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Friday, Nov 4, 2011

In the burning season in Indonesia, farmers clear the land, in order to develop palm oil plantations. Achmadi is one of these farmers, introduced at the start of Cathy Henkel’s documentary The Burning Season, in 2007. Such deforestation destroys the habitats of endangered orangutans, and also comprises 20% of global carbon emissions. The film looks at the problem from multiple angles, including Achmadi’s and also 29-year-old Australian entrepreneur Dorjee Sun. A green activist and millionaire (owing to a successful recruitment software company and the creative agency, Joosed), Sun plans to “capitalize on climate change,” and help to save the planet at the same time, by selling carbon credits. Once Sun secures an agreement among three of Indonesia’s governors, the film follows him as he travels around the globe, pitching the idea to banks, Starbucks, eBay, and other corporations. His presentations appeal to their bottom lines: there is money to be made in such investments (a helpful bit of animation shows dollar signs hanging off tree branches). The film cuts back to Achmadi in tears, worrying about his family’s survival in the face of increasing restrictions and clampdowns on burning: “Who cares about us?” he worries. “They talk about arrests and bans on burning the forest. I’m already scared of losing my head.” Sun hasn’t forgotten: he hopes to put farmers to work in other ways and save the orangutans he remembers adoring as a child.


Following a premiere at the Tribeca Film festival in 2009, as well as a turn on PBS’ documentary series, Wide Angle in 2008, the film is now available on demand from FilmBuff.


See PopMattersreview of the film as it appeared on PBS’ Wide Angle.



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Sunday, Oct 23, 2011

“She functions better under pressure.” Tended by her makeup artist, the newly elected president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, sits quietly. She’s functioning exceptionally well under pressure—and has done so in the years following this moment, captured in Iron ladies of Liberia in 2006. (She is currently enduring pressure again, awaiting results of this month’s presidential election.) Recently named one of three winners of 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Sirleaf in this documentary—which premieres on Global Voices 23 October—is resolved to lead her nation out of the darkness of 14 years of civil war, and following the resignation of Charles Taylor in 2003 (he’s now awaiting a verdict in his war crimes trial in the Hague). In the film, co-directed by Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge, President Sirleaf staffs her cabinet with “iron ladies.” Showing the difficulties facing Sirleaf in impressionistic, unforgettable images—kids playing in garbage dumps, demonstrations in the streets—the documentary keeps focused on the president’s good intentions and efforts, filtered through her indomitable personality.


See PopMattersreview.



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Thursday, Oct 20, 2011

Girls can do anything, right? Except that they’re still encouraged to see themselves as helpers, raised, represented, and expected to be wives and mothers rather than independent achievers. This is the primary argument made by Miss Representation. Jennifer Siebel Newsom’s documentary isn’t making a new or a very subtle argument, but it’s one—made emphatically—that makes the film a perfect fit for Oprah’s OWN Documentary Club. Media representations of girls and women as objects are actually increasing. The reasons are various, and include predictable fears and anxieties concerning potential shifts in power and money, and, the film submits, these representations influence how girls and boys think about the world and themselves. As Margaret Cho says plainly, “The media treats women like shit and it’s horrible and I don’t know how we survive it. I don’t know how we rise above it.”


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Friday, May 20, 2011
The far right holds a music festival...

Keep your government hands off my Medicare – and put on a music festival! The Freedom Jamboree will take place 28 September – 2 October in Kansas City, Kansas. The event will feature a slew of acts, from politicos to such musical artists as Chris Ross, Nathan Mann, Jon David Kahn, Najee, J-Shin, Jay Smoove, Toots Sweet, Chris Cassone, Jayquan, the Supremes, Tito Puente, Jr., Lonnie Smith, James De La Raza, Debbie K., Sherry Marquelle, Jeremy Dodge, Wes Hotchkiss, Chuck Day, Jordan Page, Lisa Mei Norton, Joyce Shaffer, and Krista Branch. One musician, Jordan Page, promises a “politically and spiritually based assault on the corruption of government and empire.”Moreover, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann has been invited to the festival. Exactly what sort of song would she sing?


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Thursday, Mar 24, 2011
Part political investigation and part cultural critique, Alex Gibney's brilliant documentary is also a series of intricate performance pieces.

Part political investigation and part cultural critique, Alex Gibney’s brilliant documentary is also a series of intricate performance pieces. As Eliot Spitzer and others describe the trajectory of his New York career, all do their best to shape the story, and also to make their versions seem honest and insightful. As AG and as governor, Spitzer pursued Wall Street corruption, inspiring the enmity of some very powerful usual suspects. While the movie doesn’t defend Spitzer’s deception of his wife and family, or excuse his ridiculous choice to patronize the Emperor’s Club VIP, it does situate that bad behavior in multiple broader contexts, all in flux by definition. Spitzer is not deviant or even exceptional. He is, instead, a participant in a game that is at once mundane and creepy, one that no one seems inclined to challenge, but only to play as brutally as possible, and above all, to play well.


Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer is screening as part of Maysles Cinema’s “True Crime” series. The 24 March show will be followed by a Q&A with Alex Gibney.


See PopMattersreview.



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