Big Brother, It’s Time for Your Close-Up

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that independent film documentaries–not major newspapers, magazines, or television, radio and Internet print media–are poised to become the chief source of honest reporting in American, and perhaps global, society.

Indeed, documentarians–struggling to maintain the freedom of information and transparency which major print and media are finding it harder and harder to do–have just begun deeply affecting an American public that’s becoming less educated, less literate, and depending more and more on the film medium. That’s been true for decades with entertainment, but now documentaries are starting to share that audience.

Documentary viewers still rank a pittance compared to feature-film audiences. But as citizens hopefully begin to hunger more and more for non-totalitarian sources of information, we will see them turn a more vigilant eye to the documentary for fresh, uncontrolled messages about vital issues to humankind.

That’s getting tougher for the public to do, due to a less independent information industry. We still hear independent print voices on the local level, most powerfully in the defiant, progressive weeklies hanging on to existence throughout the U.S.–defiant because their substance requires honoring minority experience and opinion, including their own. They look out for the little guy and gal, which can often make them biased against a social order growing increasingly controlling.

The Internet has helped the independent weeklies find a wider audience. I know one friend who’s living in New York, an Arkansas native with political savvy and big-money-organization expertise, who relishes reading the Arkansas Times online. Fresh voices, ideas and, yes, cantankerous opinions, still matter to intelligent readers.

But the Arkansas Times and its cohorts nationwide still represent voices heard by small audiences, as do documentaries. The difference is this: newspapers are print, documentaries are film. And the American people have been traditionally drawn to film and away from reading, particularly newspapers. Our dull, limited, career-oriented rather than soul/psyche-oriented education system–the kind our government and corporations love because an ignorant public creates few problems–has set us up to avoid the pains of reality and the challenges to overcome those pains, and instead seek out the denying salve of sports and entertainment. Independent-minded, intelligent, loving teachers still exist and try to make an impact–and some do–just as independent news reporting on the likes of PBS can make a difference. But both the classroom and TV teacher are constantly endangered by the hovering bureaucracy, and the military-industrial complex Eisenhower warned us about.

Major newspapers and magazines, television and radio news, all seek to be entertaining to hold on to dwindling audiences and ad bucks. More entertainment, less information. Give me the dramatic and the surface, not the substantive. That seems to be the order coming from above.

And “above” has become, basically, a handful of decision makers. Which is our problem today, as we hurtle toward what former President George H.W. Bush called “a new world order.”

Congress in the mid-’90s approved The Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowing major media consolidation. These mergers have gravely affected information control and, along with it, individual freedom. The plethora of large independent newspapers, publishing houses, television networks, radio networks, recording studios, and film studios have been swallowed up by seven, or perhaps as few as five–depending on whose counting–behemoth conglomerates.

This greatly narrows who creates policies deciding what national and international news we receive from print, TV, and radio; what films, TV and radio programs we watch or listen to; what music we hear; what video games our children are influenced by.

Our most independent source of information now has become the Internet. But governments and corporations are conniving ways to control this wonderful avenue of light, and hope to either dim it or focus it to their liking. As just one example, Google cooperated with the Chinese government, filtering out Internet searches of information on the Tienanmen Square protests or independence movements in Tibet.

The Internet is proving a splendid world stage for the documentary. It allows websites to rise as a source for limitless numbers of fact-based films. E-mailers can send links for documentaries to friends, in effect creating myriad audiences who view the films individually, as they choose, or on YouTube, rather than going to theatres. I received via e-mail a link to the Aaron Russo documentary “America: From Freedom to Fascism”–an activist study of the Federal Reserve system, the federal income tax, and the move toward a New World Order, including digitally tracking citizens. It’s become a catalyst for disturbance, further research, and action–a primary reason for a documentary’s existence.

Film festivals also have welcomed the documentary in force, giving these dedicated filmmakers local stages of all sizes, ranging from New York and Los Angeles to Houston and Little Rock. At the Little Rock Film Festival, I saw “Silhouette City,” a top-quality, well-researched documentary about the apocalyptic Christian nationalism movement–the growing effort to turn the U.S. democracy into a theocracy. We were so moved at the publishing company I worked with, we published a companion book to the film.

These documentaries’ power comes from the filmmakers seeking out, finding and recording individuals and groups who are trying to affect their lives and our own–sometimes positively, sometimes negatively–and who we usually know little or nothing about. They are stories of value which government/corporate-controlled press and media outlets no longer, or less and less frequently, attempt to find.

Hopefully, this documentary trend will continue to flourish. It seems to be. The independent satellite network Link TV is doing yeoman’s work at presenting gutsy documentaries about government and corporate control efforts worldwide. And even the Starz movie channel has recently carried powerful documentaries on Wall Street’s destroying the world economy.

These could be the growing signs of big, transparent things to come.

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