Monday, July 5, 2010

Diary of A Doc

Write it and they will come.

“Propaganda,” is a word I was trying to get out of my head. Said to me, written for me, before I even set foot in this theater.

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“A newspaper is one big ad.”

Joe once said this to me. He’s the most objective journalist I’ve ever met…off the record. He wasn’t referring to actual advertising. He meant the news where we advertise opinions in the guise of objectivity.

A story might have two sides, but a reader often leaves feeling one point of view.

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Toronto Star writes two articles on Pax Americana and gives it three stars.

“Propaganda,” is a word hardly out of my head. I read movie reviews in The Toronto Star, Globe and Mail, Financial Post, and Now. This word was the one knock against Pax Americana, a documentary I was about to see.

They said it was one-sided.

But in this day and age, I wondered what was not one-sided, even if it had two sides. And not a third.

None the less, I will still read, hear, and feel language even if it is biased.

Bias still informs when intelligent or illuminating.

Life is fiction. It’s what you make of it.

We still have a free will to choose what we believe (or not).

Pax Americana, a movie discussing Star Wars (not the movie but for real), was Rated G by the Globe and Mail.

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Strange fact: almost all Canadian films cost more than what the Box Office makes. Canadian success can’t actually be measured by how many people see it.

Canada’s best-selling film all-time is Porky’s or Bon Cop, Bad Cop if you don’t factor inflation.

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Disclaimer – I know very little about Canadian film. But I did nickname a daughter K after Katherine Monk, a national Canadian film critic (and college peer). Her Canadian film book Weird Sex and Snowshoes even became a Canadian film. There are no snowshoes or sex in Pax Americana. And the director is French, living in Spain, after producing this film in Canada. You follow?

Unlike me, movie critic Monk actually went to film school with three notable Canadian directors: Mina Shum, Bruce Macdonald and Lynne Stopkewich. Pax Americana’s narrator once stayed at Lynne’s house.

Early on, I did review a Canadian cult classicTales of Gimli Hospital (1988) by Guy Maddin. Small world, in 2008, I met an actress in Guy’s short Heart of the World.

Guy Maddin's first feature. Two decades later, I would see him in person, introduced by the narrator of The Corporation. She lived at his unoccupied Toronto house before narrating Pax Americana.

A door for a mouse in Canadian house

Who is objective who reviews a Canadian film? We’re all joined at the hip. A who’s who.

I’m no longer even in the film industry.

I left in 2002, and last reviewed movies in '93. This I can say though, no cozy relations with a publicist skewed my view today. I am on no press junket. I paid $10 admission. I am technically a customer.

Still, past or present, in Canadian film, everyone knows everyone. Telefilm knows everyone. Everyone knows Telefilm. I like to call Telefilm, Canada's only major studio without an American library. That’s how Pax Americana, which mean’s American peace, got funded. Make sense?

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Disclaimer –I loved The Corporation (2003), Canada’s most successful documentary, a friend’s favourite movie during her university years. A professor there wrote a book – personifying The Corporation as a person.

Pax Americana’s co-writer, narrator and Executive Producer are from The Corporation. This is where the hip is linked to Telefilm.

In Los Angeles, I once had lunch with Jeff Skoll in 2009 who also loved The Corporation. He’s the billionaire philanthropist (a Canadian!) who was eBay’s first President and funded Participant Films where George Clooney found a home. And so did Al Gore. You might remember the Inconvenient Truth.

Oliver Stone was sitting near our table during lunch. Near but not close enough.

Both Jeff and I hadn't seen W.

Narrator for The Corporation presents her new narration for Pax Americana

Jeff just gave a speech at Stanford about making stories that change the world.

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Disclaimer--I once got razzed for over-hyping a documentary. I wrote an unknown guy, after one film, would revolutionize documentaries. His name was Michael Moore.

Michael Moore was allegedly wrongfully dismissed by Mother Jones which allegedly refused to publish his story of GM closing plants down. He settled for $58,000, and used it to make Roger & Me. Strangely, he didn't produce another notable documentary for another 13 years (Bowling for Columbine). My "revolutionary comment" was right for 60 minutes and wrong for 13 years.

That same year, I wrote an animation short would revolutionize animation. I nearly got booted out of entertainment. No one believed me: propaganda. To be fair, it was called The Simpsons. My editor edited out those revolutionary comments. Prime time cartoons barely existed. I lost credibility (but I saw what I saw).

Interviewed producer in dingy art theater - they couldn't even give away tickets. I was a fan of Matt Groening so i travelled across town to see this.

Disclaimer--I know people in tonight’s crowd. There sat my hero from a decade ago – a new media pioneer who worked with HBO and Spike Lee before going to CBC to make ZedTV. He’s now with street TV pioneer Moses Znaimer. To my right sat a man who made a spectacular Much Music Video Awards stage. To my left sat the narrator of Pax Americana, today’s presenter. Two producers for Pax Americana sat near us. A mutual friend sat nearby.

Producer, narrator, and friends, curb-side

Surround sound fan-dom, a jury of peers, could be argued. When someone laughs, it might cause a reflex. Or applause.

They did clap when the narrator’s credit rolled.

Undue influence sat everywhere, but no one said a word to influence. This is really no different than any other story by a journalist. Except I didn’t tell anyone I would write anything.

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Disclaimer--I’ve hung out with many people behind The Corporation. First randomly in 2006, a woman on sleeping next to me on a plane, awoke to tell me she played violin for The Corporation. I remembered that violin. I then met her cousin weeks later randomly. She narrated The Corporation and Pax Americana. That's how I met this crowd (randomly).

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Disclaimer--This is my first visit to Toronto’s Royal Cinema. The grandfather of Pax America’s narrator designed the Carlton Cinema which got restored and just re-opened days ago. I once reviewed films there.

The Royal is beautiful.

She cast a sharp shadow in the Royal spotlight. The torch lights up.

Unlike big-box multiplexes, independent theaters have a sober respect for cinema. Outside, I’ve always wanted to see movies inside. It keeps its age-old marquee. Pax Americana is the first film I will see.

Later that night the marquee changed. Micmacs appeared.

Boy that’s a lot of disclaimers most journalists should write. An apologia no one hears. There’s more…

Disclaimer--A moviegoer or critic is always influenced by mood. For a week, I’ve been questioning two things I posted online. Were they too alarmist or even real? One was about 20% of Bangladesh being poisoned to death by toxic water (arsenic) because of wells improperly set up by charities. Another was about Russian scientists claiming the Gulf of Mexico seabed was fissured more drastically than we are led to believe. Who do we believe? Are charities true? Are government and BP true? The scientists seem invisible. What do the media feed?

Disclaimer--Tonight is sandwiched between July 4 and Canada Day. It’s hot out in Toronto’s Little Italy. There's a heat and smog alert. Humid 30s (Celsius).

G20 protests just happened, leaving a foul taste. Pride is about to start for 1 million people on hot streets. I just went into an Italian deli next door and had a Genoa Salami with Swiss Emmenthal sandwich, without incident. I did have visions of Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing. That’s the mood of Toronto.

I would later see what happened to Ghana in the World Cup via satellite. I don't think i'll ever see another ending like that again. A handball, an illegal play, saved the game, in the final minute. Ghana then missed the penalty kick and lost the shootout.

Disclaimer--I canceled a Friday commitment, to someone’s disappointment, to see this film. And I would guess others did like me. This isn’t a date movie. So you do think about what you cancel to see it. I missed Ghana LIVE. I also missed the Blue Jays vs Yankees game LIVE. We have too many choices on any given night.

Disclaimer—this is the first film that warmed my heart with its last credit (of a person not a corporation). A nameless homeless man is acknowledged for helping.

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Disclaimer--I am a huge fan of JFK, whom I consider the greatest speechmaker in history. His voice opens, and closes Pax Americana. I’ve never heard his voice booming before in a movie theater like this. I was awestruck. It was like he was still alive. One producer later said at first an Eisenhower speech was considered.

“Propaganda” is a word I was trying to get out of my head, before seeing the first minute of this film. And that first minute included the voice of a man I idolized since childhood, whose biography I had read, and speeches I had revered.

Begin Pax Americana coined after Pax Romana, the most publicized period of peace in our time. How do I know this? @GuyKawasaki just tweeted that Roman history coincidentally the day before. The world connects in mysterious ways.

Pax Americana is about America's digital command of the world from outer space - to achieve so-called "Peace." And how that intent could be dangerously converted. Pax Romana didn't last.

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Martin Sheen is right. Nobody wants to hear that the world is worse than it is. That’s hard to do successfully. His words stand out in this film. I still remember him in a powerful final episode of West Wing called Two Cathedrals. He had a “monologue” with God.

You can Google what he said. The world is terrible, and credible.

This is a film about what lies outside the world, in outer space. A place no country owns. A place where Americans send flying objects to operate things on earth and to "keep peace." Purpose depends on "intent." If intent changes, flying objects can be used for security. A shift in language or intent ever so sleight can mean something so opposite.

Noam Chomsky is articulate as expected in Pax Americana. I had also seen him in Manufacturing Consent and The Corporation. But New York Times journalist Tim Weiner refreshingly pipes in opinions you can’t anticipate. He won a Pulitzer Prize for covering black budget spending at the Pentagon and CIA.

Some parts of Pax Americana are fantasized from paranoia – and I don’t mean the eagle flying (eagle eye) or ominous military church and prayer scenes. There’s an apocalyptic fantasy of what would happen if every satellite went down. Very little on earth would be working.

Disclaimer—thought I was done? I’ve known a woman who worked for a Canadian satellite company supplying Hughes. I’ve also known a woman working for NASA, managing citizen scientists, NASA’s online outreach to generate community ideas. I wondered what they would have thought.

Any documentary could use polish (they don’t typically have the luxury of audience testing). I could have done without actual propaganda inserted (commercials from corporations). Creatively, they mixed in awkwardly in style. I am also not so sure about interstitial titles such as The Con or The Path. This isn't a silent movie. The beginning was slow to go but i accepted it later. Amon Tobin's music starts driving the flow.

Keep Your Distance (more from Amon Tobin)

Pax Americana trailer beats

I walked away content. And not because I know people you may know.

Biased or not, I did leave with increased awareness (the true yardstick for a documentary):

Space junk orbits our planet faster than a bullet and could randomly hit anything flying into space. This space junk accumulates anytime something is sent into space. Think of it like landfill (but flying). Space junk never downsizes. It’s a man-made asteroid field that just keeps growing, flying around our planet.

There are 3000 satellites and counting orbiting earth.

Photographed at Tiki Bar where the Pax Americana crew went next.

America dominates space but no one really owns space. There are no rules, other than a treaty signed on Earth which only banned weapons of mass destruction (but no other weapons).

A Nazi scientist who invented the V2 rocket became NASA’s first prominent figurehead.

As a child, I’ve always wondered why billions of dollars are spent on a rocket builder’s fantasy (I had a water rocket once). Ronald Reagan answered my question with Star Wars, a space project named after the movie. But not a movie. The project was set up to shoot down long-range missiles attacking America (in theory).

Space is the new “high ground” for weaponry - where so-called Rods from God have been theorized. Nearly all military mechanisms today are operated via satellite to a mission critical degree. Space is base camp for operation anything. But no one owns the territory. If American satellites are shot down, can this really be called an Act of War?

And as Martin Sheen points out, any computer can malfunction once in a while, randomly. That’s a scary thought many science fiction stories have played out.

I told one of Pax Americana’s producers that I liked the doc because this is a topic you can’t see on TV. Full-spectrum domination are words not used in this film. It means global command from space.

These words were used in either Enemy of the State or Eagle Eye. My memory is going on me.

Maybe one day I can see them all again via satellite TV, just to refresh myself.

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