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Film Festival Day 10, 03/08/2014

I have 549 messages in my inbox, and more than 900 things in my download folder (albums, articles, novels and non-fiction, role-playing games and computer games). ¬†I keep on thinking that I should take a day to simply try to get things organized, tidying both my physical library and on-line one… though perhaps thinking that I can do it in a day is overly optimistic. ūüôā

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American criminal justice stories are almost always depressing; the same is true for American politics. Aaron Swartz: The Internet’s Own Boy manages to hit both.

Aaron Swartz was involved in writing the RSS specification when he was 14, he helped create the code behind Reddit, he was heavily involved in the opposition to the SOPA/PIPA legislation, and wrote a bunch of cool code.

And a federal prosecutor decided to make an example of him for downloading 4 million academic articles (which he hadn’t yet done anything with, and which he was legally allowed to download), with charges that (if successful) would land him in jail for 35 years, fine him over a million dollars, and in the end¬†cost him more than a million dollars in legal fees. ¬†This drove him to suicide.

It should be noted that they did offer him an alternative — plead guilty to a felony. ¬†The jail time was much shorter, but he’¬†wouldn’t be able¬†to use a computer for years, and the felony conviction would mean he’d lose the right to vote in a bunch of states, no longer be allowed to run for public office… and effectively say that what he had been doing was wrong and illegal.

So — we now know that the United States thinks that downloading 4 million academic articles is similar or worse¬†than premeditated murder (since I don’t believe that you have to pay a million dollar fine for murder). ¬†This is after JSTOR, the company that holds the copyright on the articles, decided to remove their support for the prosecution.

They wanted to make an example of him.  I suppose they have.

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My suspicion is that the filmmaker of¬†The Last of the Unjust wanted to make sure that he was properly respectful of the weight of the subject matter — the last remaining “Jewish Elder”, the people appointed by the Nazi regime to head the administration of the ghettos that the Nazis set up. ¬†Two other “Elders” of the¬†Theresienstadt ghetto had been killed prior to the appointment of¬†Benjamin Murmelstein, a Viennese¬†rabbi who had previously been drafted for work by Eichmann (of the Nuremberg Trials fame). ¬†The film is constructed around an interview from 1975, with additional footage of the locations mentioned shot recently.

The film bought up a bunch of interesting points. ¬†For example, the Nazis had traditionally told the Elder Council the number of people that were to be shipped off, and allowed them to draw up a list. ¬†This lead to the sort of bribery and horror that you’d expect. ¬†After accepting materials to improve the ghetto in order fool people like the Danish Red Cross about the general treatment of Jews under the Nazi regime, Murmelstein felt that the local commander would be unlikely to want to face embarrassing questions that might arise if the Elder they had met suddenly disappeared, and so was able to refuse to draw up the list — and he says that he told the members of his council that they could only remove a name from the list if they were prepared to put their own name in its place.

He also had a story about an outbreak of tuberculosis, where people were refusing to get vaccinated. ¬†He ordered doctors to start reporting new cases as diarrhea, and decreed that any ration card that didn’t have a vaccination stamp would not be accepted. ¬†He was accused of wanting to starve people, but the outbreak was suppressed over the next few weeks.

I found the pace quite slow — the film was more than 3 hours long — and I find that especially hard to deal with in the afternoon, when I’m apparently at my sleepiest. ¬†And because the footage had sat for 40 years, anyone who could comment on it from first-hand experience will now probably be dead.

But it did bring up some interesting questions, about which I don’t have good answers.

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Animation Now 2014¬†only had one jazz-and-draw-on-the-film short, 1000 Plateaus. ¬†The thing that I did like about it was that it was made over ten years in a car, while the maker was waiting for other people during film shoots he was in. Many of the shorts are not particularly memorable, though there were some that I quite liked, such as 365 (a one-second vignette made every day for a year), Bendito Machine VI (something reminiscent of Balinese shadow puppets, which I think I looked at crowd-funding, but didn’t), and… oh, I guess Marilyn Miller was pretty fun (sculptor as God, gaining fame as destroyer), and The Butterfly Effect reminded me of the better end of machinima. As for the others, Rabbitland had some striking images but failed to say anything beyond it’s initial statement, Disappear was well done but didn’t seem worth the effort it must have taken to do, and Ex Animo reminded me of a Chris Knox short.

And as you can see, a lot of them can be viewed from the comfort of your own home.

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It’s interesting what expectations can do to your perception of a film.

The Lady From Shanghai is¬†a film directed by, and starring, Orson Wells; but for some reason, I had thought that it was a minor Hitchcock film. ¬†This isn’t a fair thing to do with most non-Hitchcock films, and once I realised my mistake, the film became retroactively better.

To be fair to the film, I didn’t see it in ideal circumstances – I didn’t realise at the time, but the Film Archive must have added a short to¬†Animation Now, which meant that I had -1 minutes to get from there to the Embassy. This means I missed however long it takes to quickly jog between the¬†two venues,¬†plus a minute, and I was trying hard not to cough and wheeze for a good half-hour into the film. (Luckily, there seemed to be a few coughers in the audience, so I believe I blended into the background.)

It was a typical noir¬†people-with-hidden-agendas sort of thing, enjoyable but pretty slight, and with gaps in logic that didn’t bear too much scrutiny. The humour felt a bit vaudevillian, even taking into account the age of the film, and that felt out of place with the rest of the tone… apart from one of the roles, who seemed a lot more manic than the rest. But the femme was suitably fatale, the tough guy was tough, and I liked the fact that there were Asians playing Asian roles (even if they were all bit parts).

All in all, I’m not unhappy that I saw it, but I’m not sure how hard I’m going to struggle to see the first five minutes.

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