“Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”: AFIDocs shows film about secret efforts to silence the established press; what about amateurs?

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”, by Brian Knappenberger, confronts us with the problem that the wealthiest classes may try to silence the established press by secretly bankrolling litigation, and by secret hostile takeovers of media outlets.

The film does focus on the Fourth Estate, the credentialed press, as such.  The viability of the Fifth (the amateur base) would make a subject for another documentary, I think, one that could focus on open access, for example.

The film focuses on two big events.

The first of these is the lawsuit Bollea vs. Gawker, by “Hulk Hogan” against Gawker media, and personally against several employees, for posting some of a private sex tape online.  Some employees were bankrupted personally and had assets frozen by judgment.  There is a scene where one younger male employee testifies (in Florida) flippantly about the idea of fictitious sex involving minors, an idea that helped bring down Milo Yiannopoulos this year, and affected a serious incident in 2005 when I worked as a substitute teacher, the details of which I have written about elsewhere.  It also had an indirect effect on the 2016 elections, which the film gets into in its second half.  A visit to today’s Gawker shell is well worth a visit and rather sobering.  I do wonder about situations where individual speakers could be effectively silenced by aggressive litigation and bargaining, but that is another topic.

An important concept in the suit was whether Bollea’s conduct, as a WWE public figure, was newsworthy and generated a higher standard of proof from the plaintiff.  This was technically a privacy case;  similar ideas occur with defamation.

About 40 minutes into the film, the documentary introduces the clandestine role of gay Silicon Valley billionaire Peter Thiel in bankrolling the suit, as revenge for his being outed in 2007 by Gawker. In one humorous scene Thiel stumbles as he calls Gawker “sociopathic”.  Thiel’s speech in Cleveland at the RNC is quoted, but I recall Thiel’s saying that the country (including LGBTQ people) has more pressing problems than bathroom bills. Indeed, Thiel has offered scholarships to young inventors to start businesses instead of finishing college.  One of these went to nuclear fusion power inventor Taylor Wilson, now 23, very much in the clean energy business (which Trump has sidestepped) but also new levels of port security.  (Sorry, some “inventors” do need to finish college:  Jack Andraka will have to finish medical school to become a cancer researcher;  both Wilson and Andraka would deserve their own documentary feature films, as Andraka especially fits into the open access debate). The film shows Thiel with a chessboard, and indeed he is an accomplished tournament competitor, preferring direct attacking openings starting with 1 e4 (as did Bobby Fischer); he could probably be a real challenge for Magnus Carlsen to beat.

But the film focuses on the fact that Thiel’s backing of the litigation occurred in secret for a while.  So we have powerful business people (even in the LGBTQ community) silencing forces that oppose them.  Trump is not the only one.  This happens on the Left as well as the Right.

For its last third, the film shifts its narrative to Las Vegas, and the clandestine purchase of the Las Vegas Review Journal by the family of self-made billionaire Sheldon Adelson who then reportedly influenced what would be published about high-roller developers.

The film covers Donald Trump’s particular vilification of the established media as an enemy.  His speech about opening up libel laws (to resemble those in England where the defendant has to prove truth) is quoted. Presumably Trump sees journalists as “watchers” or “spectators” who don’t put their own skin in the game;  but curiously, despite his reported disdain for computers, he loves Twitters and doesn’t seem to show the same disdain for journalists from smaller companies (like OAN) or independent bloggers.

The Journal Review I believe is the same paper that was involved with “copyright troll” Righhaven starting in 2010.  The law firm bought rights to articles from various smaller client newspapers (“champerty”) and then sued even low-level bloggers who allegedly violated copyright in various trivial ways.  At the time, there was a theory that bloggers were destroying small newspapers.  I’ve covered the development with a Blogger label here.  Note the coverage in the Journal Review and in Arstechnica.

Director QA (some technical problems with feedback):

Fact Sheet:

Name:  “Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press”
Director, writer:  Brian Knappenberger
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  2017 AFI-Docs, Landmark E St, Washington, 2017/6/16, sold out
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13 (?)
Companies:  Luminant, Submarine, Netflix
Link:  Luminant

(Picture: Mine, 2012 trip in Las Vegas;  2015, Tampa Bay, near the litigation site; 2016, NYC midtown)

“An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”: Al Gore’s sequel to “An Inconvenient Truth” about climate change premiers at AFI-Docs

Last night, AFI-Docs premiered Al Gore’s new film, “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power” at the Newseum in Washington DC, with director (Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk) QA.  The film amounts to being “An Inconvenient Truth II”, following Gore’s first film on climate change in 2005.

Gore starts his film in Greenland, with spectacular shots of melting ice, before moving around the world and showing evidence of rapid escalation of climate change.  He stops in Miami, where there is sunny day street flooding at high tides. Warmer and more humid atmosphere promulgates more extreme storms and, ironically, droughts.  He shows Hurricane Sandy in 2012 in New York City (confirming a prediction from his 2005 film that the World Trade Center site from 9/11 could flood), and a typhoon in the southern Philippines in November 2013, which might have interfered with the production of my third book (the POD publisher had a plant nearby). He mentions how high temperatures shorten mosquito breeding cycles and might have contributed to the spread of Zika.

He also brings back his charts from the 2005 film, and adds illustrations showing that the number of very warm days constantly increases (even though we have cold days).  It is inevitable that if carbon dioxide levels rise, the planet will warm, unless something else happens (like a volcanic eruption blotting out the Sun with cloud cover).

Gore provides plenty of evidence that green industries are economically sustainable.  He notes anecdotes like that of Greensburg, KS, wiped out by a 2007 tornado, that rebuilt itself green (story), as in the 2009 Planet Green film, “Greensburg: a Story of Community Rebuilding” with Leonardo DiCaprio.

He also summarizes his personal history, his concession in Bush v. Gore in 2000, and then notes Bush’s actions which reduced satellite information gathering on climate issues by NASA, as well as catering to fossil fuel interests, anticipating Trump today.

His most startling ideas are that the drought in Syria starting around 2010 helped set up the urban refugees that set up the brutality of Assad and ISIS.  Then the film moves to Paris, just before the meetings at the end of 2015, as Gore is present for the Nov. 13 terror attacks, the aftermath of which is shown.

The film covers Al Gore’s “Climate Reality Leadership Corps”, which he calls “Truth in Ten”.  People can join this as a movement, be trained, and participate in a formal process.  My problem is that I like to retain my ability to speak independently, as I said in the QA. There is a hashtag “#Pledgetobeinconvenient”.

Another audience member pointed out the problem of tribalism:  many people won’t listen to rational arguments of they are made by someone from the wrong side – as we saw with the 2016 elections and the vitriolic personal divisions and odd forms of hyper partisanship.



2  (my question on joining a group vs. working alone on an issue like this)

3  (question about tribalism — “truth to power”)

Fact sheet:

Name: “An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power”
Director, writer:  Bonni Cohen, Jon Shenk, Al Gore
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1 (as shown;  imdb says 2.35:1)
When and how viewed:  AFI Docs, Newseum, 2017/6/16, Washington DC, almost sold out;  general release 2017/7/28
Length:  100
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Paramount Independent;  Kino Lorber; Participant Media
Link:  Al Gore, Film

Picture: Far Rockaway, NY, March 2013, my trip after Hurricane Sandy

(Posted: Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 10 AM EDT)

“Mosquito”, to be aired on Discovery, premiers at AFI-Doc in Washington

Mosquito”, directed by Su Rynard and written by Mark Monroe. will air on the Discovery Channel (Impact) starting July 6, but had a world premiere at the Newseum tonight in Washington DC as part of ADI Docs.

The 70-minute film presents the coming world health crisis from the explosive growth of mosquitoes in new areas, partly because of climate change.   For example, some species are spreading on high plateaus in Africa because it no longer gets cold enough to stop them.

It seems that Zika may have been endemic in Africa for years, but infected young girls and left them immune before pregnancy.  But it may have come to Brazil on ships or travel, and been introduced to Recife, Brazil, often shown in the film, at the end of 2014 for a sporting event.  The film shows women being tested in utero for potential mico encaphaly of their babies.  It is not known if babies born with normal head dimensions to Zika infected mothers will develop normally.

The film covers many of the diseases spread by mosquitoes, including dengue and West Nile Virus, which infected a woman on Long Island in 2015.  It also covers the gradual spread of more species north into the US, in sheltered areas like the Metro.

The film diagrams the mechanics of the mosquito bite, and how it cuts a channel in the skin for its blood meal and source of proteins.

The film pays particular attention to malaria in children.  Bill Gates appears and addresses this problem.  I once had a roommate in graduate school at KU who said he had gotten it in the Peace Corps and was told he should never live in a warm climate (without a seasonal winter).

The film, as well as the panel, shows the difficulties of mosquito control without affecting the balance of other species.  There was talk about community cooperation, where one person can affect the success of a whole effort (and health officials break down doors).  But modern methods emphasize surgical methods, like introducing a genetically engineered male whose offspring are born dead so the eggs cannot hatch, a kind of “Children on Men” solution.

There is a normal mosquito population in most areas, especially northern latitudes.  It is invasive species, moving north with transportation and warming climate, that destroy the balance and introduce new diseases.

In the 1980s, I recall that the religious right wanted to speculated what would happen if AIDS were to be spread by mosquitoes.  In fact, for a while, before HIV was discovered, there were rumors that it could becaused by another arbovirus, African Swine Fever, which would have been disastrous in implications politically.

It would be possible to argue that, since Zika is sometimes sexually transmitted, adults could be unwittingly infecting unborn children through a chain letter.  But the real problem is to control the mosquitoes.

Recife picture (wiki).

Kenya picture (wiki).

QA Video





Fact Table

Name: “Mosquito”
Director, writer:  Su Rynard, Mark Monroe
Released:  2017
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Newseum, AFI-Docs, 2017/6/15, near sellout
Length:  71
Rating:  NA
Companies:  Discovery Impact
Link:  Discovery, AFI

(Posted: Thursday, June 15, 2017 at 11 PM EDT)

“I Am Not Your Negro”: sneak preview at a Washington DC high school this evening

I Am Not Your Negro” was previewed tonight at Ballou High School (sponsored by AFI Docs) in Washington DC before a full auditorium, three levels.  The film is based on the unfinished book “Remember This House” by James Baldwin, based on Badlwin’s account of his interaction with Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King.

The film is directed by Haitian born Raoul Peck, who was present for the QA with an assistant principal of the high school.  The evening felt like a reprise of my own days as a substitute teacher ten years ago.  The principal said that 92% of the senior class, mostly African-American, has been accepted to college.

The film is narrated by actor Samuel L. Jackson, with the script entirely taken from the writings of Baldwin.  Peck said that he had to produce the film himself and control it, and making it took ten years.  He did raise some money from European sources, especially in Belgium.

The film takes on the mantra, “white is a metaphor for power”, and shows how, from the late 1940s until the 60s, white people really had benefited from the sacrifices of blacks – with the lingering segregation and combative attitudes – without taking moral responsibility.  During the QA, the need for personal involvement and then trend toward personal apathy by most “successful” whites was mentioned.  The film is viewed as timey given Trump and Bannon, but their names weren’t mentioned.

The film shows a great deal of the civil rights activism, especially revolving around desegregation orders and then the Selma march, leading to the deaths of the civil rights leaders. There were many scenes of riots and police activity, with some modern scenes of the Ferguson, MO riots.  The deaths of young black men (such as Treyvon Martin) gets covered.  There was one metaphorical scene shot with images from the surface of Mars.

The film also covered Baldwin’s time in Paris, and mentioned (showing typing of memos) J. Edgar Hoover’s view of him as a security risk and a “homosexual” (as Hoover was covering up for himself).  Baldwin says he came back to the US “to pay my dues”, a favorite moral catch phrase of mine.

The film has excerpts of many other films, including “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “In the Heat of the Night“, as well as “The Pajama Game” (white values), and even Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant” (2003, a school shooting by disenchanted, perhaps bullied white boys, somewhat similar to Columbine.)

Name: I Am Not Your Negro
Director, writer:  Raoul Peck, James Baldwin (book manuscript “Remember This House“)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1   sometimes black and white
When and how viewed:  Ballou High School Washington DC AFI Screening, opens at Landmark E St. Feb. 3
Length:  95
Rating:  PG-13
Companies:  Amazon Studios, Velvet Film, Magnolia Pictures
Link:  official

QA video



During the QA I mentioned Gode Davis’s unfinished “American Lynching“.  This new film seems to have at least one image in common.




On the way on the Green Line in rush hour, I was the only white person on a crowded Metro car toward SE Washington and the Congress Heights station on Alabama Ave (one mile from the school).  Residual de facto segregation by economics is all too real.  There were a number of white college students at the reception before.

(Posted: Wednesday, February 1, 2017 at 11:45 PM)

“Newtown”: documentary focuses on the families affected by the mass shooting


Name: Newtown
Director, writer:  Kim A. Snyder
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Fathom event at Regal Ballston Common (from NYC) 2016/11/02
Length 80
Rating NA
Companies: PBS Independent Lens, Abamorama
Link: official;   PBS aired 2017/4/3

Tonight, “Newtown” was screened by Fathom events, with a panel discussion from New York by Chris Cuomo afterward. The entire event was called “Newtown: A Conversation”.

The film, directed by Kim A. Snyder and produced by Maria Cuomo Cole, focuses on the families of the children and teachers and staff shot at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012 by Adam Lanza.

The film spends little time on tracing Lanza’s actions or background, although it shows the inside of the house after his mother’s body was found. It does trace the way parents gradually found out what was happening to their own kids throughout that day, and then traces five families afterward.  At the end, one of the dads takes up skydiving in a closing shot for the film.

The film includes some testimony about assault weapons and the tendency of bullets to tumble, something I remember from my own Army service.  Some homeowners (as in a case in Oklahoma in March 2017) might be able to defend themselves from a huge home invasion if they own them.  Gun control admittedly may put more weapons in the hands of criminals (as in Europe with terrorists) and leave average people more vulnerable to very determined attacks.  But gun control will prevent some domestic crime and rampages such as this one.  Different policy choices put different people at risk.

At one point, a father says that Lanza was not excessively bullied.  There is coverage of the effects on siblings of the victims.

The film uses background music from up to 13 composers, supervised by Fil Eisler.

Hollywood Life has an article here.

Cuomo moderated with his usual analytic style.  One of the panel members was a black female police chief from Orlando who had responded to the Pulse attack.  The panel was overwhelming in its refutation of the NRA’s idea that a “good guy with a gun” can always stop a very determined enemy attacker.  Cuomo suggested that what is needed is not so much new policy as closing loopholes and enforcing existing policy.  I think that gun control (as usually proposed) typically does reduce most domestic crime (and suicide) but it might make the public more vulnerable to some kinds of terrorist attacks.

On the day of Newtown, I made a bit of a pilgrimage to a high school where I had substitute taught to see a performance (which was not cancelled).

(Posted: Wednesday, Nov. 2, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

“Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing” from HBO does a sneak preview tonight in DC


Name: Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing
Director, writer:  Ricki Stern, Anne Sundberg
Released:  2016
Format:  1.85:1
When and how viewed:  Sneak, AFI-Docs, free, Landmarl E St. 2016/10/18
Length :About 100
Rating PG-13?
Companies: HBO
Link: TBD

Tonight, AFI Docs held a special free sneak preview of the HBO documentary “Marathon: The Patriot’s Day Bombing”, directed by Ricki Stern and Anne Sundberg.  It will air on HBO in mid November and show in New York, Los Angeles and Boston.

The documentary recreates most of the events of that week in April 2013 as they happened, with high quality video.  This includes the two bombings twelve seconds apart, with explicit scenes of the carnage;  then video of the shooting at MIT Thursday night, of the call from a convenience store after the carjacking, the shootout in Watertown, and the capture of Jahar.  Video shows the Tsarnaev brothers just before the bombing. Jahar is shown in his jail cell later.


But, unlike “The Thread” (see Index), which focuses on how technology helped find the bombers, this film focuses on the hundreds injured, and the seventeen who lost limbs.


Several of these men and women were in the audience, with prosthetic limbs,two with service dogs, one of which sat very near me.

There is a scene where the police ask a novice cameraperson to respect the victims and not photograph them on the street.


The film focuses on the care these civilians get at Walter Reed (formerly Bethesda Naval Medical Center, across Wisconsin Ave. from NIH), from military surgeons.  It is normally very difficult for civilians injured by war-like injuries in terror attacks to get military care.  This observation would apply to the Pulse attacks.  The civilian patients bond with the military casualties, mostly from Iraq and Afghanistan, who have multiple amputations and incredible disfigurement.


The love story of one couple, both who lost limbs, was difficult to watch.  I don’t like to use the word “victims” when others influenced by foreign ideology go to war with us as if we were personal enemies.  I personally process this as “casualty”, but I did go through the Vietnam era draft, although I didn’t go into combat.    But the willingness of people to form and keep intimate and marital relationships when challenged by unforeseeable adversities is important to resilience against potential enemies.  This is a personal issue for me, but I’ll take that up soon elsewhere.

At the end, the film covers the death penalty deliberations and sentence handed to Dzhokkar Tsarnaev under federal law (in a state that does not have the death penalty).

The QA was followed by a 7-minute short film “Wicked Strong: A Walter Reed Story

QA 1:

QA 2: In response to my question about availability of military medicine to civilians after terror attack (I also mentioned Pulse); and on the importance that healthy young adults have health insurance because it can happen to anyone (the young man in Central Park July 3). Health insurance often covers basic prosthetics but not specialized limbs for running or water use (as in a scene in Florida).  Prosthetics last about eight years before needing replacement.

Wikipedia attribution link;  by Anna frodesiak CCSA 2.0

Wikipedia attribution link second map  CCSA 3.0?

(Posted: Tuesday: October 18, 2016 at   11:45 PM EDT)


“From this Day Forward”: a filmmaker’s father makes a transition to female


Name: From this Day Forward
Director, writer:  Sharon Shattuck
Released:  2015
Format:  HD
When and how viewed:  PBS 2016/10/10
Length 75
Rating an
Companies: Argot, Full Fork, PBS
Link: official

In the new PBS POV film “From This Day Forward” (75 min), director Sharon Shattuck returns home to the Michigan U.P. to visit her parents, including her dad who had transitioned to female while staying married (despite a near divorce) when Sharon was in middle school.

Part of the film looks at Sharon’s mother, with the obvious, nearly existential trauma of keeping an intimate relationship with a partner transitioning from male. I can’t imagine being game for this myself.  The parents announce a divorce, which then never happens and “goes away”.

But then it moves to focus on preparing for the wedding (reminding me of a 2002 film Melody Gilbert’s “Married at the Mall”, referring to the Mall of America near Minneapolis). There is the artistic detail of sewing the gown, and an omnipresent playful cat who seems not to care at all about the gender of humans in her life.

Sharon’s dad is a painter, emphasizing natural scenes, but has painted a picture of her former male self as a clown in disguise.  The film does briefly describe some of the reassignment surgery, hormones, epilation.

The film was shown on PBS Oct. 10 along with the short film “Pink Boy” (Sept. 13).

The film has no connection to the 1946 film with the same title. To get the new film to come up on imdb, you have to search by the director’s name, not the title. (Some films, especially with title duplication, on imdb will not come up by title, seems to be a database index problem.  It is common for unrelated films to use the same title, especially by translation, unless the title is the name of a branded franchise.)

Wikipedia attribution link for picture from Porcupine Mts of Michigan, p.d., by Troy Heck

(Posted: Monday, Oct. 10 at 11:30 PM EDT)

“Command and Control”: our close brush with a nuclear explosion in Arkansas after an accident in 1980


Name: Command and Control
Director, writer:  Robert Kenner
Released:  2016
Format:  HD video
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2016/9/23
Length 92
Rating NA
Companies: PBS, American Experience
Link: official 

Command and Control”, directed by Robert Kenner, for PBS and American Experience, gives a riveting account of the 1980 Damascus Titan Missile Explosion, near Little Rock, AK. It’s based on the book “Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, The Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety” by Eric Schlosser.

The incident happened because the maintenance protocol changed, and a technician overlooked it and brought the wrong torque wrench, late in the day Sept. 18, 1980.  A rivet fell 80 feet to the bottom of the bay (which was not netted) and bounced against the missile, causing a fluid leak, leading to eventual explosion   The feared nuclear explosion did not happen, but the film maintains that it could have gone off.

The initial team evacuated, and another team came in but could not prevent the blast, which killed one airman and severely burned several others.

Several politicians in Little Rock, where a Democratic fundraiser was being held, were told by phone and feared nuclear explosion. Bill Clinton was the young governor at the time and acted naïve.

The Air Force tried to keep the ultimate danger quiet, and disciplined several airmen and ended the careers of a few officers.  The technician got an Article 15.

The documentary uses a lot of stock footage and some models. Many of the men are still alive today, and talk about how gung-ho they were when in their 20s.  The film recapitulates several accidents, especially the crash over Goldsboro, NC in January 1961.

The director points out that nuclear weapons technology is vulnerable to unanticipated human error that can have catastrophic results.  There have been many other near misses.  One or two of them could have started WWWIII with the Soviet Union.  It’s also appropriate to consider the dangers posed by loose nuclear waste (Yucca mountain was mentioned in the QA, but materials in former Soviet republics are a big risk, as demonstrated in the film “The Last Best Chance” (2005) produced with the Nuclear Threat Initiative.

QA Session






(Posted: Friday, September 23, 2016 at 11:50 PM EDT)

“Zero Days”: the history of the Stuxnet worm, and how the blowback just could destroy America


Name: “Zero Days”
Director, writer:  Alex Gibney
Released:  2016
Format:  digital video
When and how viewed:  Landmark E St, 2016/7/8, fair audience 7 PM, had played at AFI Docs
Length 114
Rating PG-13
Companies: Participant Media, Magnolia
Link: Site

Zero Days” (or “World War 3.0”) is Alex Gibney’s latest political documentary, and this one comes with a serious warning.

If the U.S. and allies (especially Israel and the UK or “Little England” now) can hack into hostile countries industrial control systems (even for the laudable process of stopping the development of nuclear weapons) they can do it to us.


The documentary, with lots of interviews, particularly with a translucent female avatar (Joanne Tucker) playing a combined NSA analyst, establishes the case that the U.S. drove the development of the Stuxnet worm during the Bush administration, in order to compromise nuclear-related centrifuges in Iran.  The worm was so well written that it could completely cover its tracks, and it made many “zero day” exploits that could fire off according to parameters (but the same idea is common in ordinary maware  and even mainframe crime, where elevation integrity has been compromised).


The code was developed at the NSA, and at corresponding facilities in England and especially Israel. The Pentagon put in a “cyber command” in place at the NSA headquarters at Fort Meade (south of Baltimore) with the authority to deploy the cyber weapon.  The CIA was also involved, especially in bridging the “air gap” and getting the malware delivered (possibly on a thumb drive) by an operative when the system (normally offline of the Internet) was being maintained.

In time, some security companies, especially Symantec and then Kaspersky in Moscow, began to see evidence of the worm, which first showed up in Belarus (a former Soviet republic).

Obama continued the process, but the U.S. “got caught”, and Iran retaliated at least twice, once against Saudi Arabian oil companies and once against several US banks in early 2013. But in the meantime, the US has embarked on an even bigger program against Iran’s infrastructure called “Zeus”.

The film warns that a state-sponsored hack could compromise many US industrial systems.  It showed the May 2015 Amtrak crash in Philadelphia, as a false example (because positive train control wasn’t in place there).  It suggested that if the power grids were overloaded or the Internet went down, the world might be like “humpty dumpty”.

An ordinary hacker serving malware, even ransomware, through phishing or drive-by websites could not accomplish this kind of a hack because of the “air gap” to the internet, but an internal operative could probably install the malware.  (Router hacks might become more destructive in the future, especially given the “smart home.”) The main states capable of such hacks would be Iran, North Korea (as we know from the Sony hack) and Russia, and probably China.   Some of this material was covered in Ted Koppel’s book “Light’s Out” (2015).


The film had been shown at AFIDocs.  It’s possible that it’s release helped prompt the warning from Sinclair Media  (near Baltimore) about cyber attacks and possibly EMP on the power grid.

Wikipedia attribution link for Natanz nuclear facility in Iran, by Hamed Saber, under CCSA 2.0.

(Published, Friday, July 8, 2016 at 11:15 PM EDT)

“The Islands and the Whales”: Faroe Islands (country) faces moral dilemmas in sustaining its way of life



Name: The Islands and the Whales
Director, writer:  Mike Day  (Scotland?)
Released:  2016
Format:  1.94:1  film or HD video, very high quality
When and how viewed:  AFI Docs, 2016/6/26 at Landmark E St. sold out
Length 84
Rating N.A. (PG-13?);  Danish, Faroese, English
Companies: Roco
Link: Site

Mike Day’s documentary “The Islands and the Whales” (taking five years to make) presents the moral dilemmas faced by the Faroe Islands  , a tiny country of 48000 people (and autonomous part of the “kingdom of Denmark”) geographically comprising an archipelago between Iceland and Scotland in the far north Atlantic.

The country’s biggest industry is, understandably, fishing and this includes whaling.  That poses two major problems.  The first is that the people are gradually getting exposed to more mercury in the seafood, which can cause gradual mental dulling in kids  The second is the whole ethical basis of the pilot whale hunting.  People include whale meat in their diet, but much less than in the past.  Now, all goods can be imported into the modern country, but in the 1950s whale was actually a major protein source.

The movie has brutal scenes of the killing of the whales once captured.  Pilot whales have a complex social structure similar to that of dolphins and orcas, and their intelligence may approach that of these other “animals”.  It’s interesting to remember that, before the oil and gas industry developed, back in the 19th century, people used whale oil for lighting. Now, cetaceans are understood to have the intelligence comparable to elephants and primates, and even a more communal sense of self.  Orcas may have intelligence fully equal to humans.  Hunting them is more objectionable than would, say, hunting big cats (which cause an international uproar in the case of Cecil the Lion) because we have come to appreciate the intelligence of most carnivores, whether as pets or large in the wild.  We feel their lives, if separate from us in the wild (like the grizzly bear) should be respected.

In the QA, Day said that the residents of Faroe would probably compare whale hunting to agriculture and hunting in the American West, which used to be socially and morally acceptable.  Information about the intelligence of whales is more recent and not accepted by everyone.  More discussion of the “non human person” concept is here.

The film focuses on a particular family, with an attractive father probably in his 30s with wife and  two daughters, taking the medical tests for mercury.  The father has more mercury than the others but no symptoms.  The family debates cutting down or out on eating whale meat.

VLUU L200 / Samsung L200
VLUU L200 / Samsung L200

The film also shows the “sea warriors” who show up to protest and disrupt whaling activities, and get arrested.  It also shows a street fair in Torshavn in late summer.  The climate is marine, with little snow at sea level but heavy snow at over 1000 feet in winter, and cool summers.  The scenery, of lava flow glaciate rocks and greenery, with sharp peaks and plateaus, is spectacular.  There are a few towns and densely populated areas.  The people talk about the coming of electricity after WWII.

Curiously, the Faroe Islands have one of the highest fertility rates in Europe.

Another environmental issue is the dwindling population of a spectacular bird, the Puffin, which is also hunted.


Many other parts of the world have done whaling. The Smithsonian Folklife exhibit on Basque culture refers to it off the coast of Spain in the past, associated with the modern sport of estropadak, or rowing.

Q and A follows





Here is Carl Nielsen’s “Rhapsody Overture: An Imaginary Trip to the Faroe Islands”.

Related feature films would include “The Cove” (2009, “Racing Extinction” (2015, both Psihoyos), “How to Change the World” (2016, Rothwell, about Greenpeace), “In the Heart of the Sea” (2015, Ron Howard, about “Moby Dick”).

Wikipedia attribution link for Faroese landscape    by Vincent van Jeigst, under CCSA 3.0.


The feature was preceded (at AFI Docs) by a short “My Deadly, Beautiful City” (previously titled “The Hidden City”), 13 minutes, by Victoria Fiore. It was sponsored by the New York Times (largely in Russian with subtitles).  The film showed Norilsk, Russia, an industrial city in Siberia 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle, polluted by nickel mining. Norilsk is the world’s northernmost city with a population over 100000, but it is usually closed to non-Russian visitors.  But Putin has been offering free land and housing to families who will settle in Siberia and have lots of babies. But is this city Vladimir Putin’s shame? So much for how well Soviet communism and now ultra nationalism takes care of people.

Here’s an interview with a Russian journalist on the most polluted city in Russia.

Wikipedia attribution link for picture of landscape near Norilsk, by Grain, public domain.

(Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2016 at 2 PM EDT)

(Last picture is from Aquarium in Baltimore, dolphin show, November 2009, mine)