Tag Archives: Anti-piracy

Doc/fest – Sacred Places

Docfest Sacred Places 02In the incredibly crowded, and slightly myopic sphere of a genre focused film festival the sheen of every filmmaker, every doc just pushing harder and harder slowly forces everything to be viewed through a dazed and distorted lens. Agendas to the left of me, oblique subjective camera angles to the right; here I am, stuck in the middle doubting my notions of what a doc actually is.

Thank heavens then for Sacred Places: a straight, observational, old skool doc, unburdened from the responsibility of pushing an agenda, or being wholly representative (even when it says it is not). Director Jean-Marie Teno takes her camera to the streets of St Leon in French speaking Burkina Faso, where Nanema Boubakar runs a cineclub screening films to all and sundry.

The festival notes salaciously describe this as an ‘underground’ cinema, but it’s nothing of the sort, it’s just a cinema that happens to be off the main distribution circuit. It is a smallish hut, with rows and rows of benches in front of a standard TV, the size of any you might in any western living room. Boubakar rents pirated DVD’s of the latest Hollywood action and kung-fu films for the evenings, and intersperses a programme thick with Jackie Chan and Wesley Snipes with the occasional African feature he can get hold of. Despite his illegitimate status, his margins are ridiculously tight, and Boubo (as he’s called) struggles to pay rent for the small hall.

Docfest Sacred Places DjembeTo help him he enlists the support of Karo, his artisan friend who makes and plays the traditional djembe drum. He too struggles to make ends meet, but uses his talents as a musician and craftsman to find varied work as a music tutor, instrument tuner, and occasional the local troubadour/poet in the spirit of the West African Griot. In this capacity he does his friend Boubo a favour by doing the rounds, beating his drum and announcing the fine features expected at the cineclub that evening.

The status of these purveyors of culture is not raised, deified or criticized in any particular way. They are just working with the means they have, plying a trade and scraping a living with the arts that they love. When a director of one of the pirated films learns that his local cineclub is screening his films illegally the threat of high drama looms large.

But the ‘confrontation’ is left off screen, and in being interviewed after the event the director admits that he’s just glad that audiences are still being drawn to his relatively old film. He made it to be seen, it’s a shame that the pirated copy is such poor quality, but he still wishes he could make these films more affordable to the cineclubs. Exhibition is just as important as production, and cineclubs such as Boubo’s are giving new audiences the chance to find films they would otherwise be oblivious to. Boubo does of course pine after a particularly large TV, but it has less to do with his desire to present High Definition cinema, and more to do with his desire to draw more bums to his benches.

Western filmmakers/cinephiles/nerds would no doubt cry a river at the prospect of forcing 50+ punters around a 32” TV to see their widescreen, technicolour, 5.1 surround sound masterpiece, but this is cinema in one corner of the developing world. It’s not for us to say that this is or is not cinema, when droves of locals are more than willing to shell out a dime for the pleasure.

But then again, that’s the agenda I derived from the film, another point to illustrate my personal reflections on cinegoing past and present. The film itself stands well above that, and is a superb document of cinegoing in its own right.

Docfest Sacred Places 01

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Doc/Fest – RIP Remix Manifesto + Looploop

Docfest LooploopLooploop

Draw a Venn diagram with a circle for collage, art, and documentary, and you might possibly find Looploop sandwiched somewhere in the middle. A patchwork quilt which uses images to create an illusion of movement, possibly from the perspective of someone on a train, which can go both backwards and forwards. There really isn’t a lot of meat to these bones, but the film is really hypnotic none the less. But don’t take my word for it, watch it yourself:

RIP: a Remix Manifesto

There’s an open panel session here at Docfest this year titled ‘The Thin Line Between Passion and Propaganda’ and it neatly summises some of the Issues (with capital I) that I face in saying anything about this film. I could, and have previously, merrily spend a few hundred words dissecting all matters relating to copyright, copyfight, and the absurdities of modern intellectual property law. And I wish I could neatly summise that ‘the film is not the issue’ but then it is in the very way it’s constructed. Never was a film quite so demonstrative in its very fabric of the utter fallacy of current copyright legislation.

The Issue (with capital I) in question is how modern technology allows us to twist, bend, chop and remix media of any kind into just about anything we like. That and the thorny issue of whether downloading is illegal or not. Defend the rights of the artist/creative force or criminalise your average citizen. The film casts its net wide, covering everything from the patenting of medicine, mechanics and life forms, to issues of how a hundred a twenty year old staples such as ‘Happy Birthday’ can make rights holders millions and millions every year, when the writers of the song died well over half a century ago.

The film takes numerous examples, mini case studies, to illustrate some acute points about intellectual property law, as it stands. Every music anorak worth their salt knows that The Stones and Def Leppard stole all their greatest riffs from the old blues masters. What is more powerful is someone widening the scope of this analogy, audibly quoting Muddy Waters saying that he got a song from the cotton fields, which had already been published by Robert Johnson, who in turn was preceded by someone else who had already recorded the tune. That the same tune went on to be popularised by black pop musicians, who in turn were copied by the Rolling Stones just goes to demonstrate the neverending cyclical nature of things. That the Stones then sued the Verve for 100% royalties for using the tune in Bittersweet Symphony just illustrates the Western world’s attitudes to how they feel we should handle copyright even better.

Docfest Rip Remix Manifesto

The above example neatly underscores the first point of four points in the film’s titular manifesto, namely that all new culture is built on the culture that came before it. A rally call for all proponents of copyfight, it places the creative process, the reinvention of old into new, as a core tenement to usage beyond fair use. The film points to the past, and the copyright laws of old, which ensured certain copyright protection while the property was still new, but which nonetheless opened up the floor after a fixed period of 14 years. Long enough to become established, but not long enough to be exploited.

The film also boldly points towards other feasible models, such as that of Baile Funk in Brazil, which actively reinterprets, remixes and integrates well know tunes into a musical form wholly unto itself. And a nation whose school curriculum supports lessons in turntablism and beat juggling! Below the radar of most corporate rights holders of the western world, developing nations such as Brazil are casting copyright law into a new light to support emergent artists, and in the case of strictly patented HIV medicines, vastly improving the lives of those in dire need.

Docfest turntabalism class in Brazil

Throughout the film fair use, and the application free speech to use of copyrighted material in a manner with which to criticise it is put to full use. It almost lends the film a slightly agonising feel, as the project tentatively pushes harder and harder, sampling the samplers who sample freely without seeking permission. Through the fabric of fair use itself the film spins an incredibly compelling argument.

Bold, cogent and absolutely invaluable, thing doc encapsulates the passion and frustrations surrounding copyfight without being too agitprop about it all. It would be wonderful if it could find a home on broadcast networks, so all and sundry (and not just geeks like me) could look and learn from it. But that isn’t likely, so take the directors’ advice and see if you can’t just torrent it instead.

[and here’s the manifesto in full. But don’t take this at face value, go and find the film instead!]Docfest Remix Manifesto in full

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Real Life Swashbuckling Pirates

Real Life PiratesMaybe it was a little premature to declare the bootleg hawking Pirate of the backstreets to be a dying breed.

For sun has finally hit these shores in some meaningful sense of the word, and it was a lazy Sunday afternoon fit for the Kinks themselves. To the Pub! To the sunny, if not so green beer garden down the way!

And settled as I was, beverage in hand, my heart genuinely dropped to see a chap with backpack and DVD’s doing the rounds. Most tables gave him short thrift, but he managed to find one table where they were happy to specifically ask our man here if he had any pornos going spare.

I mean COME ON. Haven’t you people heard of The Internet?

Christ, if ever there was an industry that took a kicking from piracy then it must surely be that of adult entertainment. You rarely hear the Federation Against Copyright Theft speaking out in their defence. Perhaps a few lessons could be learnt from the one film industry which in spite of online piracy embraced the anonymity the internet offered and sold that fact to its legions of ‘keep-it-behind-closed-doors’ customers.

Still, the staff at this pub were quick to spot what was going on and duly sent Mister Shakey-cam on his way. Which then begs the question: why don’t FACT (et al) target pubs and open workplaces that attract the bootleg hawkers? I doubt there are many hostelleries that are glad to see illegal wares being peddled under their roof. Let alone porn.

I mean COME ON. Porn? In a pub? In the middle of the day? On a Sunday?  From a pirate?

Seriously. People. Whats. Wrong. With. Just. Going. On. The. Int. Er. Net?

In other vaguely related piratey news, PC World have started running an advert saying how they’ll help set you up to stream (illegally) downloaded films from the PC in your study to the TV in your living room. Which is a handy alternative to bootleg DVD’s if you’re really fucking desperate to watch porn on something other than your computer.

Movie World at PC World
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Repelling the Pirates

Scaremongering trailers against piracy are a frustratingly unskippable feature of many a legitimately bought film or television series on DVD. Tuning into last weeks Film 2009 on BBC1 I didn’t expect to be treated to a five and a half minute propaganda piece lecturing me about the evils of piracy in the same tone they used in the late 90’s. I watch this show to get some insight on why I should go to the cinema, not to be guilt-tripped into going.

Alternatively try this link if the sound is too low on the above clip.

The ever affable if generally quite uninspired host Jonathon Ross crashingly stumbled from a light hearted review of ‘feel-good-movie-of-the-week’ The Boat That Rocked, into a po-faced homily to the film industry and its’ GREATEST ENEMY. He jokes at the irony of going from the ‘friendly’ radio pirates of the 60’s to the ‘no laughing matter’ film pirates of today, without exploring the irony that both are a collective of pioneers who operate outside the law to cater to the demands of an audience hungry for media beyond the tightly regulated channels of the establishment. Who knows, maybe Richard Curtis will one day write/direct a film about the nefarious hijinxs of the questionable geeks behind Pirate Bay? There’s a ‘loveable rum bunch’ if ever I saw one.

The greatest crime of this Beeb authored agit-prop segment is that it completely fails to distinguish between bootleg pirates who sell counterfeit DVD’s and the consumer who chooses to download and torrent films. One funds international crime and terrorism. The other does not. Not that this segment would differentiate between the two as associating both acts of consumption with international terrorism stands in the industry’s favour, facts be damned.

The segment takes the form of the standard parade of talking heads, trotting out the usual execs, producers and film industry lobbyists all pronouncing the imminent death of the dream factory, brought to its knees by those dastardly pirates. It takes a minute of prophesying a bloody doom before they actually address the fact that there are two types of quite different pirates.

The piece consistently skips between condemning one form of piracy, and in the same breath condemning the other, and the whole affair becomes a muddled affair of assigning blame to whom for what. ‘This’ harms the British Film industry, ‘that’ funds international terrorism, higher profit margins than cocaine… it’s all a dizzying blur of blame and guilt, all poured onto the viewer at home. An MPA funded research project authored by the RAND organisation titled ‘Film Piracy, Organized Crime, and Terrorism’ is at the heart of this segment, and you cannot argue with many of the claims it makes. Pirated DVD sales in Latin America and South Asia have been proven to fund international terrorism. Even in this fair nation of the United Kingdom has bootleg DVD sales gone on to fund the Provisional IRA in Northern Ireland.

Yet it feels safe to say only an idiot would buy burnt bootleg DVD’s off a chap on a street corner. Standard definition? Mono sound? No subtitles? No extras? No thanks, I’ll pass on that. But it begs the question who does buy bootlegs any more? Those ‘better-than-coke’ profit margins must be dwindling as more and more people migrate online to get their latest films ripped from pre-release Academy screeners (not from camcorders). Surely the pirate of old is a dwindling breed in nations with ever increasing broadband access?

“The fight against copyright theft will be won or lost on the battlefield of cyberspace”pronounces John Woodward, Chief Exec for the UK Film Council. Out comes the stock footage of red tinted computer mice and computer screens. In heavy tones Woodward calls for the government to grant the industry legislative powers against these ‘persistent downloaders’. “So consider yourself warned” declares Mr Ross.

But you have to draught the legislation first and then make the threats, not the other way around gentlemen. So enough of those idle threats, thank you very much.

The whole segment rankles of an industry scared by ever escalating broadband speeds. In many respects the film industry is approaching the same fears the music industry faced five-six years ago, and are only slowly learning to react to increased downloads and an audience which is going wholly digital a lot faster than they are. Everyone is quick to sound the death knell of movies, yet such pessimism rings hollow in light of claims made in the latest episode of Film 2009 that this might be the first year Hollywood breaks $10 billion. Downloads are up, but so are box office tickets and DVD sales. It all echoes the spike in attendances that live music saw in the years following the boom of MP3 file sharing. A growing ethos with music is that you download what interests you, you purchase what you like and you see the ones you love live. Maybe even get a t-shirt while you’re at it. Films will become much the same, download what interests you, visit the cinema for something you like, maybe buy a DVD, maybe buy another for your friends if you really love it. The film industry needs to square that circle and step away from the process of trying to criminalise the consumer.

The party-political-broadcast ends on a rather dunderheaded link to the latest 3D feature to hit British cinemas: Monsters vs Aliens. The future today! A decisive blow against those pesky bastards with camcorders. And I’m all for it, on one condition: don’t make me, one of the consumer horde, pay for your self-serving upgrades. The cinema has ushered in sound, colour, widescreen, and multiple forms of  surround sound: all to tempt lagging audiences away from their homes and their TV’s. Digital projection (the corner stone of all 3D films) is going to save the film industry millions in shipping every year, so why then do I have to pony up for this expense saving technology? At least one British film critic has repeatedly chimed in on this matter, and I think it’s about time we all did.

There’s plenty more to be said on the matter, and I’ll be sure to return to this with focus on other issues in the near future. Til then I’d be grateful to hear any opinions/comments/links.

Just to end on an up-beat, take delight in these wonderful parodies of the rather heavy-handed finger wagging of the old anti-piracy adverts.