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New Progressive Cinema
The End of an Era
by Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

Each year movie lovers eagerly await the holiday season for the bountiful harvest of prestigious films that have been held back by studios to release them during the major-awards season. Between the months of November and March, art houses like the Naro can draw good audiences for indy movies as well as foreign films that have received critical acclaim and media attention.

And of course we have the end-of-the-year rankings of the best movies compiled by numerous critics. But this year local newspaper readers may be deprived of the year-end selections made by the area’s long-time kingpin critic, Mal Vincent, not to mention his reviews of movies and theater that have informed Virginian-Pilot readers for more than forty years.

You are certainly justified in thinking that Mal has finally decided to call it quits so as not to have to write one more critique of a testosterone-driven Hollywood blockbuster. Or so as not to have to dutifully sit through another local stage play or Broadway touring production that he’s already experienced far too many times over the years. But Mal has had no immediate plans to retire. He loves and lives his professional life to the fullest.

Born and raised in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina, Mal could have eased into a more traditional role of a Southern gentleman. Instead he chose the arduous path of a journalist, evolving over the years into a critic of national recognition within the movie industry. Mal spent much of his career traveling and collecting his interviews as an insider in Los Angeles and New York City. He developed numerous long-term relationships with some of the biggest actors, directors, and producers in the business, and has outworked and outlived many of them.

Mal has himself become quite a local celebrity. Each summer at the Naro he presents his Classic Movie Series to overflow crowds, enthralling audiences with his personal stories about life among the stars.

But instead of receiving the Pilot’s grateful acknowledgment for his lifelong dedication to the newspaper and to his adopted hometown, he unexpectedly received a pink slip handed to him by the Pilot’s management team. Mal was just one of many career writers whose positions were recently eliminated in this latest round of mass firings that have hollowed out the newsroom and the features department at the newspaper.

Some of those talented and colorful writers had built lasting relationships with their readers over the years. Word has it that popular writers like Teresa Annas, Tom Robinson, Bob Molinaro, and Dianne Tennant – whose bylines became so familiar and trusted for their insights and opinions – are no longer employed at the Pilot. And seasoned award-winning investigative reporters including Bill Sizemore were given early retirement and took a voluntary layoff.

We all have heard about the devastating effects that the web has had on the nation’s newspapers. The move by print publications to a subscription-based digital presence like e-pilot became necessary and the Pilot was an early adopter. But with the erosion of ad revenue, the management of Landmark, the Pilot’s parent media company, has always demanded a healthy profit for its owners. Apparently expenses had to be cut, and the benefits and salaries of their longtime writers were too much of a burden.

But did things have to turn out this way for the Norfolk-based, privately-held media company that has for decades enjoyed great success and has made many people very rich? Not all newspapers have so drastically cut their staffs. Could alternative journalistic models been implemented? For example, The Guardian newspaper based in the U.K. was endowed years ago by its former owners as a public trust. The Pilot owners, headed by members of the Frank Batten family, might have likewise funded and endowed their newsroom so as to maintain a high caliber of journalism.

Investigative reporting and the free-flow of information is a prerequisite for a just and democratic society. A good newspaper is crucial for the future of our community. More than ever we need a watchdog to monitor local government and its hidden relationships with big money and power. An endowed newsroom would have been a far greater egalitarian gift to our community than the Batten’s philanthropic contributions toward brick-and-mortar buildings at local universities (presumedly to hold journalism classes) and the construction of a Norfolk mega-church.

Our newspaper has been on the buyer’s market for years. Landmark has already divested its Roanoke and Greensboro papers to media syndicates. There is some speculation that the imperative to finalize negotiations with a new buyer is the reason for the mass firings. Why else would management risk creating such ill-will with its readership?

But the Pilot management is betting that we won’t notice the missing bylines over the next two months. And if some of these writers choose to return as free-lancers in 2015 – a policy propounded by management presumably to comply with federal tax laws – they’re hoping that readers won’t even realize that anything has changed.

Landmark is keeping any decision to divest the Pilot close to its chest; never mind that a sale to an outside media conglomerate could have a profound impact on our community. And that’s why a monopoly newspaper is not just another business; it should be held to a higher standard. It has a unique mission and responsibility to its community. This social contract demands a two-way commitment; we are loyal to our hometown paper and ask for the paper’s allegiance in return.

The departure of Mal Vincent as a full-time critic will most probably have a detrimental effect on the moviegoing and theater culture in our area and may especially impact the art films showcased at the Naro. We can only speculate on whether these smaller films will continue to receive some kind of newspaper coverage, as well as whether Mal will agree to the Pilot’s freelance policy after a lifelong career on the paper’s staff.

As of press time, there has yet to be an acknowledgement by the Pilot listing the names of  those who have been terminated, only a perfunctory report stating that nearly 25% of the paper’s staff has been let go. Letters to the editor from readers that are critical of Landmark’s staff firings are being suppressed – so much for the transparency of our free press. But then corporate media has always had an inherent conflict of interest that pits profits against an informed citizenry and, consequently, it has never been truly free.



A NEW PROGRESSIVE CINEMA | A Personal Journey from NAROPA to NARO
By Tench Phillips, co-owner, Naro Cinema

October marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Naropa University and the occasion has given me pause to reflect upon my own personal journey. In the winter of 1975 I moved to Boulder, Colorado and enrolled in the new Buddhist university to study philosophy and psychology. I had an undergraduate degree in engineering that I had earned by my needing to stay in school and out of Vietnam. But my pragmatic pursuits were soon replaced by a quest for necessary truths, meaning, and values.

What had led me to the school was a popular book of the time ‘Be Here Now’. I had heard the charismatic author Baba Ram Dass speak at the New Age Yoga Center in Va Beach in the early seventies. Ram Dass spoke of a new school founded by the Tibetan monk Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche who had been forced in the fifties to abandon his homeland of Tibet by the Chinese invasion.

My intention had been to study the Indian devotional path offered by Ram Dass, the Harvard professor who had been fired along with his colleague Timothy Leary  due to their advocacy of mind expanding drugs like LSD. He had studied in India for years and had taught at Naropa the previous year. Although I expected his imminent arrival back to the school, he never showed up. Instead I found myself immersed in the Crazy Wisdom tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism.

Trungpa Rinpoche was a great teacher and understood the western mind. He had attended Oxford University in England before migrating first to Nova Scotia, Canada and then to the U.S. His many books included “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism” and they influenced academics, students, artists, hippies, and seekers who were looking for Eastern alternatives to orthodox western religion.

The practice of Zen, yoga, and meditation were all gaining popularity for a sixties generation who were “dropping out and turning on”. This was a much easier option back then since the cost of living was not as oppressive as it is nowadays.

The summer of 1975 inaugurated The Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poets at Naropa. Such renowned writers and poets as Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, Anne Waldman, and Allen Ginsberg came to town and gave readings and taught workshops. Although I never officially registered, I sat in on a six-week poetry class taught by Ginsberg. His class covered primarily the work of his mentor William Carlos Williams but also included the work of other poets like Walt Whitman. He told stories about the beat poets and about his friends William Burroughs, Timothy Leary, Ram Dass, Aldous Huxley, Bob Dylan and other troubadours and musicians. Ginsberg read from his own poems including Howl. He was always authentic, impassioned, and caring - and never put on any air of superiority over his younger students. His class teachings were at times like enigmatic prose  and he broached wildly eclectic subjects in a running stream of consciousness. Politics, sexuality, art, popular culture, media, philosophy, civil disobedience against the military establishment – all were fair game for his class discussions.

I returned to Ghent upon finishing my academic studies but I was not the same person. I felt inspired and propelled by the free-wheeling energy that I had found in Boulder, San Francisco, and Boston. I was eventually able to obtain a lease on the shuttered Naro Cinema in 1977 and along with my roommate and business partner, Thom Vourlas, we set our sights on bringing a creative art and intellectual movement to the area through film and cinema events. It was only many years later that I realized the joyful serendipity of the wordplay exemplified in my own life’s arc – from Naropa to Naro.

In commemoration of the early days of the migration of Buddhism to the west, we will bring a comprehensive film that follows the teachings of Buddhism from Tibet to the western world. ‘When The Iron Bird Flies’ tells a great transformative story as told by many Tibetan Rinpoches now living in this country who have founded and grown sanghas. Some of these sanghas are firmly established in our area and we will be hearing from some of the group leaders during our post-film discussion.

Filmmaker Victress Hitchcock takes her movie title from the ancient Tibetan prophecy that has now manifested in our age. “When the iron bird flies and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants across the face of the earth.” We have benefited greatly from those who have experienced the great loss of their country but have continued their lineage through their teachings.

Upcoming Film Events at The Naro Cinema

THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER  In this 1955 classic, director Charles Laughton’s creepy classic, a religious fanatic marries a gullible widow whose young children are reluctant to tell him where their real daddy hid $10,000 he'd stolen in a robbery. Starring Robert Mitchum, Shelley Winters and Lillian Gish. Showing Sunday, Oct 19 in ’Faith in Film’ series hosted by Scott Hennessy, cineaste and priest at St Paul’s Episcopal Church
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ALIVE INSIDE This stirring documentary follows Dan Cohen, the founder of ‘Music & Memory’ as he fights against a broken healthcare system to demonstrate music's ability to combat memory loss in patients with Alzheimer's and dementia, thereby returning a deep sense of self to those suffering from these diseases. The film features renowned neurologist and author Oliver Sacks and musician Bobby McFerrin in an uplifting exploration of music and mind. Winner of the Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival. Presented in association with Tidewater Arts Outreach. Showing Wed, Oct 22

RETURN OF THE TWIRLING DEAD Focus Fox Burlesque comes back to the Naro stage with their live horror-themed burlesque show. Featuring live music by the Sons of Frankenstein and the Cemetery Boys, and classic horror trailers up on the big screen. Produced by Fantasmo Cult Cinema Explosion and hosted by Rob Floyd. 18 and older only. Sunday, Sept 26 at 8pm.

WHEN THE IRON BIRD FLIES  In 1959, the Chinese invasion of Tibet threw open the doors to the mysterious realm of Tibetan Buddhism. Suddenly, this ancient tradition was thrust out of it's cloistered society into the mainstream of western culture. Fifty years later, Tibetan Buddhist teachers trained in practices nurtured in monasteries in the Himalayas travel around the world, presenting their wisdom tradition to international lay practitioners who are hungry for an alternative spiritual path. Showing Wed, Oct 29

COWSPIRACY: THE SUSTAINABILITY SECRET Filmmaker Kip Anderson investigation of the causes of global warming brings him to some unexpected conclusions. According to recent U.N. reports and The Worldwatch Institute, fully half of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat and dairy industry and animal agriculture (crops that are grown to feed livestock). Large-scale factory farming is also the primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, topsoil erosion, and water pollution. And yet the political power of the industry is rarely challenged by the major environmental and climate change organizations. Such popular writers as Michael Pollan, Will Potter, and Will Tuttle offer an alternative path to global sustainability for a hungry and growing human population. Date to be announced.



"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.



New Progressive Cinema | Making the World Safe for War

By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema

If you’re like many people I know, you are having a real problem these days with the type of reporting that’s being churned out by media companies. I’ve cut way back on my watching, listening, and reading of the mainstream news and opinion. I find that the general reporting is just too inauthentic, superficial, one-sided, and intentionally misleading. It’s the narrative that the establishment media creates to justify militarism and violence in the name of spreading democracy. And whether the targeted enemy may be the Russians, Hamas, Iranians, or illegal immigrants – current events are spun with little historical context or instruction on how we got ourselves into this current global morass. If there was really an effort by the media to inform Americans rather than divide and confuse, we might realize that much of the dire global problems confronting us are of our government’s making.

Unlike the media in countries where the state controls much of the information and the message, the American establishment press imposes its own self-censorship and willingly delivers the message orchestrated by the corporate state. But that’s only to be expected in an economic system run by corporatist capitalism – the media is just doing their designated job. Whether its creating a consensus for war or expanding the market for military weapons, the American economy depends on it. Through the willing complicity of the media, the military budget has more than doubled since Sept 11, 2001. Incredibly, the federal outlay for just the nuclear weapons industry is by itself greater than the funding of all welfare programs together. And it remains unknown the billions spent on the secret “dark” government and the high-tech surveillance industry. To justify these enormous expenditures, media must continually cultivate enemies of the state, even if those enemies are American citizens.

In order to keep the scam going, important voices for peace and justice are excluded from the media’s national dialogue. Such articulate, activist journalists as Noam Chomsky, Chris Hedges, Ralph Nader, David Swanson, and Glen Greenwald are rarely heard from on all those cable news channels nor published in newspaper op-eds. Their advocacy for democratic accountability subverts the narrative dished out by mainstream media that champions corporatism, free trade, and American empire. But fortunately for those who are paying attention, their astute political analysis is thriving on progressive web sites. Many of them are featured on Democracy Now! with Amy Goodman which is broadcast weekdays on many public radio stations (but no longer locally) and on the web (democracynow.org).

A longtime witness for peace is Kathy Kelly, the co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence and a worldwide activist for the recognition and relief of oppressed people who have been victims of unjust U.S. economic and foreign policy. She has lived and worked with the people of Iraq and has spent this summer in Afghanistan documenting the lives of those living under the threat of U.S. drone attacks. Kathy has come to Norfolk twice in the past few years as a guest of Steve Baggarly and The Norfolk Catholic Worker. She returns to the area once again and will speak at the Naro on September 17 at a film program about the criminality and brutality of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Upcoming Film Events at the Naro

WALKING THE CAMINO: Six Ways to Santiago Various pilgrims, from ages 3 to 73, attempt to cross the entire country of Spain on foot. Equipped with only a backpack, a pair of boots and an open mind, they experience the Camino’s magnetic and miraculous power to transform lives. Each pilgrim throws themselves body and soul into their incredibly challenging trek to Santiago de Compostela, and most importantly, their personal journey to find their true authentic selves. (84 mins) Showing Aug 20 with speakers: Mike Pearson is an author, adventurer, and Professor of Creative Writing at ODU and founder of the ODU Literary Festival.

CODE BLACK  Filmmaker and resident physician Ryan McGarry transports us to the front lines of America’s busiest emergency room, Los Angeles County Hospital’s legendary trauma unit. McGarry and his colleagues exhibit a new attitude about how our society treats those around us who are in pain or suffering. The dedicated staff provides the only safety net available for most of the poor and the uninsured in L.A. county. The film is an intense, doctor’s-eye view into the heart of the American healthcare debate. (80 mins) Showing Aug 27 with speakers and discussion.

THE GREAT CONFUSION: THE 1913 ARMORY SHOW The International Exhibition of Modern Art was held at the unusual location of the 69th Regiment Armory in New York City, and it marked the dawn of Modernism in America. The show drew 90,000 attendees and featured the best “avant-garde” artists and sculptors of Europe including Van Gogh, Gaugin, Cezanne, Degas, Picassso, Matisse, and Duchamp. There were also many lesser known American artists in the show. Filmmaker Michael Maglaras’ informative new film highlights the iconic artwork of the show as well as the response by audiences and the critics of the time. (85 mins) Showing Sept 3 with
filmmaker: Michael Maglaras will be in attendance to introduce his film.

LIFE ITSELF In 2013, we lost Roger Ebert—arguably the nation’s best-known and most influential movie critic. Based on his memoir of the same name, Life Itself recounts  Ebert’s fascinating and flawed journey. From a politicized school newspaperman. From Chicago Sun-Times movie critic, to Pulitzer Prize winner, to screenwriter of Beyond the Valley of The Dolls, to television household name along with fellow film critic Gene Siskel. And finally to the miracle of finding love at 50, and to his “third act” as a cancer patient and a major voice on the Internet when he could no longer physically speak. Directed by Steve James (Hoop Dreams) who grew up in Hampton. (117 mins) Date to be announced.

THE KILL TEAM Filmmaker Dan Krauss investigates the ongoing story first revealed in a Rolling Stone expose titled “How U.S. Soldiers in Afghanistan Murdered Innocent Civilians”. Private Adam Winfield was a 21-year-old soldier in Afghanistan when he attempted with the help of his father to alert the military to heinous war crimes his platoon was committing. But Winfield’s pleas went unheeded. Left on his own and with threats to his life, Private Winfield was himself drawn into the moral abyss, forced to make a split-second decision that would change his life forever. Winner of The Grand Jury Prize at Tribeca Film Festival. (79 mins)  Showing Sept 17 with Kathy Kelly. Kathy Kelly is a longtime peace activist in Iraq and Afghanistan and co-founder of Voices for Creative Nonviolence.

FIELD OF DREAMS The 25th Anniversary Showing! Kevin Costner stars as an Iowa farmer who hears a mysterious voice telling him to turn his cornfield into a baseball diamond. He does, but the voice’s directions don’t stop — even after the spirits of deceased ballplayers turn up to play. James Earl Jones and Burt Lancaster co-star as a reclusive writer and a young slugger turned doctor, respectively, with Ray Liotta turning in a pivotal performance as “Shoeless” Joe Jackson. Showing in Faith In Filmseries with Scott Hennessy on Sunday, Sept 14.



"In a time of universal deceit – telling the truth is a revolutionary act." – George Orwell
By Tench Phillips, co-owner Naro Cinema
Column reprinted from Veer Magazine

We are living under a truly Orwellian political system that claims to work for the best interests of the public but in fact will only pass legislation and regulations in the interests of corporations. No matter which politicians are in office, the corporate capitalists dismantle social welfare programs, defund education, push down unions and wages, gut environmental regulations, escape taxation, and fund more war.

Politicians dare not call attention to the scam or speak out for campaign reform; they are raking in too much dough from all the legalized corporate bribery that they receive. So they hide behind nationalism, party politics,  and religion, thinking that they can keep fooling the masses.

Their efforts are aided and abetted by the mainstream media whose tills overflow with the record-breaking political campaign spending that is now allowed. These media barons would never bite the hand that feeds them and so they unquestioningly spout state propaganda that promotes empire and good ole’ American exceptionalism.

Such a mass deception necessitates a perpetual campaign of elaborate lies and denials orchestrated by our two party duopoly. Those who might stand up to the system –  truth tellers, activist journalists, and whistleblowers – are severely punished by the government in an attempt to keep other insiders from coming forth. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange could never receive a fair trial in this country.

And then there is Aaron Swartz, a less renown truthteller whose story will be presented on Wednesday, July 16 in the new documentary The Internets Own Boy. Swartz was a programming prodigy and information activist who developed the basic internet protocol RSS and then co-founded Reddit. Some years later, after cashing in on the sale of Reddit, he chose a life of strong progressive activism. But his commitment to change the world ensnared him in a legal nightmare that ended with the taking of his own life at the age of 26.
In order to better understand Aaron Swartz, we can compare his actions to those of another young student living in Boston at the time. Mark Zuckerberg started his first social network project Facemash by hacking into Harvard University’s network to illegally obtain photos and information about fellow students. He went on to monetize his project and to receive the full backing of Wall Street.

Swartz ran in some of the same social circles as Zuckerberg in Boston and in a similar fashion as  the Facebook founder, he also breached the security of a major university, MIT. But Swartz’s motivation for his hacking was way different. He downloaded and made available for free the publicly funded academic and research papers that were distributed by a for-profit company, JSTOR.

In defiance of the Silicon Valley business model, Swartz was not willing to play the game that Zuckerberg played to create his individual wealth through the privatizing of the internet. Zuckerberg received the protection of the government, and all that was asked of him in return was to hand over his customer’s collected information to be used for worldwide surveillance.

In contrast, Aaron Swartz’ belief was in an open society with free and open information. But he knew that we must first fight for media democracy if there can ever be real government transparency. The monetization and exploitation of the early public airwaves of radio and television led to rampant commercialization that has served the interest of corporate empires rather than the democratic ideal of a well informed citizenry. Now these same forces were about to win control of the internet.

In 2012, Aaron organized a citizen campaign to keep the internet open and free. He fought an uphill battle against an entrenched Congress that represented industries attempting to control content on the internet in a bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). His campaign went viral on the web and Congress was astounded by the public outcry against their underhanded actions. The politicians jumped ship and in a brief time, the bill was shelved by the House Judiciary Committee.

It’s easy to see why the government came after Swartz and gave Zuckerberg a free pass. The corporate state may be lenient on hackers, but activism and media democracy are the real threats feared by the establishment. Swartz was just too charismatic and smart to be left alone by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They charged him with felonies that carried a maximum penalty of 35 years in prison. He fought the government for two years to gain his freedom and it bankrupted him as well as caused his depression. Aaron Swartz finally succumbed to the forces of darkness in 2013.

If Aaron was still with us today he would undoubtably be leading the fight against the current FCC efforts to squander the promise of the internet on large corporate interests. But his tragic and needless death has made him into an internet martyr for the digerati and young techno hackers. In trying to make an example of Aaron Swartz along with Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, the government has helped grow the movement for a free internet and for transparency in government. All the military-corporatist forces together cannot eradicate this new interconnected world conscience.

More Upcoming Film Events at the Naro

SMILES OF A SUMMER NIGHT Set in turn-of-the-century Sweden, the relationships of four men and four women are entangled as they attempt to navigate the laws of attraction. When they are all invited to a summer solstice celebration at a beautiful country estate, the women collude to force the men’s hands in matters of the heart. Director Ingmar Bergman’s crowning comic achievement. Showing in Faith in Filmon Sunday, June 22.

IF YOU BUILD IT From the director of Wordplay and I.O.U.S.A. comes a captivating look at a radically innovative approach to education through a year-long, full-scale design and build project that does much more than just teach basic construction skills. The film follows designer-activists Emily Pilloton and Matthew Miller to rural Bertie County, the poorest in North Carolina and just south of the Virginia state line. Showing Wed, June 25.

CITIZEN KOCH In this searing exposé on the state of democracy in America and the fracturing of the Republican Party, Oscar nominated directors Carl Deal and Tia Lessin (co-producers of Fahrenheit 9/11 & Bowling for Columbine) follow the big money funding the rise of the Tea Party and right-wing America. Showing Wed, July 2.

FINDING VIVIAN MAIER
Now considered one of the 20th century's greatest street photographers, Vivian Maier was a loner who worked as a nanny most of her life, and shot over 100,000 photos that went unseen during her lifetime. Showing Wed, July 9.



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