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Film Festival Day 11, 05/08/2013

I just came out of a film where someone appeared to have had a critical skittles accident — a pool of them were sitting in the middle of a seat, as if the Easter bunny had gotten a very nasty fright.  But let’s focus on the films I saw yesterday.

Film #52: Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song

I had a bit of trepidation about this – the classic Shakespearian tragedy as a musical, retaining much of the language, and set in an Auckland holiday park?

In actual fact, it worked well more often than not. I didn’t come out humming any of the tunes, but I thought that they worked in the classic lines pretty well. The main problem that I had was understanding the lines at all – I found that the combination of archaic language sung in a rock style with a Kiwi accent meant that I really wanted to be able to turn on the subtitles. I mean, I followed the plot without problems, but it was sometimes hard to make out exactly what was being said. Maybe it was the audio in the theatre?

I liked the costuming and the sets, and the over-the-top style worked for me.  And I think they made the right call in dubbing all the actors, so they could pick the best faces for the roles without worrying about their singing chops — we don’t have a big enough pool of actors for that to be viable.

I was worried that it would be high-concept, but better described than actually seen; I’m glad I was wrong.

Film #53: A Touch of Sin

A extremely loosely connected set of vignettes about various people deciding to kill other people for one reason or another – though they can mostly be traced back to greed and/or sense of entitlement. It shows a China deeply uncomfortable with the way it is modernising, and with who is benefiting from these changes.

A little slow, very violent… it was all right.

Film #54: Terms and Conditions May Apply (with #Postmodem)

Okay, the short at the beginning felt very self-consciously weird. There was a some slightly uncertain laughter from the audience, and a bunch of live footage mixed with what looked like crappy Second Life graphics, with an implied story about augmentation to interact with the virtual world better, followed by renunciation of that path. I’m not sure that it achieved what it set out to do.

The main documentary was about the relatively rapid eroding of consumer’s rights to privacy in the digital world. There was a certain amount of slightly overblown rhetoric about the death of privacy by people who appear to have forgotten that not everyone lives in a city and has a smart-phone, but it’s certainly true that things like the ability to track phone locations mean that it’s gotten harder for whistle-blowers to hide, even as it’s gotten easier to get more data to whistle-blow.

They did a good job of graphically presenting the changes in privacy over time, both figuratively and literally – the diagram of Facebook’s increasingly public defaults in all its categories over time is a good example. The fact that all the consumer privacy protection legislation got derailed by the 2001 terrorist attacks is a little worrying, but it’s not what concerns me most.

Instead, my main worry has three prongs. The first was illustrated by the people digging through the AOL search logs, who found a set of searches that showed someone was looking up “how to murder your wife” repeatedly. The web immediately concluded that whoever was behind that ID was obviously a wife-murderer (or a potential one); instead, it appears that it was a writer for the show Cold Case. Or there’s the nine year-old kid who tweeted that Obama should be careful now that Osama had been killed (because he was worried), who got a visit from the Secret Service about his threat towards the President.

The second was the apparent move towards “pre-crime” arrests, where people like the street-theatre troupe that were planning to perform in protest of the royal wedding, or the group of people who were going to stage a zombie wedding miles from the celebration were arrested as at their homes. That sort of pre-emptive arrest seems a little like stifling legitimate protest, and likely to be a big problem when combined with the first prong.

The third prong is that the retention rules and cheaper storage mean that stuff can be (and is) stored for longer, so if one person gets in trouble, all the people even marginally associated with that person will be examined in unsympathetic detail. And everyone knows about the Echelon programme by now, which is as elegant a bit of sophistry as ever normalised something previously forbidden, which means that they’ll have been gathering this stuff for a while..

All that said – you know how it’s part of the humour Zeitgeist that Facebook was created by intelligence agencies to allow people to inform on themselves? For example, there have been offhand comments in Persons of Interest, and various Onion articles. But what if the NSA explicitly offered a service? What if they said, “Our spies and other intelligence agencies are going to be looking at this stuff, and we might hand stuff on to the police, but random people won’t get to look at it, and in return you get free unlimited storage, with revision history going back five years, access anywhere in the world, and excellent automatic indexing and search capability. And we won’t sell your details to WalMart.” In a situation like that… I can imagine a bunch of people taking them up on their offer.

Heck, I might take them up on it. I use Gmail, don’t I?

But I still don’t put most details on Facebook, or link stuff between accounts, or put my real birthday in things that ask for it. Because none of that is any of their business. 🙂

Even though I didn’t completely agree with all the points the film made, I enjoyed it.

Film #55: The Human Scale (with The Mobile Meat Processing Unit)

It was obvious that the short preceding the movie was inspired by the nursery rhyme “Mary had a little lamb” – basically, a girl goes to school (followed by the lamb), and the eponymous processing truck pulls up and lowers its ramp, offering “fabulous prizes” based on weight of meat processed. All the animals (including the cat, dog and wife) and foliage are offered up to machine; the girl is only saved by the fact that the lamb (which should have been towing a big “symbolism” sign at this stage) had followed her, and so was able to tip the scales for the prize-hungry father.

It deliberately had the bare minimum of animation it needed to be to get its point across, with some film, some 3D models, and some jointed pictures. One of the points that they were making was that gambling, or even the semblance of gambling, is a powerful motivator – hence the rise of the free-to-play “random chest”, some types of which some countries have had to ban based on the harm they do.

However, the message was very much front-and-centre, with little or nothing in the way of layers; I would have liked a little more depth. So… I dunno. It was only okay.

The movie itself was about the need for city planning to think about how what it measures influences what it improves – if it only measures traffic flow, then that’s what will drive its decisions. And cars are a lot more expensive to cater for than pedestrians, and it’s a lot harder to make an impulse purchase or window-shop from inside a car. And there are things that make surprising differences – building height is a public health issue, for example, because the further up a building you work, the less likely you are to go out during your lunch break.

It featured a section on the Christchurch rebuild, and the National government’s grabbing of control did not come across particularly sympathetically. It also talked about the resistance to the “Eurofication” of New York as streets were converted to pedestrian-only, as well as the programme’s apparent successes.

One thing that it only really talked about in passing was public transport, but it had plenty of interesting detail, and I quite enjoyed it.

Film #56: Mud

What did this film teach me? Well, it turns out that 14 year-old boys in the American South still say, “Yes sir” and “Yes maam” to their parents; and that if you find a strange man camping out in a boat washed into a tree on an island by a recent storm, he’ll like the Teeny Weenies that you buy from the Piggly Wiggly more than the tin of pumpkin pie filling you swipe from your mum’s cupboard; and a boy can only really rely on other relationships with other males, or his mother.

Oh, and if you’re a Kiwi watching a movie and thinking, “Why are the kids so worried about a creek-bed full of eels?”, it’s probably because they’re not eels at all, but highly poisonous cottonmouth snakes.

Okay, that’s not all completely accurate, but it’s close enough. A couple of boys end up helping a man they find hiding out on an island in the delta; one of the boys, Mitch, helps because he wants to believe in love (because his parents are having problems), the other, “Neckbone”, helps because he’s been promised the stranger’s pistol (because, hey, pistol). This help ends up being a lot more dangerous than it appeared at the beginning.

I enjoyed it.

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