English listening report

By Andreas van Cranenburgh

Somewhere in the past weeks: Ruby Wax, seen in class. (about one hr.)

Ruby Wax went to visit Jerry Springer and his show. She talked with some of the people who went to see his show and talked with the guests. The show was about people that wanted to confess to their partners that they were actually male. Ofcourse when their partners heard this they went stark-staring mad and tried to fight them, the usual stuff with Jerry Springer. But surprisingly, after the show Ruby succeeded in getting them to at least talk to their partners again, by acting as a sort of mediator.

I thought the show pretty amusing, but it still didn't really convince me that the Jerry Springer show is real. How can you not notice that someone is a man, after weeks of dating? But still, Ruby Wax is very funny.

Monday, November 25th: Thin blue line, seen in class. (about one hr.)

This show was quite amusing at times but didn't really grab my full attention. I find Rowan Atkinson quite anoying at times. The "funny by being stupid" thingy gets on my nerves. The plot wendings were all pretty obvious but the jokes were nice.

Sunday, November 24th: Eye spy, seen in the cinema at the IDFA. (35 min.)

This documentary was about Montesinos, Peruvian head of intelligence, who left a legacy of thousands of videotapes with all his briberies. On the tapes, which he recorded with a hidden videocamera, he bribes all sorts of people and arranges 'cooperations' between corporations and the state.

When the tapes were released it led to the fall of the regime. Montesino, among others, is now in prison. But president Fujimori is still a fugitive. Japan, as of yet, refuses to extradite him.

I liked this documentary but at first I was a bit overwhelmed by the English subtitles (the film is Spanish spoken) that went by very fast. But later on, and especially when the director answered questions after the film it all became clear.

Sunday, November 24th: Stealing the fire, seen in the cinema at the IDFA (95 min.)

This was a very interesting documentary about a German named Karl-Heinz Schaab who sold plans of a device called a centrifuge to Iraque. With this device you can produce the fuel necessary to build an atomic bomb. Plans for making an atomic bomb are readily available on the internet, the only hard-to-get element is the fuel which has to be very pure.

As it turns out, German companies have been doing business with Iraque fully aware that they were supporting the Iraque nuclear program, but moreover, that these companies, as well as the original centrifuge, originate from the Third Reich.

Schaab claims that he has played a minor role and that the real villains stay behind the scenes. A fact is, he is the first person to be convicted for nuclear espionage in fifty years, yet he was released and sentenced with only a small fine, far less than he has made with his deals. It seems the authorities did not want to attract much attention, by giving him a minor sentence they deny that the matter was of great importance, in this they succeeded, the issue got very little press coverage.

LINK: Official website

Monday, November 25th: Cyberman, seen in the cinema at the IDFA (86 min.)

This documentary was about Steve Mann, a professor at the university of Toronto. He has been walking with a 'wearable' computer for twenty years. He is considered a 'cyborg' by some, a being half human, half computer. He perceives the world through a camera mounted on sunglasses with a videoscreen. With his computer he can interprete and manipulate what he sees. He is connected to the internet so people can see what he sees when they log in to his website. He has built these computers himself from broken cameras and computers. At first the equipment was very heavy and striking but his latest version, the one with the sunglasses, is very covert and portable.

Throughout the film images from Steve's computer are mixed with the original footage. When Steve goes to a shopping center and is requested to turn of the cameras we can still see through his perspective. It was interesting when Steve pointed out that while there are cameras everywhere in the shopping mall, he is not allowed to film. He argues that by surveilling the surveillance, the invasion of privacy is neutralised.

This documentary was fairly good. While the subject fascinates me, I should like the documentary to go in the capabilities and the working of his machine a little bit more. The documentary featured a lot of footage of Steve taking pictures with flashlights, I did not see why this was relevant. But at the end of the film the director explained that at first it was hard to make contact with Steve and that the picture-taking was a way of seeing him in action without invading his personal space. The documentary gives us a glance at the life of Steve Mann without presenting any judgment or analyses of him. This sometimes disappoints me when I feel as though I knew more before I watched the documentary than after. The problem is probably that this film was made for an audience neither interested nor capable of understanding what goes on in the subject's mind. I was especially annoyed when I noticed people laughing, as though the film was some kind of 'freak show'. Well, I'm probably exaggerating here but the bottomline is that I enjoyed the film although I felt some parts were missing.

LINK: Homepage Steve Mann

Monday, November 25th: Smallpox 2002: silent weapon, seen in the cinema at the IDFA (88 min.)

This was really a mockumentary instead of a documentary. It is a hypothetical reconstruction of a smallpox attack in 2002.

After an intensive vaccination campaign in 1977, smallpox was believed to be eradicated, one of the greatest triumphs of science. The only two living samples remainging were stored in maximum security military buildings, in America and the Soviet Union. But after the Soviet Union collapsed news came out that samples were missing. Eradicating smallpox made it a very dangerous biological weapon, because smallpox is airborne it can spread like wildfire, anyone who breathes the air of someone who is infected can be infected. After the disease had been conquered, people weren't vaccinated anymore, this could explain, in a very cynical way, why the Soviet Union was so eager to eradicate the virus.

The film narrates an outbreak of the smallpox virus in 2002. We see various people telling about 'what happened' and 'news reports'. The story is that the virus was deliberatly released, not by Islam fundamentalists or Al-Quaida, but by a lunatic (so I presume) who infected himself and walked around in New York to infect as many people as possible. Nothing is discovered about his motives except an amigious message that he left to be found, a passage of Ezechiel marked in a bible narrating the spread of pestilence, famine and disorder. The outbreak wasn't noticed until it was too late because the (early) symptons of smallpox resemble the flew. The film shows how the outbreak of a virus creates global chaos and panic, turning democratric countries in totallitarian states with the military guarding the streets and the doors of hospitals and quarantaines. There are by far not enough vaccinations and the production and distribution of them is slow.

Although the outbreak starts in America, there are only one million victims in the US, while in the third world there are sixty million victims. Because of the huge population and high percentage of persons with AIDS the third world suffers the biggest losses. The epidemic paralyses the infrastructures of third world countries and the production and distribution of food and other goods halts, thus people not only die of smallpox but also of famine and various other diseases.

Later on the footage is mixed with a video diary of a boy in Brittain who stays inside his house with his mother and sister. The family is later on moved to a quarantaine. When the vaccination of the boy isn't succesful he disappears and is never seen again.

The message the filmmakers clearly want to make is that when an outbreak of smallpox occurs, the world will be devastated. Indeed the outbreak of any epidemic will devastate the world. With the advancements in genetic engineering vaccins can be rendered useless and new virii created. Humanity can never breach itself from epidemics sufficiently.

LINK: Official website

Friday November 29th, The Awful Truth (by Micheal Moore), 10 shows seen at the IDFA (10x30 min)

In these TV shows Micheal Moore mocks with the political situation and sticks up for people that are mistreated by large corporations or the government. He does this in a sometimes hilariously funny way.

For example in one show, he is concerned about policemen in New York shooting innocent black people because they mistaked what they had in their hands for a gun. He organises a campaign where black people can exchange their 'dangerous' black wallets for bright orange ones. He makes a board with a gun and a wallet and shows it to the police and educates them about the difference.

In another show he complains about the fact that certain congressman get re-electd everytime, simply because there's no one to choose from. He decides to run a plant for congress, a ficus. He makes tv commercials for the ficus, organises press meetings and urges everyone to take the ficus seriously. A lot of people eventually vote for the ficus but the people who organise the election cover up the votes. People all over the country start running ficusses as a sort of protest.

In another show he sticks up for a group of Mexicans who tried to form a union to fight the poor working conditions. The Holiday Inn, their employers, reacted by reporting them to the INS and now they were to be deported the next week. Micheal Moore pays a visit to the Holiday Inn and brings two inspectors who find a host of things to report to the medical and fire inspection. At the end of the show we are told that the Holiday Inn was forced to pay a fine and that the government achieved a settlement with the Mexicans and that they can stay legally in the US.