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last update 25.Jan.17
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4.5/5     MUST must see SEE
dir-scr Kirsten Johnson
prd Kirsten Johnson, Marilyn Ness with Kirsten Johnson, Michael Moore, Jacques Derrida, Kathy Leichter, Aisha Buker, Guy James Gray, Sejid Koso, Velma Saric, Catherine Joy Johnson, James Wilkins, Keith Forsyth, Charif Kiwan
johnson release US 9.Sep.16,
UK 27.Jan.17
16/US 1h42

Cameraperson With masterful editing, this memoir is a collection of documentary footage shot by Kirsten Johnson for a variety of projects. And as it rolls along without narration, it tells three stories, exploring the work of a cinematographer, Johnson's personal life experiences and the state of the world. It's powerfully involving, with a proper gut punch of emotion. And of course it's beautifully shot.

Johnson has travelled around the world to capture images and interviews from a wide range of people, from midwife Buker working in difficult circumstances in Nigeria, to lawyer Gray prosecuting a vicious hate crime in Texas, to Koso investigating unthinkable war atrocities in Bosnia. Her camera often seems to be trained on victims of injustice and the people who are trying against the odds to make things right. But she also finds dignity and resilience in each person's story, cutting through surfaces to reveal deeper truths about the human body and soul.

In addition to the pungent film clips, Johnson lets the audience see backstage, hearing her conversations with her subjects, including several instances where she is caught up in the emotion of the moment, perhaps filming something far more intimate than she expected. There are logistical elements, from plucking blades of grass in front of the lens or running from peril. And the title clip captures both a lightning strike and her world-rattling sneeze. But it's in the faces that the film comes most powerfully to life.

Johnson also takes the viewer into her personal life, watching her lively young twin children and seeing how her mother Catherine's final years were blurred by Alzheimer's. The film has no obvious narrative, and yet it's assembled to make clever connections between clips in urban and rural, wealthy and poor Africa, Asia, North America and Europe, artfully linking the female experience in these disparate places. These feel like separate images, yet they come together here to tell a much bigger story.

This is a beautiful portrait of a woman, her profession and the global culture she has documented in her career so far. This includes bracingly honest depictions of war, politics, religion and sport. It circles back to various stories, most notably in Bosnia, where Johnson asks questions about the brutal systematic rape of Muslim women by Christians during their violent civil war. Most importantly, the film vividly shows how impossible it is for a filmmaker to maintain her distance when there's so much pain right there in front of her.

15 themes, language, grisliness
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Zero Days
dir-scr Alex Gibney
prd Alex Gibney, Olga Kuchmenko, Marc Shmuger
with David Sanger, Gary Samore, Michael Hayden, Sean Paul McGurk, Eric Chien, Liam O'Murchu, Olli Heinonen, Yossi Melman, Richard A Clarke, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Gary D Brown, Ralph Langner
zero days release US 8.Jul.16,
UK 6.Jan.17
16/US Magnolia 1h56

Zero Days This chilling documentary, expertly assembled by Alex Gibney, explores how new technology and clashing political systems have set the world up for state-sponsored cyber attacks. The title refers to malware with "zero day" capabilities to infect computers without needing to be opened. And the film traces how one specific worm got out of the box, creating a new kind of global warfare that has no rules.

When the Stuxnet worm was discovered, experts found it far, far too sophisticated to have been made by a hacker or criminal gang, so it must come from a nation state. They also realised that it was designed to attack infrastructure controls, and that it had installed itself on almost every Windows computer on earth. The worm's primary target was clearly Iran's nuclear programme, which was progressing well within the bounds of international law. But America was set against it anyway, and developed the malware, which was unleashed by Israel. Of course, no one can officially confirm that.

Gibney does a great job crafting a sort of investigative thriller out of a bunch of internet specialists sitting at monitors trying to understand every line of code in a computer worm. The film traces Iran's nuclear history, including how the UN has closely observed every element of it from the beginning. There are moments when the film bogs down in explanations of centrifuges, but the details do help, and the story's twists and turns hold the interest.

There's a wide range of interviewees who can't really talk about classified methods of warfare, so the ones who speak openly are cleverly obscured. The real issue here is that no nation wants to admit that they're behind this kind of attack. In this case, evidence points to a joint operation called Olympic Games by Israel, American and Britain. And it only became public after Israel went off-book, releasing the worm beyond its intended use and infecting computers around the world. Which caused additional political problems and strengthened Iran's nuclear programme.

The point is that malware is now capable of actually killing people. The US military actually has a new branch, Cyber Command, capable of attacking enemies electronically, and Stuxnet was only a first volley in a new kind of covert military action that has the ability to destroy a country. Cyber weapons have to be signed off by the president, just like nuclear ones, but the problem is that anyone can get their hands on them. And if a weapon is classified to the point that it doesn't officially exist, how can any meaningful controls be put into place?

12 themes, language

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