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Caught in the Web

November 21st, 2010 by Editor

This week, filmmaker Ondi Timoner (DIG!) guest blogs about her Sundance Grand Jury Prize-winning film We Live in Public for Hulu. — Editor.

“Are you interested in documenting social history?” Josh Harris, the subject of my documentary, asked me in an unexpected phone call in 1999. Josh didn’t seem to know exactly what he meant by this yet, but he knew he wanted to do something spectacular to mark the turn of the millennium. He believed this next century would mark the takeover of man by machine. The result was the most bizarre and fascinating social experiment I had ever witnessed. “Quiet: We Live In Public” was a bunker which included a “pod” hotel that slept 150 people beneath New York City for 30 days. These “Podwellians” or “citizens” lived together, ate together, showered and went to the bathroom in public, slept together, and shared everything with hundreds of cameras that captured it all. “Everything’s free, except your image,” Josh stated slyly. “That we own.” Little did I know at the time, Josh was yet again predicting the future. He had, after all, built his fortune creating the first-ever Internet market research company, Jupiter Communications, and founded Pseudo.com — the first Internet television network — long before there was broadband. Though socially inept himself, Josh knew human behavior, and he knew that when broadband made it possible to share our lives, we would trade our privacy, and eventually our freedom, for the recognition and connection we so dearly crave. Ten years later, the “pod hotel” has turned into websites such as Facebook, Twitter and Youtube — and we are the Podwellians.

After the SWAT team shut down the bunker on New Year’s Day 2000, Josh rigged his loft with 32 motion controlled surveillance cameras and 66 microphones and announced that he and his girlfriend were going to be the first couple ever to live in public, 24/7 for six months straight. This is the beginning of the biggest, most chilling chapter of this cautionary tale.

We Live in Public explores the dark side of one of the most important and powerful inventions in the last century. Without it we couldn’t have edited or released the film in fact, but any bright light has a dark side. We Live in Public captures the draw and the effect of the Internet on our human psyche and society. While our film premiered at Sundance in January 2009, almost two years later, I’ve noticed a sudden spree of films that are also exploring dark side of the Internet. Films like The Social Network and Catfish also look at the risks of deception in identity and failed intimacy in the digital realm, as well as, once again, the aspects of human behavior that drive us to connect and make the “in” crowd above maintaining our privacy and integrity. Catfish is especially relevant and eerily frightening here. We cannot forget that this is a virtual world and that people can represent themselves any way they want, whether or not its real. And I was particularly struck with the similarities between Josh Harris and the character of Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, in The Social Network. They both dearly craved to be the center of the social scene, but were instead the architects of social networks they could observe and exploit. They desired to control and rule a world they manufactured themselves, but also always wanted to be known and recognized in the physical world. The destruction in this human drive becomes starkly evident when Josh turns the camera on himself and lives six months of his own life in public. Zuckerberg never seemed to have this desire, or courage, but he and Josh were both enraptured with the aspects of control that the bunker “pod” hotel and Facebook provided them. It is interesting to consider the control we all feel we have online, as we willingly forfeit our data daily.

We Live in Public is the favorite of my menagerie. The message it carries is so vital, both in looking at the star of the film: Harris is the puppeteer turned puppet — a man who was raised on the electronic calories of TV and mediates his whole life with cameras, eventually ruining even his only chance at intimate love; as well as the people who willingly make themselves the pawns in his chess game, as we do online today, without thinking twice. In fact it wasn’t until 2007, when I saw the first public posting on my wall on Facebook, that I realized Josh’s predictions were coming true. We at Interloper Films pushed to finish the film in eight short months of editing (that’s 5,000 hours down to 88 minutes) to make the Sundance 2009 deadline. I realized we were on the precipice of all that Josh had predicted. Like the Quiet bunker experiment, websites like Facebook and Google had users thinking they were living their lives in public with no cost. However, just one month after the film premiered at Sundance in January 2009, it was discovered that Facebook changed its privacy policy to state they owned any content its users published on the site. Furthermore, Facebook can make changes to this privacy policy without telling us at any time, and our continued use of the site acknowledges these terms of agreement. So tread carefully, for now we are all citizens of the bunker. And your reactions to my film on Hulu are being recorded as you watch… (just kidding, I think!..)

Bon Appétit,
Ondi Timoner

indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs: Election Edition

November 1st, 2010 by Basil Tsiokos indieWIRE Contributor

Like indieWIRE‘s parent company, SnagFilms, who have been showcasing documentaries tied into Tuesday’s important midterm election in their Midterm Madness series, our curated Hulu Documentaries this week are also tied into the election. This week’s selections take a look back at various elections, on the local and national level, as well as the impact of particular politicians or would-be politicians.

With so much divisiveness in play with this election, a good place to start to make sense of it all is Kelly Nyck’s Split: A Divided America. Traveling across the nation to speak to ordinary Americans as well as politicians and pundits, Nyck’s seeks to uncover the reasons for the partisan divides that inevitably do more harm than good, examining how religion, economics, race, and geography interact with media to foster the red state vs. blue state, Republican vs. Democrat divide.

Focusing in on one red state, and one small town, Crawford, directed by David Modigliani, tells the story of the site of President George W Bush’s ranch “home.” Using the less than a thousand strong population town as a microcosm of the US under Bush’s administration, the film shows the powerful impact that his residency had on the once obscure place, from his election onwards.

Texas is also the subject of Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck’s The Big Buy: Tom Delay’s Stolen Congress. The filmmakers build a case against the Texan Congressman, as he faces a criminal investigation into campaign fundraising and his role in attempting to redraw the state’s Congressional districts for political gain.

Moving West to California, director Dan Cox follows Austrian-born Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s fulfillment of the American Dream when the former Mr Universe sets his sights on the Governor’s seat in Running With Arnold. With a tongue-in-cheek approach, the film takes an often critical look at the path “the Governator” has taken towards his political career.

Marlo Poras takes a look at another seemingly unlikely political candidate in Run Granny Run, 94-year-old Doris Haddock, frustrated with the state of politics, decides to make an unexpected bid for the US Senate just months before the election in this entertaining and inspiring doc.

Finally, the humorous Anytown USA, directed by Kristian Fraga, looks at small town Bogota, NJ, where three candidates (two of them legally blind!) enter a fiercely competitive mayoral race, revealing the highly polarized and counterproductive nature of partisan politics.

As an added bonus, if you didn’t have a chance to take a look at last week’s Halloween selection, The Impaler. W Tray White’s film also fits into this week’s theme as it follows a vampire/dark priest/witch in his Minnesota gubernatorial run.

About the writer: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary The Canal Street Madam. Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc and visit his blog.

indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs: Halloween Edition

October 27th, 2010 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Like last week’s selections, our curated Hulu Documentaries this week are also inspired by Halloween — some more loosely, others directly related to the holiday and the dark figures it celebrates. This group of films features both more recent productions as well as some classics, and takes as their subjects fictional and real life vampires, horror movie hosts, Halloween revelers, and underground or just plain out-there filmmakers.

EDITOR’S NOTE: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. iW selections appear in the carousel at the top of the page and under “Featured Content” in the center. Be sure to check out these great non-fiction projects each week.Basil Tsokios, indieWIRE

A fitting place to start this week’s selections is Chris Blankenship and Michelle Canning’s new documentary, Halloween on 6th Street, which focuses on one of the most entertaining cities in the US: Austin, Texas. While I’ve only been there for South by Southwest, it’s clear that there’s a lot going on on the popular 6th Street, as Halloween fanatics like the profiled Bud Hasert gather for a huge party in their creative and elaborate costumes.

Though not exclusively focused on Halloween, American Scary, by director John E. Hudgens certainly scares up an appropriate subject: the hosts of local TV stations “creature feature” programs, who would vamp or camp it up before commercial breaks during horror/monster B-movie screenings.

Elements of horror, sci-fi, and even social issues popped up in the work of the king of bad movies, Ed Wood Jr. His former production partner, Crawford John Thomas produced Brett Thompson’s Haunted World of Ed Wood, Jr. as a tribute to the creator of the infamous Plan 9 From Outer Space and Glen or Glenda.

Spiritual and kooky kin to Wood, but more self-aware and playful, George and Mike Kuchar are the subjects of Jennifer Kroot’s It Came From Kuchar. The doc reveals how the Bronx-based brothers began making lurid, no-budget, underground 8mm films in the 1950s with titles like The Naked and the Nude and Sins of the Fleshapoids.

Keeping an eye in the past, Calvin Floyd’s 1974 film In Search of Dracula, narrated by the great Christopher Lee, travels to Eastern Europe and elsewhere to investigate the historical and cultural origins of the legends of Dracula and the vampire myth.

Moving to the present day, W Tray White’s The Impaler puts the spotlight on a modern-day self-proclaimed vampire, Jonathon Sharkey, as he runs for the position of Governor of Minnesota in 2006. In addition to his relation to Dracula’s people, Sharkey is also a Satanic dark priest and a hecate witch, which, unsurprisingly draws a firestorm of media attention to his bid for political office.

About the writer: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary The Canal Street Madam. Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc and visit his blog.

indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs Double Bill: LGBT Youth & Iraq in Perspective

October 13th, 2010 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Editor’s Note: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. Be sure to check out these great non-fiction projects each week.

For indieWIRE’s Hulu Documentaries selection this week, we’re presenting two separate themes: LGBT Youth and Iraq in Perspective. The first is a reaction to the recent spate of LGBT youth suicides, and also ties into this week’s National Coming Out Day, October 11, while the second uses the anniversary of the declaration of war on Iraq on October 16 as an opportunity to reflect on the soldiers who risked their lives there. — Basil Tsokios, indieWIRE

LGBT Youth:
As the head of NewFest: The New York LGBT Film Festival for many years, I was often able to bring stories about LGBT youth to NYC’s gay community, which is more aware than the larger general public about the risk this population has of suffering the verbal, emotional, and physical abuse of bullies, which sometimes unfortunately leads to suicide. The recent news coverage about this issue, and its dissemination over social media, has brought much needed wider exposure. I hope this mainstream exposure can continue in some small part through the spotlight Hulu can provide in showcasing these two docs.

Out in the Silence comes from directors and life partners Dean Hamer and Joe Wilson. When Wilson decided to place an announcement in his rural hometown’s newspaper that he was marrying his partner, the result was a series of letters to the editor condemning the listing and the men’s relationship. It also resulted in a plea for help from Kathy, the mother of 16-year-old CJ, whose coming out in school led to ostracism, hazing, and threats of violence. Returning to conservative Oil City, Penn., Wilson and Hamer set out to meet his critics and to try to help CJ deal with the homophobic bullying he’d been experiencing.

After Erin Davies discovers that her rainbow-stickered VW Beetle has been vandalized with homophobic slurs, she decides to use this as an opportunity to spread awareness about hate crimes. Traveling around the US and Canada in her car, still defaced with the words “fag” and “u r gay,” she visits other LGBT individuals who have experienced more severe abuse and learns their stories during her two month trip documented in Fagbug.

Iraq in Perspective:
While combat operations did not begin until March 2003, the Congress’ resolution to authorize military force against Iraq was signed on October 16, 2002. While President Obama declared an end to combat operations this past August 31, the legacy of the conflict remains. Regardless of their filmmakers’ politics, the four selections below share a concern with the soldiers and the impact that the war has had on them.

On May 1, 2003 President Bush gave his infamous speech that major combat operations in Iraq would cease. Seven months later, in Mission Accomplished, a celebrated BBC journalist travels to Iraq for a first-hand look at the new Iraq. Sean Langan speaks with civilians, representatives of the growing insurgent movement, and US soldiers, gaining fascinating insight into the varied perspectives of life post liberation/occupation, and how the soldiers made sense of it on the ground.

Patriot Act: A Jeffrey Ross Home Movie takes as its inspiration legendary USO frontman Bob Hope as comedian Jeffrey Ross participates in Drew Carey’s USO comedy show to entertain the troops in 2003’s newly liberated Iraq. Focusing more on the behind-the-scenes of the comedians’ experiences of the aftermath of the invasion of Baghdad than the performances, the film gives their impressions of being in a war zone, meeting soldiers, and hearing their stories.

Civia Tamarkin’s Jerabek focuses on the story of the titular family who lose their 18-year-old son Ryan to Iraq’s battlefield in 2004 and must face their other son Nick’s decision to enlist. The family finds strange comfort in honoring Ryan’s sacrifice by decking their house in Marine Corp regalia, perhaps unconsciously influencing Nick’s decision. Fellow Marines who served with Ryan give their own impressions of their fallen brother-at-arms, and about the challenges faced during their tours of duty.

In When I Came Home, director Dan Lohaus turns his camera on Iraq War veteran Herold Noel, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, but denied veteran’s benefits and forced to live in his car. As the film shows, Noel’s story is not a unique case, with the shameful history of homeless veterans going back from Vietnam to Iraq and Afghanistan, fighting against bureaucracy to claim their rights. While Noel tries to get attention for the issue in the media, he faces a frustrating uphill struggle to make a difference and affect real change.

About the writer: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary The Canal Street Madam. Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc and visit his blog.

Last comment: Sep 10th 2014 1 Comment

indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs: Non-Fiction NYC

October 4th, 2010 by Basil Tsiokos indieWIRE Contributor

The 48th edition of the venerable New York Film Festival kicked off September 24, loosely inspiring this week’s theme for indieWIRE‘s curation of Hulu’s Documentaries page — no, not a selection of lyrical foreign language docs, but instead a series of films about or featuring New York City and its famous (or infamous) residents.

Editor’s note: “indieWIRE @ Hulu Docs” is a regular column spotlighting the iW-curated selections on Hulu’s Documentaries page, a unique collaboration between the two sites. Be sure to check out these great non-fiction projects each week.

Though the anniversary was last month, the events of September 11, 2001, left an indelible mark on NYC. Less than a year after the events, Steve Rosenbaum assembled the footage of twenty-seven filmmakers, recorded on 9/11 and the days that follow, and released the feature documentary 7 Days in September. This powerful and moving film speaks to the need to bear witness, recording the chaos and confusion in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, as well as those moments when New Yorkers banded together in whatever way they could to support relief efforts and one another in the wake of tragedy.

Glenn Holsten’s The Saint of 9/11, which premiered at the 2006 Tribeca Film Festival, similarly takes stock of the tragedy, and also finds hope. A photo of the lifeless body of Father Mychal Judge, a Chaplain of the Fire Department of New York, being carried out of the World Trade Center became a symbol for many of the losses suffered that day, and of the sacrifices of those who tried to help. Holsten’s inspiring film tells the story of Irish-American iconoclastic priest, who battled his own inner struggles as he tried to minister to the needs of others.

Another documentary portrait shaped by these events is Matthew Carnahan and Jon Philp’s Rudyland, a look at the city’s controversial former Mayor. Though not focused exclusively on 9/11, Giuliani’s leadership in the wake of the tragedy, at the end of his term, did a great deal to restore much of his tarnished reputation — detailed in the earlier parts of this film — and elevated his national profile. The film, dedicated to NYC, unmistakably changed during the course of Rudy’s tenure.

Another controversial figure, radio talkshow host Joe Pace, is the subject of Jed Weintrob’s narrative/doc hybrid The F Word. Faced with the end of his irreverent show due to FCC fines for indecency, he chose to spend this last broadcast reporting at the 2004 Republican National Convention in Manhattan. Blending fiction and reality, this political film addresses free speech and the efforts of those who would suppress it, as well as the impact of the contentious decision to welcome the RNC to a city that traditionally votes for the other side.

Robert Liano and Thomas Coppola’s A Broad Way, like 7 Days in September, combines the efforts of nearly 400 filmmakers to create a comprehensive portrait. In this case, the subject is not a specific incident, but one city in one hour, from hundreds of simultaneous perspectives. The result is a unique collaborative documentary, exposing and appreciating every block of Broadway from top to bottom, showcasing a series of New York minutes that can be appreciated by everyone who loves this city.

Finally, in Pluck (Courage, Determination, Spirit), directors Richard Atkinson and Dore Hammond take a look back to mid-century NYC and the influential changes to the cultural and political life of the city. Tastemakers and creative forces representing a wide range of disciplines reflect on their roles in shaping the city in revealing interviews and through archival materials.

About the writer: Basil Tsiokos is a Programming Associate, Documentary Features for Sundance, consults with documentary filmmakers and festivals, and recently co-produced Cameron Yates’ feature documentary The Canal Street Madam. Follow him on Twitter @1basil1 and @CanalStMadamDoc and visit his blog.