Documentaries with purpose.

The Tank Man

23 years ago an unknown man stood up to a column of tanks after they were involved in the brutal repression of Chinese dissidents and critics. The historic, inspirational moment is only one part of a much bigger story of a time of massive Chinese protests and attempts to change the fabric of Chinese society:

"People thought that the old regime was somehow about to fall. And indeed it was hard to imagine how it could be otherwise at that moment."

Available on Youtube, broken up into parts. Part one here.

"Marwencol" (2010)

Click through the layers of advertising to access this film about a man who suffered a brutal attack left him brain-damaged and bankrupt. He rediscovers his past broken, alcoholic life and finds recovery in Marwencol, a 1/6th scale World War II-era town that he builds and photographs in his back yard.

No Logo (2003) - 40 minutes on Youtube.

"As Klein says when discussing "the commons," her term for the public space that is increasingly given over to private advertising, "it’s like trying to talk about the Matrix while you’re inside the Matrix." In addition to encapsulating the nature of lifestyle advertising, in which corporations sell buyers a potential image of themselves rather than a specific product (thus the spread of a given logo over thousands of disparate products), No Logo argues that corporations like Nike effectively no longer produce anything except their own brand image. Products are manufactured in faraway countries divorced from their consumers’ awareness, while the swoosh retains its stateside allure. Maybe a million billion retail dollars can’t be wrong: Americans would rather buy their coffee at a cookie-cutter Starbucks, and let Wal-Mart strip-mine our small towns. God knows, they don’t have time to read. But if you can spare three-quarters of an hour while fighting off that turkey coma, you’ll find yourself a lot more enlightened than preached at." (Philadelphia City Paper)

The Light Bulb Conspiracy: the untold story of planned obsolescence.

Planned Obsolescence is the deliberate shortening of product life spans to guarantee consumer demand.

As a magazine for advertisers succinctly puts it: The article that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business – and a tragedy for the modern growth society which relies on an ever-accelerating cycle of production, consumption and throwing away.

The Light Bulb Conspiracy combines investigative research and rare archive footage to trace the untold story of Planned Obsolescence, from its beginnings in the 1920s with a secret cartel, set up expressly to limit the life span of light bulbs, to present-day stories involving cutting edge electronics (such as the iPod) and the growing spirit of resistance amongst ordinary consumers.

(this version is missing some subtitles, but most of the content is in English)


How TV Ruined Your Life - “Aspiration: how TV rubs our noses in other people’s ‘superior’ lifestyles”

In this episode, Charlie Brooker explores how hollow, moneyed lifestyles have come to be so ubiquitous on TV, and how people have been made to think that their possessions mean so much. Aspirational imagery is everywhere now, and over time it has infected and bent reality and people’s expectations to unrealistic, privileged, self-serving, and off-the-Earth material standards. Brooker’s program makes particularly excellent use of archival and contemporary imagery to make his point, that “it was a collective delusion, and none of it was real.”


Global Voices tells the story of how this short, heartfelt 3-minute video made by a Saudi filmmaker changed the lives of family living in abject poverty in a cemetery. Three hours after the video was posted, Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel tweeted through her official account:

Al-Waleed bin Talal Charity Foundation will provide the family with a permanent residence, we are currently contacting Bader AlHomoud

Talk about swift change brought about by a film! I lived in Saudi Arabia, and it was a sad thing to see so much poverty in a country that has grown so wealthy over the decades. Some day, I hope, the Saudi people will demand more for themselves.


Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 (of episode one of two)

Louis Theroux makes an endearing exploration of one of the biggest jails in Miami, where inmates wait for weeks, months, and sometimes years to even go to trial. Worse than many prisons, this temporary holding facility represents some of the worst aspects of America’s broken justice system:

"Held in large cage-like dwellings for up to 24 men, the inmates have developed a strange and violent jail culture. The men - who remain in the cells almost all the time and may only leave for yard time twice a week - live under the sway of a gladiatorial code. They fight each other for food, for status, and often just to pass the endless hours of confinement. Trips to the infirmary are a frequent occurrence as inmates are viciously attacked and beaten, but the guards say they are powerless to end the abuse."

Gratitude by Louie Schwartzberg - a beautiful short film about the simplicity of happiness; gratefulness.

(Source:, via liliezen)

The Power of Nightmares: the Rise of the Politics of Fear is a 2004 3-part film series by Adam Curtis. It’s a brilliant look at the power of our time and explores ideas including the parallel rise of neoconservatism and radical islamification, and the notion that “Al Qaeda” as widely understood is an utter fabrication.

"The story starts just after the Second World War, when political philosopher Leo Strauss begins to formulate his ideas: freedom and liberalism lead to decadence, therefore a politician must promote strong myths to counter that liberalism. Such myths can be religion, patriotism or the threat of an outside enemy. It doesn’t matter that a leader believes in them himself (in fact, it is preferable he doesn’t), they are important to unite an otherwise uncontrollable populace. In the next decades some of his followers like Paul Wolfowitz, John Ashcroft or William Kristol set about putting his ideas into practice, first during the cold war and now during the Bush-era. 

Curtis draws parallels between the ideas of Strauss and those of Sayyid Qutb, who can be considered the godfather of radical Islamist thought: he too considered freedom dangerous and he too promoted the use of religion and fear to accomplish his objectives: to overthrow the corrupt regimes of the Middle East and replace them with Islamist societies.

Both groups would develop independently, meet when fighting a common enemy in Afghanistan and diverge again until September 11, 2001. The final part shows how, since the the US invasion of Afghanistan, the Neo-cons have kept the threat of Al Quaeda alive through misinformation, outright lies and spurious arrests of ‘sleeper cells’ (all of which later turned out to be innocent). As was evident on November 2, their tactics have paid off.

Watching The Power of Nightmares we’re reminded that we’re living in a world of fantasy and deception, lead by politicians who have little respect for truth, decency or human lives. There isn’t much to be optimistic about, but as long as documentaries like this can be made and broadcast on national television, there’s a dim ray of hope for democracy after all.”

You can find Part 1 (and the rest) on Youtube here

"Fault Lines" is a short film by Al Jazeera; an excellent and succinct account of the issues that are bringing Americans and supporters around the world into the streets.

"This inequity will lead to upheaval… politicians aren’t listening. The US will look like it did 100 years ago… where a small group controls a large amount of political power and a large group suffers."