Justin.tv.

Phew. How can one film work in so many formats? Netribution asked Suchandrika Chakrabarti to meet up with Potter and find out.

rage2Netribution: So how does the film work with the various methods of distribution? People are going to be watching it in very different media.

Potter: The film itself is a story that happens over seven days, so by its nature it divides into seven parts. As it's filmed in close-ups upon the actors' faces, it can work on a small scale, but also looks very beautiful up on the big screen. I think it does work at both ends of the visual scale. As it's a whodunnit, a murder mystery, it does keep you going into the next day and the next to find out how things unfold... each episode ends on a sort of cliffhanger.

People have the option to get the DVD later on, and there is also the premiere at the BFI, which is going out live on 40 screens across the country. There will be a Q&A after, and, for instance, Jude Law is going to be in New York, in his dressing room for Hamlet, and we're going to Skype him in.

Babelgum saw the film and really liked the idea of distributing it. This is one of their first feature films; it feels like the beginning of a new way of looking at films, and for people to access them easily and properly. Streaming technology is so much better these days.

N: Are you daunted by any of it?

P: It felt very much like leaping off a precipice. We didn't know where we would land. I've no idea how people are going to experience it - we're making it up as we go along. As people experience the film in different ways, it starts to morph, it's no longer a fixed entity - like the themes in the film itself. We're making the process and product be really reflective of each other, and the story itself reflective of how people can see it.

 

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Franny Armstrong - Determination amidst a rising sea of stupidity

franny-at-work.previewAs the Age of Stupid opens with a record-breaking simultaneous world premiere to a potential million viewers across 550 screens in over 60 countries over the next few days, a look back at James MacGregor's interview with Franny ahead of the UK release:

It was over three years ago that James MacGregor first reported here that Franny Armstrong, director of the acclaimed McLibel, was looking to sell shares in her new climate change film. It seemed a long shot at the time, yet, through selling shares to hundreds of people, Armstrong and producer Lizzie Gillett raised over £450,000 - by far the most successful use of crowdsourced funding in the film industry to date (Greenwald/Gilliams' Iraq for Sale raised $287,000).

From this beginning, through to a 'people's premiere' this Sunday across 64 cinemas in the UK - which makes it both potentially the world's largest ever film premiere (Guiness Book of Records on standby) and the first solar powered gala to grace Leicester Square - Armstrong and Gillett have redefined the boundaries of what is possible with a documentary that, in the words of Ken Livingstone "every single person in the country should be forcibly made to watch".

age_of_stupidWhere An Inconvenient Truth focussed on facts and figures to build an indisputable case about global warming, the Age of Stupid, takes us to the human stories around the world that illustrate the impact, denial, and inadequate responses to climate change right now. There are repentent oil workers and a defiant budget airline entrepreneur. There's the incredible hostility from the Brits to windfarms (80% of applications get rejected because of reactionary local groups) and the fatherly figure of Pete Postlethwaite watching from the future, asking why we never did more when we still could.

The format seems really well shaped for a YouTube era, lending itself easily to be broken into small segments under 10 mins; animations and mini-films which focus on different areas of the topic and hopefully after the film is released more fo these mini-films will be released online to spread the message further (and promote the full feature). They work well independently and together paint an ever stronger picture that the economic recovery must be used to restart business on a completely different footing: business as usual will lead to unimaginable suffering and death. Just this week, scientists in Copehagan have said that the worst case scenarios of two years ago were far too optimistic.

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The World Premiere of Fantastic Mr. Fox will open the Times BFI 53rd London Film Festival

The Times BFI London Film Festival is proud to announce that this year's Festival will open on Wednesday 14 October with the world premiere of Fantastic Mr. Fox, from visionary director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenebaums, The Darjeeling Limited).

Anderson's first animated film, which he co-wrote with Noah Baumbach, uses classic handmade stop motion techniques to tell the story of the best selling children's book by British author Roald Dahl (author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and James and the Giant Peach). The film features the voices of George Clooney, Meryl Streep, Jason Schwartzman, Bill MurrayWally Wolodarsky, Eric Anderson, Michael Gambon, Willem Dafoe, Owen Wilson, Jarvis Cocker and Helen McCrory. It is produced by Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin and Allison Abbate.

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Plan Bee from the Co-Op pairs film release with environmental strategy

vanishinbeeVanishing of the Bees released in October, backed with Co-Op commitments for change

The rise of socially focused documentaries since the success of Gore and Moore has been partly supported by UK doc distributor DogWoof - who released the Age of Stupid, Black Gold, Burma VJ and now Vanishing of the Bees. Partnering on these last two films with the UK's ethically focussed Co-Op group - the world's largest consumer-owned business - DogWoof is now moving beyond releasing films which campaign for change, to being involved in that change itself.

The honeybee is responsible for pollinating one third of our food. This contributes approximately £200 million per year to the UK economy. Honeybees are dying in their millions and no-one knows why.  In the UK around one third of all hives were lost in the winter of 2008.

Vanishing of the Bees explores the mysterious collapse of the bee population across the planet and its greater message about mankind’s relationship with the natural world. But the release is set not only to increase awareness and understanding of the issue, but as a means to address the problem itself.  Ahead of the October release of the film, the Co-Op has published a ten point 'Plan Bee', committing to activity ranging from researching colony collapse and banning certain pesticides in farming (the Co-Op is the UK's largest farmer) to giving 300,000 free wildflower seed mixes to members and training beekeepers (full list is below).

planbeeFollowing the success of Burma VJ which opened in cinemas on 17th July, Vanishing of the Bees is the second title to be released by The Co-operative and Dogwoof, whose partnership was announced at Cannes earlier this year to help socially conscious films reach mainstream cinema audiences. It follows a trend seen across the documentary sector where film releases are tied into wider campaigning platforms, such as Age of Stupid's Not Stupid campaign, backed by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, and fishing decline documentary End of the Line which partnered with Waitrose as well as running a campaign which saw the likes of Pret a Manger and Gordon Ramsey take endangered fish of their menus.

Conflicting opinions and heated controversy abounds surrounding the cause behind the phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). Is it a virus at the heart of this ecological disaster? Is it parasites or pesticides? WiFi or mobile signals? Or is it due to a symptom of changes in agricultural practice? The film explores the issue with the help of beekeepers, scientists and policymakers and attempts to unravel the numerous theories behind the mysterious cause of CCD and its devastating impact on the population of the honeybee.

The film celebrates the ancient relationship between humans and bees whilst highlighting mankind’s reliance on the honeybee as the cornerstone of modern agriculture. For thousands of years right through to the 'hive mind' of the internet, bees and their hexagonal hives have served as symbols of unity, industriousness and what it means to work for the greater good.

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Exclusive: Early survey results for young people's cinema-going habits

red-aisleseat-nailbender- 97% of films downloaded are illegal

- 10% of films viewed are non-mainstream

- 45% are sastisfied with choice of films available at cinema

Brendant Tate, for Newcastle College and Hello Ideas, has compiled the early results of his survey into cinema-going habits amongst young people and students.  Published for the first time on Netribution, the results comee from 75 face-to-face interviews, and will hopefully exist in an online form here soon.

“Asking questions is widely accepted as a cost efficient way, of gathering information of past behaviour and experiences, private actions and motives, and beliefs, values, and attitudes.” (Foddy, 1994)

On the following page are some diagrams, which represent the results from the questionnaire, which I distributed as part of the market research for my event.  The market research is on going; these results are based on the answers from 75 questionnaires.  I hope to be able to report on my final findings with twice the amount of data.  The sample group has been taken from outside the Newcastle University, Newcastle College media department, in Marco Polo restaurant, and in the R&B workplace.  This has given me a sample group that represents males, females, students and full-time workers equally, with ages ranging from 19 to 50.

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New government anti-piracy campaign finally takes the post-Cluetrain carrot

Communicating the message that films are generally very expensive to make, and that widespread piracy will directly affect the number and quality of films produced and released, should have been a straight forward pitch. However after years of, literally, demonising piracy as the sponsor of terrorism and child pornography (good round up of videos at the Guardian, my fave is at bottom of this page) a credibility gap has been created, leading otherwise intelligent and responsible people to argue that that the studios deserve piracy in response to the mountain of crap they've produced over the year - how many hours of lives can we not get back having forked out for a ticket to watch a lousy film that was marketed to be something far better?

This comes regardless of the inconvenient truth that big studio features tend to do well regardless of how much they are downloaded (The Dark Knight topped both the legitimate and illegitimate charts last year), but small indpendent films are the ones most likely to be hurt as they are hard enough to get hold of to begin with, and there is a higher consumer risk associated with them given their lack of known actors. For many people, given the choice between paying £10 or more to see a foreign arthouse film with no recongisable talent, or downloading a 'try-before-you-buy' version, piracy wins out on convenience and risk. And for a film on this scale, without the cushion of a large cinema release for marketing or income, every less DVD bought makes an impact.

The UK government's latest campaign, You Make the Movies, following the light hearted peer-pressure angle of 'knock off Nigel' in the last few years, thanks viewers for providing the money that lets great films be made. I could wax full of praise and relief for this new approach, but the main point, as should be the aim of any such marketing message, is it alienates no-one. If you've bought cinema tickets or DVDs recently, you can feel valued by the film industry. If you haven't, then like a child's quest for paternal approval you may subconsciously seek to earn that approval at some future point when you can join the big happy family of fans and filmmakers all cheering each other on. It's a post-Cluetrain approach, and I'll be very suprised if it doesn't work. My only gripe would be that it could focus more on the films that Britain makes (rather than Jaws and Lord of the Rings), to really hammer the point home about supporting our local industry. Perhaps there could be a follow up campaign where British indie filmmakers also voice and upload their thanks for buying their films - people like Chris Jones, Jan Dunn, Charlie Belville, Ben Hopkins and the thousands of others like us, to give the message that your local filmmaker is a bit like your hard-up local pub landlord, and doesn't live in a mansion in LA.

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Special Edition # 31

It’s looking like a pretty quiet summer for blockbusters. Harry Potter has caused a stir but seems somehow slight, Transformers 2 has distinguished itself by being absolutely diabolical and Star Trek seems like ages ago. So, if you’re not fancying your local multiplex then Special Edition # 31 would seem to be the perfect option for all your film watching needs. Laurence Boyce leads you through superhero angst on the big and small screen, a bit of comedy for when the sunshine isn’t lifting your mood and much more in-between.

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Torrents, piracy and beyond: will the film industry survive?

cnv00028"So the guys who started this business all cheated somebody to get there, and now they're being cheated, perhaps, by all these crazy, geeky people all over the internet. I must say, my anguish level is not great."
Richard Dreyfuss

"although iTunes has 70% of the pay to download music market - only 1 in 40 of all tracks downloaded on the web are ever paid for. That's 2.5%"

For many years now people have been telling us how much the media world is changing. And it is. Faster than we ever imagined.

I downloaded my first Torrent this week. It took me about 20 minutes to download and install the software and get an album called Wu Orleans - a mash-up of Old New Orleans Blues and the Wu Tang Clan which will never appear in a shop. There’s the rub - if I wanted to pay to buy the album I wouldn’t be able. Like DJ ‘Gnarls Barkleys’ Dangermouse’s Grey Album, and DJ BC’s Let it Beastles it’s in a strange category of illegal downloads where there’s no legitimate alternative. The choice is between never hearing these songs or breaking copyright law. DJ BC and Dangermouse are so good at what they do that the idea of simply never listening to the tracks wasn’t really an option.

But now, as a result, I have a piece of software which could, if I so chose, allow me to download pretty much any album, TV, piece of software or film. For free. I won’t. But I could.

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Special Edition # 32

A bit of a British bonanza this time as Special Edition # 32 brings a pair of UK films which delve into two of British people’s favourite subjects: politics and football.  It’s a shame The Age Of Stupid isn’t out until October, otherwise we’d also have the weather.  Laurence Boyce also looks at the usual mixture of classic films (including one of the best – and funniest – mockumentaries ever made), new releases and TV shows that you’ll need in order to avoid the fact that ‘The X Factor’ is back on the telly.

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Johann Poo's Brain Water, a beautiful Chinese 3D short film

brainwater2From the ever dependable BoingBoing comes details of Brain Water, a exquisite Mayazaki-esque short 3D animation from Johann Poo, by way of Jason Li. I like its illustration of the power of playful communication.

Incidentally - in light of recent revelations about Vimeo's terms of service, Lumiera's Raffaella Traniello brings news of Vimeo's answer to her in their forums that they are working on a new copyright end user license and the option for creative commons licenses to be applied to videos uploaded.

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Win tickets for FROM POLAND WITH SHORTS and two copies of Andrzej Munk's PASSENGER on DVD

From Poland With Shorts, which aims to promote the talent and diversity of young Polish cinema and filmmakers, comes to London’s Riverside Studios for four screenings between 17th and 18th September. The screenings will include short films of some of the most talented new directors in Poland alongside a restored version of Andrzej Munk’s classic film Eroica. 

The screenings include Three for the Taking (Trójka do wzięcia) -a moving film about a 16-year-old girl whose life is changed when she discovers that her mother has a terminal illness - from the Oscar nominated director Bartek Konopka, Echo, a troubling story of two young boys who recreate an unspeakable crime for the police, and Out Of Reach (Poza zasiegiem) a documentary which won the Golden Dragon for Best Film in 2010 at the prestigious Krakow Film Festival. 

To celebrate Netribution are giving two sets of tickets for the screenings (1 pair for the 17th and one pair for the 18th) alongside two DVD copies of Passenger directed by Andrezj Munk courtesy of Second Run DVD, the premiere DVD company specialising in the release of important and award-winning films from all around the world. Passenger has been called 'one of the most audacious fictions ever made about the Holocaust'. Director Munk died in a car crash, aged just 39, in the middle of filming. His friend, Witold Lesiewicz, and his colleagues decided to complete the film to what they believed were Munk's intentions and assembled it using the existing footage, Munk's still photographs and a voice-over narration. Finally released in 1964, the film won main awards at Cannes and Venice and has been described by those who have seen it as an unfinished masterpiece. Unseen for far too long, this is the first-ever DVD release of this unique film anywhere in the world.

To win tweet the following @Netribution:

Win tickets for FROM POLAND WITH SHORTS and Andrezj Munk's PASSENGER on DVD. Go to http://bit.ly/mWNptA and RT this to win!

Winners will be notified on Thursday evening

The screenings take place at the Riverside Studios, Hammersmith, London on Saturday 17th September and Sunday 18th September. 

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