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Current Concerns: Films on issues in the news
Monday, September 23, 2013
Bo Xilai sentenced to life in prison
Following a sensational, closely watched trial, former Communist Party secretary in Chongqing Bo Xilai was convicted of bribetaking, embezzlement, and abuse of power by a court in eastern China and sentenced to life in prison. More from the New York Timeshere.
Prior to his downfall, Bo was a rising star of the Chinese politburo, having made his name partly through his "red campaigns' in Chongqing, which promoted the revival of Mao-era culture, including the public singing of and dancing to Communist songs. Filmmaker Bo Wang, who was born in Chongqing and now works in New York, captured many of the public spectacles that typified the campaign for CHINA CONCERTO, a recent essay film that investigates the changing nature of such displays in contemporary China. As Bo Wang explained in a recent interviewwith The Asia Society:
In China there is a deep-rooted tradition of creating strong images to render the longing for a powerful nation. But I don't think the obsession with spectacles is a particular Chinese thing. I think it is also hard to distinguish the spectacles' roles as simply being political, or being consumable. They mingle together. Many images do serve for patriotic purposes, but at the same time they're meant to be consumed. In Bo Xilai's Chongqing, lots of street performances were initiated as part of the campaign. But at the same, time many others were spontaneous — this was what I found most interesting. People join the performances not because they enjoy [them] or like the lyrics. This can work as a good model to understand how social regulation and propaganda works — not through making believers, but through shaping behaviors.
Wednesday, September 04, 2013
Essential background on the Syrian conflict
As congress debates potential U.S. military intervention in the ongoing Syrian civil war, much of the American media coverage lacks a historical perspective. Icarus Films distributes two titles concerning the country's political history: SYRIA: CHESS MATCH AT THE BORDER examines Syria's strategic position in larger Middle Eastern geopolitical struggles. Bordering Turkey, Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Jordan, the nation has operated as both a player and a pawn. SYRIA: THE ASSADS' TWILIGHT, produced at an earlier, more hopeful moment in the current conflict, analyzes the regime of both Assads. Hafez al-Assad ruled the country with an iron fist from 1970 through his death in 2000. His son, Bashar al-Assad, was supposed to be different. A western-educated doctor, he inspired hopes for a freer, more humane leadership when he took control of Syria following his father's death. But after the shortly lived Damascus Spring, he clamped down, banning all opposition and resuming the tyranny that characterized his father's rule, and which has led to the present situation. Both films provide the essential historical background to today's conflict.
Friday, March 29, 2013
Mystery Bee Plague Expands
Colony Collapse Disorder, the little understood illness that has been killing large swaths of the worldwide honeybee population in recent years, appears to have expanded last year, according to the New York Times.
Commercial beekeepers have reported the collapse of 40-50% of the nation's hives in the past year, likely driving up prices on the crops they pollinate, which represent at least a third of the world's food supply.
Though Colony Collapse Disorder remains unexplained, THE STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BEES examines the latest research and suggests that the malady is the result of a combination of factors, making a convincing case that current industrial agricultural practices are largely to blame.
"Perhaps the most disturbing documentary to date about the rapidly declining populations of both commercial and wild honeybees," THE STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE OF THE BEES is an urgent investigation of one of today's most vexing environmental issues. (Educational Media Reviews Online)
Wednesday, January 02, 2013
Beate Gordon, drafter of the equal-rights clause of the Japanese constitution, dies
Beate Sirota Gordon, the American woman who drafted the equal-rights clause of the post-war Japanese constitution, has died. Having grown up in Japan, where her father was a successful concert pianist, Gordon returned to the country after WWII as an interpreter for General MacArthur. There, she found herself the only woman assigned to MacArthur's secret constitutional committee, and was assigned control over the section on women's rights. As the New York Times reports:
"She had seen women’s lives firsthand during the 10 years she lived in Japan, and urgently wanted to improve their status...
Commandeering a jeep at the start of that week in February, she visited the libraries in Tokyo that were still standing, borrowing copies of as many different countries’ constitutions as she could. She steeped herself in them and, after seven days of little sleep, wound up drafting two articles of the proposed Japanese Constitution.
One, Article 14, said in part, “All of the people are equal under the law and there shall be no discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.”
The other, Article 24, gave women protections in areas including “choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters.”
Though Gordon remained quiet about her participation in the process for many years, she tells her story in JAPAN'S PEACE CONSTITUTION, which explores the origins of the post-war constitution and the contemporary effects of its peace clauses. After returning to the U.S. in the 1950s, Gordon was instrumental in bringing Asian arts and artists to the United States, first at the Japan Society, and later the Asia Society, both in New York.
Friday, November 30, 2012
Japan enlarges military profile
In response to declining international influence, and the growing strength of neighboring China, Japan has begun to expand its military responsibilities, The New York Times has reported.
As detailed in two Icarus Films releases—Kenichi Watanabe's JAPAN, THE EMPEROR AND THE ARMY, and JAPAN'S PEACETIME CONSTITUTION—Article 9 of Japan's post-war constitution stipulates that the country cannot engage in acts of war. Though Japan has maintained a de facto armed forces, The Japanese Self-Defense Forces, it is prohibited from taking offensive action.
The Times story cites a number of recent unprecedented actions that cumulatively suggest that Japan is rethinking the role of the military in light of the declining influence of the United States, which has traditionally protected the country, its own shaky economy, and the increasing influence of China, with which Japan has historically troubled relations. These actions include the $2 million in military aid Japan has sent to military engineers for training in East Timor and Cambodia—the first time the country has sent military aid abroad since WWII, a growing number of joint Navy exercises with allied fleets, and an increase in civilian aid to neighboring countries' coast guards,
There is no evidence that Japan is looking to repeal Article 9, as some have agitated for in the past, but it is clear that the country has been forced to re-imagine its military order. For the complex histories informing these decisions, both JAPAN, THE EMPEROR AND THE ARMY and JAPAN'S PEACETIME CONSTITUTION are must-see films.
Monday, October 15, 2012
Cambodian leader Norodom Sihanouk Dies At 89
Norodom Sihanouk, who lead Cambodia on-and-off between 1941 and 2004, has died. Remarkably adaptable to changes in the political climate, he ruled Cambodia under multiple guises: King, Prime Minister, Head of State for Life, figurehead for the Communist revolution, leader in exile, and, once again, King. He was instrumental in gaining Cambodia independence from France, negotiating a peaceful end to colonial rule prior to the 1954 Geneva Peace Conference. Southeast Asia expert Michael Leifer, quoted in the New York Times obituary, states that “the powerful myth of Sihanouk contributed to the people of Cambodia and the international community", calling him a "font of national unity."
Our title THE NINE LIVES OF NORODOM SIHANOUK chronicles his complex life story, and with it, the history of modern Cambodia. Called "a historical and geopolitical lesson" by Télérama, the film traces one of the most fascinating stories of the 20th century.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Women's Day Celebration in Tunisia
Tunisians attended a march for women’s rights in downtown Tunis, in honor of Women’s Day, on Monday. Read more about it here and check out some photos of the demonstration here.
Agricultural commodity prices are reaching record highs, due largely to the worst US drought in more than 50 years, The Financial Times reports.
Drought and natural disaster are not the only causes of the food shortages and rising prices of recent years. Our 2008 film SEEDS OF HUNGER examines some of the others, focusing on the international politics of food security.
Monday, July 02, 2012
Another look at the Alberta tar sands
As part of their special report on the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, The Washington Post takes an in-depth look at the environmental and political issues surrounding the extraction of oil from the Alberta tar sands.
The recent events in Syria, only days after the first anniversary of the revolt at Tahrir Square in Egypt, have raised the question of international intervention once more. As reported by The Washington Post, Turkey called Friday for rapid international action to supply humanitarian assistance to besieged cities in Syria but said the time was not right to begin arming the Syrian opposition.
Our release SYRIA: THE ASSADS' TWILIGHT gives an in-depth background on the political situation of the country by exposing the history of the family in power and the problems in the regime.
Mexico’s National Institute of Statistics and Geography, similar to our Census Bureau, published results on the country’s child labor practices through 2009. Despite a decrease of 17%, the report shows nearly 3.0Million children between the ages of 5 through 17 are in the workforce, as reported in July.