“More is good. A hell of a lot more can be bad.” National security expert Richard Clarke’s pithy observation comes near the end of Top Secret America: From 9/11 to the Boston Bombings, the repurposed Frontline episode airing on 30 April on PBS. And after watching the show—again, for those of you who saw the previous iteration in September 2011—you may be feeling the “more” in multiple ways. The report’s repetitions are in themselves disturbing, first that the costly ramping up of top secret America has gone on and on since 9/11, and second, that the results look negligible. It’s true that it’s hard to measure what doesn’t happen, but still, as the program lays out, the past decade’s efforts to “secure the homeland,” however tremendous, not only leave the homeland insecure, but also, in some cases, increase the risks. This is not only because advancing surveillance technology is ever incomplete, though it is, but more urgently, that some programs, say, drones or black sites, incite frustration, anger, and resistance in affected populations.
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Two scenes introduce the doubled focus of Five Broken Cameras. First, the population of Bil’in’s collective efforts to resist a coming Israeli settlement, and second, the filmmaker Emad Burnat’s efforts to make sense of the resulting chaos. “I was born and lived all my life in Bil’in,” he says. He used to work alongside his father picking olives, but more and more, the land where the olive trees grow is being claimed by Israelis. As his future changes before him, Emad also thinks about his past, his father and his four sons. The youngest is born in 2005, just as Emad begins recording events in earnest). The “land of my childhood and his birth,” Emad observes, will never be the same.
“The Jewish question still exists, it would be foolish to deny it.” So wrote Theodor Herzl in Der Judenstaat in 1895. His argument for a Jewish state opens the documentary, It Is No Dream: The Life of Theodor Herzl. Read by Christoph Waltz over images of current turmoil, marching skinheads and anti-Semitic graffiti, Herzl’s case here seems both prescient and never-ending. Opening 10 August at the Quad Cinema, Richard Trank’s film uses photos (augmented by the Ken Burns effect) and diary pages to illustrate the evolution of Herzl’s thinking, as well as his career as a playwright and essayist in Vienna. From his coverage of the Drefyus trial to his appeals to influential families (the Rothschilds) and heads of state, Herzl developed a plan for what would become Israel.
“It started with the Army of Guardians patrolling the streets,” says Mitra Khalatbari, “constantly restricting, humiliating, and beating young people.” As she remembers the beginnings of resistance in her home country, the Iranian journalist is at once proud and sad. For as her memories bring her back to the elections of 2009 and the cruel oppressions that followed, Khalatbari, like other interviewees in The Green Wave (Irans gruner Sommer), is stunned by the betrayal and brutality of her government, the government that not so many years ago was born of resistance to another inhumane regime. Ali Samadi Ahadi’s remarkable documentary—opening in select theaters 10 August—underscores the horrific irony that the current Islamic Republic was born, in 1979, in response to the Shah’s abuses, and also makes clear the many contexts of the crisis, the history that made it possible and the lack of international that has allowed the crisis to persist.