Q&A with "anon", the man behind the "We" documentary, Thanks to Arundhati Roy Supporters on MySpace for submitting some of these questions.
How did the idea for We come about? What was your inspiration?
There were several inspirations. Firstly, one of the many books I looked at was one by an anthropologist named Pinker titled 'The Blank Slate'. And while I didn't read all of it, what caught my eye and imagination was a list in an Appendix in the back of the book that was called:
and this was a long list of human traits and behaviors that have been observed to exist in all self or externally defined groups of people - no matter whether you consider yourself Jewish or Maaori. Or whether, as is the case with the genetic reality of a friend of mine, you consider yourself -both- Jewish and Maaori.
This list includes human processes such as caste systems, dancing, use of weapons, joy, an ability to deceive, music, collective cooperation, rape, etc. What this list showed me, was that there was greater diversity within human groups than between them - which was a brand new thought for types like me.
The biggest inspiration came from Arundhati Roy's speech. So many pennies dropped in my head, when a friend of mine first played it to me.
With her words, and her vocal chords, she brilliantly articulated so much of what was in my mind at the time, and so her Lannan Foundation speech became the skeletal structure over which the images and music were placed and arranged.
Its title, 'We' - is taken from the name of one of the recording artists that unknowingly (unnegotiated and unconsulted) contributed their creativity to the movie.
- and, for me, the word 'we' aptly sums up Arundhati's view of humanity. As opposed to the current western world war-cry of 'There is no you, there is only me'.
I have a media background, and so more inspiration came from an intense dissatisfaction that emerged while working in the television broadcast world.
Here, in this place, if you were geopolitically observant (i.e. reading widely), you could see what was being talked about on the news and what was not being talked about on the news - as the show went to air. You came to understand over time which type of images were being broadcast - and which type of images were not being broadcast.
I observed (whether the reasons were politically intentional or merely just commercial) a systematic omission of the world's human attrocities and their causes and consequences - from wide public awareness.
This -especially- really annoyed me.
I don't like being lied to. And neither does anyone else.
Also of motivating concern was the almost total commercial focus of the current western broadcasting model - both within public and private broadcasting institutions.
Such a focus has resulted in the total and utter failure of the fourth estate in the Western world - to be able to articulate anything of real use to anyone in their lives, anywhere on earth.
News is now really only a business - and that means big trouble for everyone.
Another inspiration for making 'We' was my anger over the ongoing Northern Initiated Imbalance and its genocide on the other humans living in the Southern Hemisphere of the world - via military and economic means.
Tell us about the process. How long did it take to put the film together from start to finish? When was it started?
Despite the deeply repulsive subject matter, the process was a total joy.
'We' would have been impossible without the use of the now decade old technology of PC based non-linear digital video editing applications (available now to anyone with a relatively new computer). With adequate hard drive space for digitized video media, a massive library of shots were collated and loaded onto my computer, where they became randomly and instantly accessible when it came time to start editing. This digital visual media was largely sourced from taping news images off the MSM under the 'Fair Use' provision. With tens and tens of hours of hard drive storage, this huge library of shots was eventually built up to become a very extensive palate for what I call visual storytelling.
Moving Image Centers around the world refer to this type of art as 'Time Based'. If you remember Tom Cruise sifting and sorting time in Spielberg's 'Minority Report' - it is almost that type of process.
Music, spoken word, and moving image are able to free-associate in quite a random fashion inside this type of editing environment.
With the benefits of a background knowledge from reading (in order to better understand the content and meaning of the images that I was using) the audio elements of the project could be repeatedly trialed, reviewed, replaced, and arranged against the ideas and images that I was editing with until something went -click- when I had found the audio track that best suited the particular set or topics of the images.
Having then decided on the loose arrangement of images and audio for each part of the movie, the process then became one of refining the edit. By that I mean editing the audio and the visuals (and their movement and meaning) together in a way that flows.
Fun with a capitol F, frankly.
In the middle of 2005, having saved some money from editing a reality TV show about humiliating the participants of a national songwriting contest, I moved into a large country home that my then girlfriend was house-sitting in and edited 'We' solidly for six weeks. This period of relative isolation was invaluable, I think. This sort of thing can take longer to do if life is busy.
How did you unleash it to the world?
I generally spend a couple of hours a day reading Geopolitics - and, when I was finally happy with the final cut, I sent it on DVD to sites that I thought would be interested in what I had to say - in the hope that they would post, pod cast, duplicate and distribute my efforts. (and they did ! :) Once people started posting the movie, I then wrote to other people whose work I had read and pointed them to where they could download it.
Why is it an underground documentary?
I don't really know what underground means - but I do know that nothing quashes creativity like having executive producers and TV channel programmers telling you what you can and can't include in your work - so that they might then more effectively sell tickets or advertising.
To answer your question, I took a page out of the book of what I think are some of our best Graphic Novelists (those who write and/or draw comic books/cinematic story boards with adult themes)
These people wrote and drew into the night - expressing themselves and storytelling inside the blank squares of the paper on their writing desks - drawing from their own creative thoughts, ideas, educations, and angers.
Decades later, it is interesting to see that many of these same creative thoughts, ideas, educations, and angers are just what hollywood execs are clambering over themselves (maybe filled with delusions of former revenues) to greenlight nowadays.
Films like Watchmen, 300, the Matrix trilogy, etc, all had their genesis in the solitary environment of an artist at work - often without paying attention to the constraints of commercially focused oversight.
Even should your own personal world or focus not extend beyond bums on seats and advertising revenue, I still definitely think there's a lesson to be learned here.
In making this kind of art, the ridiculous costs of accessing historical footage, and the tight control of news images does not help.
Both these types of footage are crucial in understanding our story of who we are and where we have come from. And they are both are essential and urgent in avoiding the dulling, slow and collectively painful repetition of previous human mistakes and disasters (like, say, Nazi Germany) by all of us being in a new position to learn from conflict and history.
This is a primary focus of the work.
Can it be made more accessible in any way?
Thanks to the efforts of those who choose to distribute it - 'We' is being made more accessible to more people everyday - in digital form carried in (and transferable between) diverse mediums.
One thing I love about the information age is that - once something is digitized - then its GONE. It's out there, and no control exists anymore over that piece of media. It can be stored and saved and distributed by means other than online, free from censorship and the useless and counter-productive filters of the military press corps and commercial western media.
New distribution methods like:
- posting on the internet
- CDR and DVD burning
- neighborhood disc drops to friends and letterboxes
- portable hard drives
- memory sticks that can transfer video files from laptop to laptop
and cinema and home theatre screenings are all ways that we can take control of the understanding of our lives back from those in media institutions who really only spend their days working to gain the satisfaction of their own shareholders.
Is it dangerous to try to bring it to the main stream?
As audiences continuously become more sophisticated, the 'mainstream' always ends up following its 'fringes' - assuming that anything that this fringe has to say eventually becomes worth paying attention to.
The work and role of thinkers and storytellers is crucial to informing us about the world so that our societies may survive the dangers that are created by the collectively detrimental human processes that are engineered by the few - those both external and internal.
If doing such a thing is dangerous, then ask me again in five years.
What do you think of the distribution efforts of the film?
I'm delightfully astounded!
And very very grateful.
How did you choose the web sites at the end of the film? Are you associated with any of them?
No. Though I occasionally post at the excellent: wakeupfromyourslumber.com
The sites listed in the credits are a loose grab bag of spaces and places for me to receive, read and understand that which I did not know yesterday.
These are all sites where I have been - and read - and after which I have said to myself:
"That information is new for me - I hadn't previously considered that"
The best blogs and sites for us to visit, I think, are those where the publisher also chooses to link to and post other blogs, sites, and articles that fundamentally disagree with the perspectives or purposes that originally inspired their own blog (or Vlog).
What I love (and this is something that traditional media like TV and newspapers are inherently and structurally unable to accomplish) about the blogosphere, is that when it allows an 'inflammatory' viewpoint, article, or video to be published, it -then- enables an informed, educated, and perhaps dissenting planet to argue the point ad nauseaum.
When intemperate views are globally argued out online - what follows is beneficial and new for the human race (and it is something that is probably integral to our widespread survival).
Yes, good people can disagree.
What's interesting and valuable here is -why- they disagree.
In an environment of uninterrupted, uncensored, and free floating disagreement and debate then, over time, much becomes clear to observers and participants about just who wants what and why.
But such a process will only be useful if educated people choose to task themselves with reading widely - and this includes consuming points of view that they do not personally understand or agree with.
To cling only to the information provided from one newspaper, or from only one media source (I'm thinking of the likes of Murdoch, the BBC, CNN, and Canwest here), or to dogmatically hold to only one set of ideas results in, I think, a slow, sad, and unnecessary form of brain death.
Westerners need to start reading non-western press if they ever wish to understand the world better than they do at this moment.
The western MSM is not currently up to this task.
Why did you choose to film Arundhati's clips playing on a computer monitor?
This idea came from a friend of mine - I was having technical issues with getting the video from Arundhati Roy's 'Come September' speech from an American video format (NTSC) into one that I could edit with and use in my country (PAL).
But, in retrospect for me, seeing her talk in that desktop window also kind of visually promotes the idea that video can readily exist and be easily shared outside television broadcast on other mediums.
How did you pick the songs for the film? Did any of those bands/singers agree to it?
No, and if that really pisses them (or their record companies) off, then I apologize for not approaching, consulting, or negotiating with them. And if it pisses them, then I sincerely hope that they (and their record companies) will receive a new and welcome spike in their back-catalogue record sales as a result of new consumer interest generated from this movie being in global circulation.
Or a new and welcome spike in their illegal internet downloads, whatever.
But, (hopefully without sounding like I'm trying to stick my tongue down the front of their trousers) the reason I chose the efforts of the various musician's art for use in 'We' was because their music contains (in my own personal view as a listener) an emotional weight or energy that is generally missing from the music industry products today.
This is due, I think, again to an almost purely commercial focus in terms of what is promoted, artistically explored, developed, and released.
In the past, music has been more valuable to more people in their lives, than just shipping units.
Who is "anon"? Tell us more about yourself, your background.
I have had an unusually normal middleclass upbringing in a military family in a small western country. My parents are still together, they still love each other, and they definitely love their children.
When I was young, my grandmother thought it important enough to give me George Orwell books to read - probably because of her own life experience that spanned most of the 20th Century.
She also taught me to read before I was five.
My Dad (who I love dearly) helped the American Military Government bomb Vietnam as a Forward Air Controller - and before I was old enough to go to school, I used to look at all the pictures in a periodical called 'Aviation Week and Space Technology'that he often left lying around the house.
In these magazines, amongst all the print advertising for Western Weapons of Mass Destruction (or WMD's), I saw something new that, looking back, had a large impact on me. A visual idea that until the late sixties, had never been seen before in our history - and that was the now familiar images of our planet as a dual atmosphered blue green ball of rock traveling through
Clearly observable in these photos was not just our earthly entirety, and also that of our singularity as a planet - existing in the void.
Such telling images had never been seen before by humans on the world until that era. I grew up with these images being part of my worldview, but people of my parents generation and older did not. My father was raised through a western post world war culture - and when he was a much younger man, he once understood the world without them. Such a stellar type perspective was yet to exist.
His brother, my uncle, held a senior position at the world bank before his death a few years ago - and during his career was briefly detained in a prison in the Congo for taking photographs for his employers.
I also studied Anthropology and Political Science and continue to read widely on these topics to this day.
So much of what Arundhati Roy chooses to explore and talk about has, I suppose, been on my radar for awhile. But it wasn't until I first heard her speak her ideas that something went -CLICK- !!
For me, she had a unique ability to recontextualise, exhibit, and articulate in a new way - much of what I already understood about the world.
And she was able to do so from a perspective that I call truly geopolitical. That is, a human perspective of the world that sees and exists outside of any given culture (e.g. western, indian, asian, white, or otherwise).
She showed me a macro view that cradles all the micro views that people cling to everyday.
From what I know of her, she is a woman who spent her formative years not only in an Indian slum but as a -social outcast- in an indian slum.
Our formative worlds probably couldn't have been more different.
So it was a great relief to me to finally realize that an educated black woman and an educated western white boy had the SAME world beneath our feet on any given day - and that neither of us were any more or any less entitled to a place on it.
The question then became one of: "well, gosh, where to from here?"
Do you plan to remain anonymous indefinitely?
Brett Easton-Ellis' excellent novel 'Glamourama' utterly ended any self involved aspirations that I might have had about my vying for new levels of media exposure. The media industry is largely populated by people who seek the kind of attention and status that they probably imagine was somehow wrongfully denied them in the past. Personally, I have been well guilty of this type of desperate vanity in the past but, these days, I content myself with the pursuit of knowledge.
I have seen literally thousands of documentaries in my life (in my opinion, they are currently the best way of consuming and sharing what might be complex information) and the number of the filmmakers who made all these documentaries whose names I can recall - I can probably count on less than one hand.
As a viewer (and as long as I'm viewing widely) what's important to me is the information that I'm getting from these films - and how that information may or may not affect my own life. Not how neat, talented, or successful I think the filmmaker is.
What's important to me as a filmmaker is the relationship that the viewer has to the information that I am presenting.
And, really, I have only trawled, collected, refracted, and repackaged the information and ideas that flow around all of us in our lives.
And because people believe in all kinds of different things for all kinds of different and personal reasons, experiences, and circumstances - the opinion that any given viewer may or may not hold of me is just really not that relevant.
Additionally, hiding behind anonymity can (assuming anonymity still exists in a world where one of the fronts of the consistently redefined and farcical 'war on terror' is the internet) effectively hog-tie anyone's ability to smear my good name, (smearing is currently a standard and useless tactic within our mediascape) should certain individuals and organizations not agree with the subject matter of what I choose to explore in my documentaries.
And with no identifiable name/brand name/company/logo/website/target to aim their own fear at - the disconsolate viewer will instead hopefully be forced to deal with the content of this doco on personal and emotional levels. This is why I left my name off it.
Another reason is that there are potential legal issues in deciding to dispense with the current top down constraints on the use of music and media for artistic purposes.
And finally, until we all do something about it, we all still live in a world where people are jailed, murdered, and tortured over what they think or say.
Have you worked on any other projects?
The most fun I ever had in the broadcast world was working as a video editor for a season on a show called 'Havoc' in New Zealand The show was similar in ideas and intent to the fake news programs like 'Brasseye' (C4 in the UK) or Comedy Central's 'The Daily Show' and 'The Colbert Report' spin-off.
The experience was more than a little eye-opening for me, and it was fun in a way that probably very few media professionals are familiar with.
Do you have plans to create films similar to We, based on other popular speeches by Arundhati Roy, or others?
At the moment I'm slowly putting together what I think is an utterly fascinating video project on global human mental illness.
Geoff at resist.com.au says: 'Thank you for making the film, and sending me a copy'
Tell him THANKS !! for everything that he has done :)
The free exchange of ideas and information on the global web will be what saves most of us from an approach to society that might be similar to what people living in Afghanistan and Iraq currently experience.
Perhaps the best gift of a global internet consciousness will be the sharing and promotion - via people's email and blogging networks and contacts - of lessons and techniques that are able to address the various rungs of the Human Hierarchy of Needs.
The life-giving knowledge and experiences of small communities can be shared with other communities of humans all over the world.
Such information can be used and adapted to inspire solutions against the external factors of human processes that would steal from, rather than serve, our cultures.
Processes like our current financial system, f' instance.
I am very much aware that (once money stops flowing from the electronic cash machines of banking institutions) the strategy of huddling in your basement or apartment with your family, four crates of baked beans, a can opener, and a submachine gun will not work. Collectively growing food together is much easier and less stressful than trying to grow food alone.
Did you try contacting Arundhati Roy before releasing the film, if so what was her response?
No, I did not seek her permission. And I can't imagine a world where she would care. She seems to be very busy with the pursuit of Geo-Human Rights.
Besides, for me - 'We' is a non-commercial art project, and I refuse to ever receive any money from having made it. I made it because I could, and because I thought such a communication might be useful in helping to resolve some of the world's human problems.
But if she is really miffed at what I've done with her words, then please tell her that it was a video artwork, using western television technique, designed to bring some of her ideas before a wider western audience.
I agree with her in that the people living in the west are really the only folks who can actually do anything to begin to address the problems that she discusses.
Did you expect us at resist.com.au to put such an effort into distribution?
No. The words 'shock' and 'awe' apply for me here. The results of the viral type nature of information that is spread and absorbed on the web continues to amaze me everyday.
Are you aware that some 'Leftist' organizations are screening it in Theatres as fund raisers for their own campaigns? How do you feel about this?
Despite a degree in Politics, I don't really have a working definition of what leftist means.
To me, the labels of 'left-wing' and 'right-wing' are made useless by their own inability to adequately articulate and contribute anything of value to any given debate.
They are simply too glib in what they try and define.
If you are a conservative, then are you morally conservative or financially conservative?
Is the Democrat party somehow able to operate more democratically within an already failed democracy like the U.S.?
Is Tony Blair's New Labour really a Labour party?
Or just a small bunch of rich white guys?
Questions like these keep me awake at night.
Additionally, such terms seem to be too often employed as an unhelpful tool of division - diverting the attention and the argument away from what might really matter to most people.
The words 'Left' or 'Right' are too nebulous to be of use to anyone, because all those listening or engaged in a debate may have differing ideas in their own heads of what 'Left' and 'Right' might mean for them, in terms of their worldview.
In any case, the self defined members of both 'sides' all seem to care about and want similar things for their lives, and they equally resent any perceived interference in their own affairs.
Besides, America just effectively lost Habeas Corpus, its people are slowly discovering that the idea of income tax might -instead- be an ancient mafia type scam with no legal or constitutional basis, and that our debt based money system is a nasty downward spiral leading to something that might resemble World War II, Mad Max II, or even daily life in the city of Baghdad.
Seen in the light of these current developments, who-thinks-what-and-from-what-political-viewpoint, is fast becoming an only
Globally, we need something far larger and better than the current 'sports desk' style of political journalism.
If we all wish to avoid being serfs again, anyway.
As for people watching the project in theatres - that's just what it was designed for - in order to start discussion, arguments, and debate among people that all see the world from their diverse perspectives.
To some people 'We' is media propaganda from some poorly defined 'enemy'.
To me, 'We' is:
1. my form of Civil Disobedience,
2. an exploration of some ideas, perspectives, possibilities and potentials that, once understood better, might enable us as humans to leave behind many of the hells that exist for most people here on Earth.
3. it is a great big extended middle finger towards those humans that get out of bed everyday and (with their every breath) willingly choose to spend their energies trying to suck dry the lives and the human potentials out of other parts of the world - by seeking to control hearts, minds, and the potential wealth of other people's natural (life-giving) resources - for solely their own personal gain.
The word 'parasite' leaps to mind here.
I have never understood why various bloodlines in the U.S. and other western nations refer to their control of the mineral wealth of other countries as their own 'National Interests'. I think that 'International Interests' is a more accurate phrase. Arundhati Roy really nailed it when she said "The American way of life is simply unsustainable, because it doesn't acknowledge that there is a world beyond America"
If human life on this world is to improve for more people (as opposed to the world improving only for less people) then it must be more widely understood that the means by which - are going to have to be collective efforts.
As opposed those strategies that are 'Me and Mine' orientated.
The grotesque imbalances of wealth and resource that we live with everyday must be addressed. And the first step is educating ourselves and others. Potential courses of action will come from this.
We will require a wider awareness and an understanding of some of the less attractive traits of human behavior and a sense of anthropology that we do not currently possess as a species.
My biggest hope is that 'We' will be part of a new and now necessary global conversation - that anyone, anywhere who cares about the futures of their own children - needs to enter into.
And stop being afraid of your government.
Remember that they work for you.
Some of them have been there for decades and its time for them to leave public office.
If you stay scared, your problems will only grow.
Thanks for listening.
You can contact, abuse, or discuss anything with me further at the address below.
ewingsc [at] gmail [dot] com