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Media Monopoly Versus A Free Press

By Tench Phillips, Veer – May 2015

“Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.”
– A. J. Liebling

We’ve come to take for granted the mergers by media companies in this country over the years. It’s supposed to foster greater efficiency and higher Wall Street prices, right? But this consolidation of media power into the hands of only a few large corporations has allowed for unprecedented commercial and state control of the public dialogue and of the flow of information. In fact political philosopher Naom Chomsky asserts “Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.”

Consolidation has also allowed for large, distant companies to control much of the information that comes into our communities. Here in Hampton Roads, most of the home television and radio stations are owned by large broadcast conglomerates with multiple stations in numerous other cities. There is little allegiance to our community from these companies other than as another market to be exploited for company profits. Our area’s citizens are perceived as consumers whose statistics can be compiled and offered up to advertisers for the marketing of their commercial messages. A comprehensive listing of our area’s radio and TV stations showing detailed information about ownership can be found at http://hamptonroads.vartv.com.

Other area media monopolies include the cable and telecommunications companies providing pipelines to our homes and businesses. With so little competition and choice, Cox and Verizon have been able to charge premium prices for internet service and cable channels.

Local newspapers have maintained monopoly presences here for years. The Daily Press operates on the Peninsula and is owned by the Chicago-based multi-media company, Tribune Media. In contrast, The Virginian Pilot is still managed by the locally owned media company Landmark Communications. But this could change at any time since the owners readily acknowledge that they have tried unsuccessfully for years to divest their holdings and find a media conglomerate to buy the paper for the right price.

It wasn’t always like this. In the early part of the last century, the government strictly regulated the public airwaves and limited the number of news sources that a company could own. The role of a local independent press was considered by the founders to be vital for the democratic process. They believed that the press served as a guarantee for the free flow of trusted information and as a watchdog for the abuses of government and corporate power.

But the potential for ever greater corporate profits began to erode the principal of media “localism”. The deregulation championed under Ronald Reagan’s administration accelerated under Clinton. It was sealed with The Telecommunications Act of 1996 that allowed for multiple media outlets to be owned by the same company. Over the last few decades anti-monopoly legislation has systematically been dismantled in this country within all industrial and financial sectors. But the media is not just another industry and the role of a free and independent press is imperative for a democratic society.

A feeding frenzy of big media consolidation has continued unabated even though the politicized FCC has offered some resistance. Today there are just six behemoths that own and control 90% of what we read, what we watch, and what we listen to. These giant content providers also own much of the cable infrastructure. They include Comcast and Warner Brothers (whose recent cable mega-merger was finally abandoned after mounting opposition), along with Murdock’s News Corp, Disney, Viacom, and CBS. These companies own the television networks, publishing houses, and most of the cable stations. They also own the six major Hollywood studios – Paramount, Sony Pictures, Disney, Warner Brothers, Universal, and 20th Century Fox. With such corporate control, there’s little wonder that there are so many sequels and so little narrative diversity to be found in movie theaters today.

These companies decide which news events will receive coverage and which ones will be ignored. Try to find independent progressive voices who are allowed to challenge the corporate narrative presented on any of those news shows. The corporate media is the tail that wags the dog. It’s a top-down, hierarchal view of the world delivered from an ideological corporate perch. Only occasionally is big media forced to cover issues in the interests of the country’s poor and minority communities. As when the coverage of recent violence in urban ghettoes of Ferguson and Baltimore has exposed decades of economic inequality and racism by the police.

Reportage on U.S. foreign policy is even worse. The bias of American empire is the media lens through which international events are perceived and interpreted. Whether it’s coverage of the fighting in the Ukraine, the war on ISIS, the numerous civil wars fueled by American interventionism which are raging throughout the Middle East, the coverage of democratic movements in South America, or negotiations of trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Pact – egregious examples of media spin and disinformation occur daily in the corporate press as well as NPR and public media.

That’s why the recent ruling by the FCC in favor of “Net Neutrality” was so important. It means that regardless of corporate control of other media platforms, we can – for the time being – depend on a free and open internet. Even though many of the most popular websites are owned by the large media and web companies, we are offered countless sources for obtaining independent and citizen news reporting. The best example being the subscriber based, non-profit Democracy Now! which is tuned into daily on various platforms by 20 million viewers and listeners in the U.S. and other countries. It’s striking just how different the show is from mainstream news. The reporting on domestic and world events comes from activists and independent journalists who aren’t embedded in the military, the state dept, conservative think tanks, or corporate culture.

Continued vigilance is needed. Congress is now considering a bill to invalidate the FCC ruling on net neutrality. More media mergers are being planned; AT&T and Direct TV have now petitioned the FCC in an effort to consolidate. Legislation to continue the surveillance of American phone calls and emails by the NSA is once again before Congress in an attempt to reauthorize The Patriot Act. The Obama administration is pressing Congress to fast-track the approval of the Trans Pacific Pact trade agreement that undermines decades of environmental and labor legislation as well as net neutrality. These issues remain obscure and misunderstood by most Americans due to the lack of clear coverage given to them by big media.

There are some important media watchdogs that expose the biases and disinformation perpetrated by the establishment press. A web search will connect you with Free Press, FAIR, Global Trade Watch, AdBusters, Democracy Now! and Media Matters.

The ongoing Naro documentary series “New Non-Fiction Film” on Wednesday nights offers alternative programming that covers important issues explored by independent filmmakers and journalists. Many of the informed voices not invited to speak on all those broadcast news programs will receive an airing in the upcoming short documentary ‘Shadows of Liberty’ to be shown on Wed, May 20 as part of The Media Reform Action Tour as a free public showing arranged by the film producers.

Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema

SHADOWS OF LIBERTY Canadian filmmaker Jean-Philippe Tremblay takes an intrepid journey through the darker corridors of the American media landscape, where global conglomerates call the shots. Renowned independent journalists, activists and academics give insider accounts of a broken media system. Featuring Danny Glover, Julian Assange, Dan Rather, Amy Goodman, Daniel Ellsberg, Norman Solomon, Jeff Cohen, Robert McChesney, John Nichols, Chris Hedges, and many more. Free and open to the public. (60 mins) Wed, May 20 at 5:30pm

GETT: The Trial Of Viviane Amsalem In the modern state of Israel there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce – and a court of judges composed of only orthodox rabbis can legitimate a marriage or its dissolution. Furthermore a divorce or ‘gett' is only possible with full consent from the husband, who in the end has more power than the judges. In this acclaimed Israeli film Viviane Amsalem (Ronit Elkabetz) has been applying for divorce for three years but her husband Elisha (Simon Abkarian) will not agree. It’s a procedure in which tragedy vies with absurdity, and everything is brought out for judgment, apart from the initial request. In Hebrew and French with subtitles.  Showing Wed, May 20 at 7:15pm
THE SEARCH FOR FREEDOM Although filmmaker Jon Long’s new movie is a celebration of the world of action sport, it is much more than a sports movie. It is a compelling story about human spirit and self-expression told by those who created a cultural phenomenon. Featuring top pioneers across all the major action and outdoor sports like Tony Hawk, Kelly Slater, Gerry Lopez, Nyjah Houston, Danny Way, Jeremy Jones, Shane McConkey, Robbie Maddison, Robby Naish, Kai Lenny, Quiksilver founder Bob McKnight, Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, surf filmmaking legend Bruce Brown (Endless Summer), and mountain biking pioneer Gary Fisher. Showing Wed, June 10


SEYMOUR: AN INTRODUCTION Meet Seymour Bernstein: a virtuoso pianist, veteran New Yorker, and true original who gave up a successful concert career to teach music. In this wonderfully warm, witty, and intimate tribute from his friend, Ethan Hawke, Seymour shares unforgettable stories from his remarkable life and eye-opening words of wisdom, as well as insightful reflections on art, creativity, and the search for fulfillment. Date to be announced.


LAMBERT AND STAMP Way back in the early sixties, aspiring young filmmakers Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert were searching for the right subject for a film about disaffected youth and the music culture. They finally found in a rock band called the High Numbers a rebelliousness that was just what they were looking for. Eventually abandoning their plans to make the film, they began to mentor and manage the group, which evolved into the iconic band known as The Who. The result was rock 'n' roll history. Date to be announced.


SALAD DAYS: A Decade of Punk in Washington, DC (1980-90) examines the early punk scene in the Nation’s Capital. It was a decade when seminal bands like Bad Brains, Minor Threat, Government Issue, Scream, Void, Faith, Rites of Spring, Marginal Man, Fugazi, and others released their own records and booked their own shows—without major record label constraints or mainstream media scrutiny. Date to be announced.



'Planetary' Film Event on The 45th Earth Day
by Tench Phillips (writing in VEER April, 2015)

I find it somewhat revealing how media and business attach the label  “environmentalist” to describe anyone who resists the corporate exploitation and degradation of nature, as if a concern for the planet goes counter to reasonable social norms. This kind of subtle marginalization of the green movement has over the years created a narrative that has polarized Americans – those who oppose economic growth at the expense of the biosphere on one side, and on the other side are those more practical, business-minded, job-creating, God-loving traditionalists.

And yet even big business loves the annual celebration of Earth Day. The event has been mostly co-opted by commerce and civic groups for the purpose of greenwashing their logos. Music and performance help create a good time for all. And it does in the end serve some useful purpose – the kids who attend are directed to pick up street litter and recycle trash.

But it didn’t start out that way. The first Earth Day held on April 22, 1970 was a revolutionary event. It has been widely credited with the launching of the modern environmental movement and the subsequent passage of such landmark laws as the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act. What’s surprising is that all this enlightened legislation was initiated and passed during the Nixon administration. It shows just how much our nation’s politics have lurched to the right.

This year The Naro will be jumping into the fray to commemorate the 45th Earth Day. We will be hosting along with numerous other independent theaters the global theatrical premiere of a stunningly beautiful new film dedicated to “worldview interruption” – the act of seeing the world in a radically different way.


Underlying the message of the film is the Gaia hypothesis – the theory developed by James Lovelock that life itself transformed our planet and its atmosphere into the conditions favorable for the evolution of complex lifeforms. Named for the ancient Greek goddess of the earth, Lovelock provided some of the first warnings that industrial society had so critically thwarted Gaia’s self-regulating and co-evolutionary processes, that it was now imperative for us to recognize our interdependence in the whole of the biosphere. The theory has provided science a framework for complex modeling such as predicting climate change. Gaia has also become a potent metaphor, a myth, and continues to grow as a movement.


The filmmakers of Planetary have developed their narrative structure by adapting The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism which is itself based on an ancient Indian system of ayurvedic medicine: the disease, the diagnosis, the cure, and the treatment.


The disease: The health of the planet is fast deteriorating. Our institutions and their leaders have failed us and are effectively taking the world off a cliff. The church and state, along with academia and business perpetuate long-held myths of militarism, corporatism, and man’s dominion over nature. Corporate media dispenses disinformation and political theater, spinning the same old retro stories of scarcity, fear, and the necessity for greater economic growth. Meanwhile the reality of ecological devastation and mass species extinction are both trivialized and denied. Philosopher David Loy states in the film, “We have not only an ecological crisis… but also a kind of story crisis. That is to say there’s something very wrong about the way that we understand who we are, and our relationship with the Earth.” He is among the many clear voices explaining the precarious condition of our biosphere. Others include leading climate change activist Bill McKibben and anthropologist Wade Davis.

The diagnosis: What is the fundamental root cause of the crisis? We hear from Zen Buddhist priests Joan Halifax and Alan Thubten along with Tibetan lama Anam Thubte and the Head of the Tibetan Buddhist Kagyu school, the 17th Karmapa. They speak about the Western cultural misperception of the self and its perceived separation from nature, from the planet, and from others. Their ancient practices are used to reveal the illusory nature of the false self and our true interconnectiveness with all beings.

The cure: Viewing the earth from a distance erases all borders and encourages us to see the planet as a single, living organism. We hear from NASA astronauts and their life-changing stories of seeing the Earth from outer space. This perspective-altering experience has been described as the “Overview Effect”. Common features of the experience are feelings of awe for the planet, a profound understanding of the interconnection of all life, and a renewed sense of responsibility for the biosphere. Cosmologist Brian Swimme adds his unique evolutionary view to the discussion. And we hear from the mindfulness community– the teachers who explore the practical ways to experience and embody these realizations in our personal lives.

The treatment: The development of a planetary citizen movement that encompasses not only protest and civil disobedience, but longer-range strategies that implement radical political and economic change. This has become possible through the network of the world wide web. This “global brain” can also reconnect us with the earth through the teachings of ancient wisdom traditions. Indigenous voices in the movie include Hopi elder Mona Polacca, Lakota Sioux elder Tiokasin Ghosthorse, and African Dagara leader Sobonfu.

Following the showing of Planetary at The Naro, a discussion will be facilitated by the Virginia Chapter of The Sierra Club along with Catherine Kilduff, a staff lawyer with The Center for Biological Diversity, and Tom Ellis, a liberal arts professor and Gaian teacher. Tom is always a favorite with audiences at The Naro, and he will share his studies of Gaia theory and his vision for “the spontaneous remission of the cancer of the Earth.” Planetary shows Wed, April 22. http://weareplanetary.com


More Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema
In the upcoming month our “New Non-Fiction Film” series will feature other stories and investigations that will continue the conversation initiated with the showing of  Planetary. A film receiving much press is Merchants of Doubt. It examines the methods used by the industrial-media complex in the  manufacturing of propaganda used to misinform and confuse the public.
THE HUNTING GROUND From the filmmakers of the game changing film about sexual assault in the military, The Invisible War, comes a startling expose of rape crimes on US campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll that they take on students and their families. Weaving together first person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors from UVA and other prestigious universities as they attempt to pursue – despite incredible push back, harassment and traumatic aftermath – both their education and societal justice. Shows Wed, April 15.

AN HONEST LIAR ‘The Amazing’ Randi has been for years a world-famous magician, escape artist, and world-renowned enemy of deception. The film brings to life Randi’s intricate investigations that publicly exposed psychics, faith healers, and con-artists. A master deceiver who came out of the closet at the age of 81, Randi created fictional characters, fake psychics, and even turned his partner of 25 years, the artist Jose Alvarez, into a sham guru named Carlos. But when a shocking revelation in Randi’s personal life is discovered, it isn’t clear whether Randi is still the deceiver – or the deceived. Shows Wed, April 29.

MERCHANTS OF DOUBT Inspired by the acclaimed book, Merchants of Doubt takes audiences on a satirical and illuminating journey into the dark  heart of the American propaganda machine. Documentarian Robert Kenner (Food Inc) lifts the curtain on a secretive group of charismatic, silver-tongued pundits-for-hire who are used by corporate media as scientific authorities. But their real purpose is to spread maximum confusion about well-studied public threats ranging from toxic chemicals to pharmaceuticals to climate change. Presented with Sierra Club of Virginia and CCAN. Shows Wed, May 6.

SALT OF THE EARTH Brazilian photographer Sebastião Salgado has been travelling through the continents, in the footsteps of an ever-changing humanity for over forty years. He has witnessed some of the major events of our recent history; international conflicts, starvation and exodus. He is now embarking on the discovery of pristine territories, of wild fauna and flora, and of grandiose landscapes as part of a huge photographic project which is a tribute to the planet's beauty. Sebastião Salgado's life and work are revealed to us by his son, Juliano, who went with him during his later travels, and by German director Wim Wenders (Wings of Desire). Shows Wed, May 13.

THE WRECKING CREW Behind headliners like Frank Sinatra, The Byrds, The Beach Boys, Sonny and Cher, Mamas and Poppas, and The Monkees – the unheralded musicians of The Wrecking Crew created the beats and melodies of the great pop hits of the ’60s. Directed by the son of legendary Wrecking Crew guitarist Tommy Tedesco, this vibrant, moving portrait pays tribute to the golden age of the “West Coast Sound” and its secret star-making machine. Date to be announced.

BALLET 422 New York City Ballet, under the artistic direction of Peter Martins, boasts a roster of more than 90 elite dancers and a repertory of works by many of the greatest choreographers in the history of the art form. When 25-year-old NYCB dancer Justin Peck begins to emerge as a promising young choreographer, he is commissioned to create a new ballet for the Company’s 2013 Winter Season. With unprecedented access to an elite world, the film follows Peck as he collaborates with musicians, lighting designers, costume designers and his fellow dancers to create Paz de la Jolla, NYCB’s 422nd new ballet. Date to be announced.


Crimes Against Nature: Seismic Testing and Proposed Drilling Off Virginia Beach

By Tench Phillips, Co-Owner, Naro Cinema

I walk my dogs on many early mornings along the beach and often watch the bottlenose dolphins right offshore cavorting and playing in the waves. These peaceful and intelligent creatures who inhabit another world will soon be needlessly harmed by corporate and government powers unconcerned with their wellbeing. Nor with yours.

When the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig blew in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the bad news was broadcast day after day for the following months, many thought that this catastrophe would signal the end of offshore exploration and extraction. It was only too obvious that the devastation of living oceans and wetlands was not worth the risk. The “drill, baby, drill” chorus was silenced and the Obama administration put ocean oil exploration on hold for a time.

But big money rules the day in America and media stopped covering the crisis, BP bought advertising to greenwash themselves, and we were told that the spill had been cleaned up. We are presented a much different up-to-date narrative in the upcoming acclaimed documentary The Great Invisible showingon Wed, Jan 28.

Virginia politicians fought back with a vengeance to overturn the moratorium off the Atlantic coast. Republican Congressional Rep Scott Rigell along with Democratic Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner and Gov. Terry McAuliffe are brothers-in-arms when fighting to turn the waters off Va Beach into a smaller version of the industrialized Gulf. Rigell said industry improvements, particularly since the Deepwater Horizon accident, convince him that drilling and production can be done safely and without harming the environment. "All we're asking for, in a reasonable way, is for the federal government to get out of the way," Rigell said.

And it looks like Rigell and our other corporate funded politicians may soon get their way. The Obama administration and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, or BOEM, announced in July that it would open the East Coast to offshore exploration with underwater sonic cannons. Nine companies will dispatch ships towing air guns that will shoot loud blasts of compressed air into the ocean floor, reflecting back information about coveted oil and gas deposits. Seismic blasts can reach more than 250 decibels (a jet engine is around 140 decibels) and travel great distances underwater. They can be pulsed out at intervals of every 10 seconds and the mapping will continue nonstop for weeks on end.

This is extremely bad news for whales and dolphins whose capability to hear is a matter of life or death. Marine mammals rely on their acute hearing to find food, communicate, and reproduce. The impacts of seismic air guns include hearing loss, abandonment of habitat, disruption of mating and feeding, and even beach strandings and death. In addition these blasts kill fish eggs and larvae and scare away fish from important habitats. The catch rates of cod and haddock declined by 40 to 80 percent in an area of thousands of square miles directly following these seismic surveys.
As if these catastrophic effects weren't bad enough, seismic mapping will impact the migration and breeding of the last remaining Atlantic right whales on Earth. There are less than 500 of these gentle giants left alive after some two centuries of massive indiscriminate slaughters by commercial whalers.
Glen Besa, the Director of the Virginia chapter of Sierra Club is emphatic when he states “Seismic air gun blasting, by the Federal government’s own estimates, will injure and kill more than 138,000 marine mammals. Doubly disastrous is the fact that these pursuits of dirty fossil fuels occur in areas most impacted by climate change. If we stand any chance of thwarting our present collision course with increasing severe storms, rising sea levels, and ocean acidification, we must abandon plans to pull from the ground any more dirty fuel.”
Europe is leading the way in their transformation from dependency on hierarchal dirty energy to laterally distributed renewable energy. Germany is striving to be completely off carbon fuels within 30 years. The state of California has also mandated deadlines to convert from a carbon-based economy to renewables.
But here in Virginia where Dominion Power and Big Coal control the legislature, independent solar generation is actually penalized by the utility. The coal and fossil fuel behemoth has yet to invest in any renewable energy projects in the state. The utility did procure the offshore rights to implement wind power off Virginia but it appears to be dragging out the development process for as long as it can.

East Coast seismic testing and drilling could be stopped before the damage is done but it will take a last-ditch organized effort on the part of many of us. Catherine Kilduff is a lawyer defending marine mammals who is now living in Norfolk and on the staff of The Center for Biological Diversity. Her organization will continue to file lawsuits against the government in an attempt to protect marine life at every step of the ongoing process. She will speak about her work following the showing of The Great Invisible.
The testing already began off North Carolina for a short period this past fall by the U.S. Geological Survey who stealthily gained a permit by characterizing the survey as “research”. They must have learned something from the Japanese whalers who have used a loophole in international law to be able to continue their slaughter of whales in the name of scientific research.

A suit by environmental organizations against the federal government for irreparably harming endangered Atlantic right whales by seismic blasts was just recently settled but conveniently for the oil companies the restrictions won’t be enforced until 2016. In the meantime the soon-to-be-released five year development plan from BOEM will spell out when and where the testing begins.

The whales are singing ancient songs if only we could hear them. They may be communicating that we must consciously evolve now before it’s too late. A great awakening of mankind would mean the reclamation of democracy and the reappropriation of power generation away from the death grip of the ruling establishment. For too long we’ve been locked out of the decision-making process but corporate domination is no match for the real power residing in citizen activism. If we listen closely to the message of the gentle giants then we might once again find our rightful place in the planetary web of life.

Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema

FirstLook Film Forum The winter season of this subscription series is now underway with 10 Sunday mornings of film premieres, discussion, and brunch. Go to narocinema.com for more info.

ART AND CRAFT Academy Award Shortlist for Best Documentary. Mark Landis is one of history’s most prolific art forgers. Born here in Norfolk, his impressive body of work spans thirty years. The copies could fetch impressive sums on the open market, Landis isn't in it for money. Posing as a philanthropic donor, he has given away hundreds of works over the years to unsuspecting museums across the U.S. Post-film discussion led by Susan Leidy from Chrysler Museum and Jungian psychiatrist Tim Sanderson. Shows Wednesday, Jan 14.

ROSEWATER The film marks the directorial debut of "The Daily Show" host Jon Stewart, and stars Gael García Bernal. Rosewater follows the best-selling memoir of Tehran-born Maziar Bahari, a broadcast journalist with Canadian citizenship. Bahari returned to Iran in 2009 to interview the prime challenger to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. During the election, he endured personal risk by sending footage of the street riots to the BBC. Bahari was arrested by police, led by a man identifying himself only as "Rosewater," who tortured and interrogated him over the next 118 days. Shows Wednesday, Jan 21.

THE GREAT INVISIBLE The Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in the Gulf of Mexico still haunts the lives of those most intimately affected, though the story has long ago faded from the front page. At once a fascinating corporate thriller, a heartbreaking human drama and a peek inside the walls of the secretive oil industry, The Great Invisible is the first documentary feature to go beyond the media coverage to examine the crisis in depth through the eyes of oil executives, survivors, scientists, and Gulf Coast residents who were left to pick up the pieces while the world moved on. Presented by The Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity. Shows Wednesday, Jan 28.

FOOD CHAINS There is more interest in food these days than ever, yet there is very little interest in the hands that pick it. Farmworkers, the foundation of our fresh food industry, are routinely abused and robbed of living wages. In this exposé, an intrepid group of Florida farmworkers battle to defeat the $4 trillion global supermarket industry through their successful organizing which partners with growers and retailers to improve working conditions for farm laborers in the U.S. The Fair Food Program asks supermarkets and fast food restaurants to pay just a penny more per pound of tomatoes and to refuse to buy tomatoes from farms with human rights violations. This new movement is now spreading to support other workers in Napa Valley and beyond. Presented with The Sustainable Living Fair. Shows Wednesday, Feb 4.

 

REMOTE AREA MEDICAL During the long U.S. debate about healthcare reform, the media has failed to put a human face on what it means to not have access to healthcare. The non-profit Remote Area Medical (RAM) produces three-day clinics throughout the Appalachia for hundreds of rural people desperate for healthcare. The film follows the stories of patients who spend hours in line waiting for the limited amount of tickets to be able to be treated. The dysfunctional state of health care in America and the imperative for Medicaid expansion in Virginia has never been better illustrated. Presented by EVMS and Virginia Organizing. Shows Wednesday, Feb 11.

PELICAN DREAMS Filmmaker Judy Irving (The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill) follows a wayward, starving California brown pelican from her “arrest” on the Golden Gate Bridge into care at a wildlife rehabilitation facility, and from there explores the pelicans’ nesting grounds and their Pacific coast migration. The film is about wildness: How close can we get to a wild animal without taming or harming it? Why do we need wildness in our lives, and how can we protect it? Sometimes referred to as “flying dinosaurs”, pelicans have an ancient magic about them. Their near-extinction in the seventies, their recovery, and now their most recent die-off parallels our human relationship to the environment. Shows Wednesday, Feb 18.



"War is Over! (If You Want It)" - John Lennon
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

The first modern draft lottery was held in December 1969. I remember well; my birthdate was drawn early on in the lottery and I was dealt a low draft number. At the time I had a college deferment but I knew that I’d be graduating soon enough and would be inducted to fight the communist menace in Vietnam. I needed to educate myself as to what was actually going on overseas other than the reports I watched on Walter Cronkite and The Evening News. 

I was living in Atlanta and attending a rather conservative engineering school. The student body was not politically active and the Army and Navy ROTC programs were popular. The lottery results had split my college buddies into those of us who were now looking at having to go fight overseas and the fortunate ones with high draft numbers who were not to be called up. I was advised by friends and family to enlist in the ROTC so at least to be able to enter the service as an officer.

The counter-culture scene was just then coming into full swing in the South. The Atlanta alternative weekly The Great Speckled Bird contained progressive news along with event listings for music concerts and art happenings around the city. My urban campus was near Piedmont Park and the free concerts on Sunday afternoons were sometimes headlined by The Allman Brothers Band. The popular music of the day that I heard on our college station WREK radio was informing me in a way that seemed more important and vital than my classes at Georgia Tech. My mates and I were just being introduced to cannabis and we were spending our study time getting high, listening to great new music, and expanding our minds in our own way.

My afternoons spent in the park brought me into contact with veterans who were returning from active duty in ‘Nam. Most of these hardened young men were trying to integrate into a rapidly evolving youth culture. When asked about their experiences, their stories were not about courage and valor. They spoke of war atrocities and the mass murder of innocent people. Many seemed psychologically damaged and addicted to hard drugs and alcohol. I slowly realized that I had been lied to by my own government and by my elders; and I knew that I would not participate in the insanity of a needless and unjust war. So I resolved to stay in school for as long as I could. Sometime later I was able to find a sympathetic draft board volunteer who advised me about an arcane but legal way to receive a reclassified lower draft status that kept me out of the service.

The draft lottery had the apparently unforeseen consequence of helping to generate a mass resistance movement of “draft dodgers” who were healthy, young, and well educated. The anti-war movement grew larger and more organized each year. Some conscientious objectors chose prison over enlisting. Others chose to move to Canada – somewhere around 125,000 young men who abandoned the war and their country. The FBI and federal law enforcement grew ever more draconian in their surveillance and apprehension of these young “subversives and agitators”.

Although Nixon campaigned in 1972 on winding down the war, he instead expanded U.S. bombing missions into Laos and Cambodia. Only his personal legal problems coming from the Watergate break-in and his subsequent  impeachment and resignation slowed down the military war machine. But the nail in the coffin that ended this grinding war was the leaking by Daniel Ellsberg of The Pentagon Papers (depicted in the documentary The Most Dangerous Man in America) and their publication by The New York Times. The mainstream media had turned against the ruling elite. The public was finally fed up with their leaders and their transgressions, and in 1975 the decision was made under President Gerald Ford to pull the plug.

This untold story about the strategic blunders committed by the military at the end of the war and the botched evacuation of Americans and their Vietnamese allies from Saigon is the subject of Rory Kennedy’s new documentary, Last Days in Vietnam. The youngest daughter of Robert Kennedy has directed or produced over 30 films including Ghosts of Abu Ghraib. Americans should take heed from these historical lessons so that we don’t let our government continue to start wars that they can never seem to finish.

Upcoming Film Events at The Naro Cinema

GORE VIDAL: THE UNITED STATES OF AMNESIA  No twentieth-century figure has had a more profound effect on the worlds of literature, film, politics, historical debate and the culture wars than Gore Vidal. Gore was one of the most brilliant and fearless critics of our time. He used the media to wage blistering attacks on hypocrisy and establishment politics. His overview of the state of the Republic and the health of U.S. democracy were his last words and testimony. (90 mins)
Showing Wed, Sept 24 with Angelo Mesisco speaking.

EXPEDITION TO THE END OF THE WORLD On a three-mast ocean schooner packed with artists, scientists and ambitions worthy of Noah or Columbus, an international crew sets sail for the end of the world – the rapidly melting massifs of North-East Greenland. An epic journey where the brave men and women on board encounter polar bear nightmares, Stone Age playgrounds and entirely new species. But in their encounter with new, unknown parts of the world, the crew of scientists and artists also confront the existential questions of life. (90 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 1 with speaker Victoria Hill, Research Professor specializing in the Arctic with ODU Ocean, Earth, & Atmospheric Sciences.

THE PLEASURES OF BEING OUT OF STEP Nat Hentoff is one of the enduring critical voices of the last 65 years, a writer who championed jazz as an art form. His long-running Village Voice column covering culture and politics influenced and inspired many younger journalists who wrote for the alternative press. The film includes interviews with Hentoff as well as rare footage of the legendary Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Bob Dylan, and Lenny Bruce. (86 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 8 with Tom Robotham and Maurice Berube speaking.

LAST DAYS IN VIETNAM  Award-winning independent filmmaker Rory Kennedy’s new film chronicles a story few of us have heard before. During the chaotic final days of the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army closes in on Saigon as South Vietnamese resistance crumbles. The prospect of an official evacuation of the remaining Americans and their South Vietnamese allies becomes hopelessly delayed by Congressional gridlock and a delusional U.S. Ambassador. With the clock ticking and the city under fire, a number of Americans take matters into their own hands, engaging in unsanctioned and often makeshift operations in a desperate effort to save as many South Vietnamese lives as possible. (98 mins)
Showing Wed, Oct 15 with David Swanson who will return to speak at the Naro from his home in Charlottesville. He is a nationally renowned journalist, teacher, peace activist, and author of War Is A Lie, When The World Outlawed War, and War No More: The Case For Abolition.



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