What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran: the history behind Iran’s relationship with the US and the West

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” (ReallyGraceful, 23 November 2017)

Back in 2017 I’d been watching short history mini-documentaries on ReallyGraceful’s Youtube channel but fell out of this habit for various reasons, most of which I’m too ashamed to mention. I vow from now on to watch more of RG’s videos when I can as they are highly educational yet short enough for viewers to watch whenever they have spare time and moreover watch a second or third time to digest the information Grace gives. The videos come jam-packed with facts pulled from (I presume) many and varied sources and include stills and snippets of interviews and news articles that come and go at a steady but not rushed pace.

“What the Media Won’t Tell You about Iran” is a useful introduction to the history of Iran’s fractious relationship with the West and the United States in particular over the 20th century. It starts with how the British Empire’s need for oil to fuel its naval ships – so it could have the upper edge in fuel efficiency and speed over the naval forces of Germany, the chief economic rival of Britain in the late 19th / early 20th centuries – led that evil empire to buy a 51% stake in the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, originally founded by a London millionaire in 1908 to explore and drill for oil in Iran. In 1935, the company was renamed the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company and in 1951, the company was nationalised as an Iranian company by the Iranian government, at the time led by Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq. In 1953, Mosaddeq was deposed in a coup engineered by the CIA and elements in both the US and British governments, and the company (renamed British Petroleum) was back under British control. Twenty-five years of repressive and corrupt rule by the US-backed Shah followed. In early 1979 the Shah’s government was overthrown in a popular revolution. The Iranian Revolution led to the destabilisation of the US government under then President Jimmy Carter.

Thus began over 40 years of animosity between Iran and the United States, and by implication the West as well, with all the associated disinformation and propaganda in Western mainstream media portraying Iran as a backward, oppressive and corrupt theocracy, and the consequences this animosity had not only on Iran’s future economic development but on the stability, security and political integrity of Iran’s neighbours Afghanistan and Iraq.

In the documentary’s second half Grace moves into the present day to examine Iran’s present geopolitical context, in particular the country’s nuclear production program and how it is continually misrepresented by Western mainstream media as a nuclear weapons development program. Grace asks why wouldn’t Iran want to have a nuclear weapons development program, given that the US has destabilised Iraq and Afghanistan through invasion and continued occupation, and that Israel has long had nuclear weapons in violation of international law governing nations’ access to and use of nuclear energy. She looks at the possible agenda behind Israel’s access to nuclear energy and its production, why the US and the West turn a blind eye to Israel’s actions both overt and covert, and Israel’s interest in conquering more territory at the expense of Lebanon, Syria and other nations in its neighbourhood for its Greater Israel project. Grace concludes that ultimately US and Western actions in supporting Israel and destabilising Arab and other nations in the Middle East / North Africa region are tied to Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich nations’ continuing use of the US dollar in selling oil to the West – because US global political dominance depends very much on other nations’ dependence on US dollars (and the continued printing of US dollars by the US Treasury) for all global financial transactions.

For such a short documentary, this film ranges far and wide in time and space, touching on many topics worth investigating in more detail in their own right. Viewers will need to do their own research on the topics Grace raises in her video, if only to confirm if she is right in what she says. The film is very dense in facts and may not always drill down deeply enough into the details of how different facts and information are linked; it’s up to viewers to find these links and work out the wider narrative behind the links themselves.

American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015: US cowardice and incompetence on display over Kunduz hospital attack

Carlton Meyer, “American Special Forces Destroyed a Hospital in 2015” (Tales of the American Empire, 14 May 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s Tales of the American Empire series focuses on the US Air Force attack on a hospital, Kunduz Trauma Centre, in the city of Kunduz, northern Afghanistan, on 3 October 2015 that killed at least 42 people, injured over 30 others and left another 33 people unaccounted for. At the time of the attack, Médecins Sans Frontières was using the hospital to treat women and children and combatants from both the Taliban and pro-government forces, and had informed all warring sides including US forces of the hospital’s exact geographic coordinates (and confirmed them as well with US military officials back in September 2015). While the hospital was treating Taliban militants at the time of the attack, all these militants were unarmed. The hospital was brightly lit up at the time as well.

The episode presents the case that US Special Forces destroyed the hospital as revenge for an incident in which a C-130 transport aircraft crashed while taking off from Jalalabad, killing six American airmen and five contractors, sometime after Kunduz fell to insurgent fighters in September 2015. A quick history of the US Special Forces and its connection to the CIA and the US government in carrying out secret operations (which amount to war crimes) without informing the US Defense Department or State Department is given. It goes into much technical detail about the attack, what the hospital did to alert US military forces that it was under attack, and shows that various parties within the US military were busily shifting responsibility for the order to attack onto the crew who carried out the order to bomb the hospital. Not only did the US military and the US government cover up and avoid culpability for the attack but also later changed course to justify the attack on the hospital, and US mainstream media followed suit in covering up and then obscuring who was responsible for bombing the hospital.

The episode does well in presenting its case that the US attack on Kunduz Trauma Centre is a war crime and the US military and media reaction to the attack exposes US cowardice and incompetence. I would have liked to have seen how the attack might have fit a pattern of US military strikes on hospitals and other medical and non-military institutions in Afghanistan and other nations during wars in which the US is a major combatant either directly or indirectly through proxy armies such ISIS but perhaps that is beyond the scope of Meyer’s series to cover. There is nothing either about the consequences of the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack on the Afghan people, apart from MSF having to leave Kunduz (and how that would have affected Kunduz residents’ access to medical care and their attitude towards foreign occupying forces), or on the United States’ conduct of the war in Afghanistan. It would seem that, like so many other incidents in which US forces bombed and killed Afghan civilians and unarmed militants alike, any lessons the Kunduz Trauma Centre attack could teach have not been learned by the US and its allies.

The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978: Iran as a pawn of British and US self-interests

Carlton Meyer, “The American Occupation of Iran 1941 – 1978” (Tales of the American Empire, 13 March 2020)

So much history is covered in this short 8-minute documentary that it bears watching at least a couple of times – though a few questions might be raised at the end of the video. In 1941, broke and needing oil badly for its armed forces, Britain decided to invade Iran to seize the country’s oil rather than pay royalties to the Iranians on oil production. Claiming to be neutral, the US actually provided military aid to allow both Britain and the Soviet Union to invade the country and then partition it and seize Iranian assets. Although Iran put up a fight, its armed forces were overwhelmed. The ruling Shah (Reza Shah Pahlavi) at the time was deposed and his son Mohammed Reza Pahlavi agreed to replace him as a puppet ruler of a virtual American colony.

Under the 1941 Lend Lease Act, the US government provided military assistance to the British and the Soviets while at the same time the US public had to accept rationing of food and fuel, wage freezes and increased income taxation. Housing construction was halted and automobile factories had to switch over to producing war materiel. 30,000 US troops were sent to occupy Iran and Iran’s government had to accept Americans in major positions. Even after World War II ended, when most US troops returned home, the Iranian government under Mohammed Reza Pahlavi still relied on US advisors. Most of the country’s oil profits went to British and US oil companies, and the Shah frittered much of whatever oil profits came to Iran on buying US weapons and equipment (and setting up a nascent nuclear manufacturing program) and on enriching himself and members of his family. The US helped Mohammed Reza Pahlavi establish SAVAK, a combined secret police / domestic security / intelligence agency, which later gained notoriety among the Iranian public for torturing and executing people who opposed the Pahlavi government.

There are a few errors in Meyer’s presentation: he refers to the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company as the Anglo-American Oil Company (they were actually two different companies, the former being the forerunner of BP and the latter the forerunner of Esso) and appears to insinuate that Germany invaded Poland in 1939 after the Soviets had done so (in fact Germany invaded Poland first, then the Soviets did so). Mention of Iran nationalising the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company’s assets in the early 1950s under Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh might have a few viewers scratching their heads as to what Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and his US advisors were doing that Mossadegh would dare to nationalise a British company, as it was after this nationalisation that the British and the Americans would work together to depose Mossadegh and install a new government that would not upset London and which would allow the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company to continue keeping much of Iran’s oil wealth in its own coffers.

On the other hand, I do not have an issue with Meyer calling Iran’s current government a democracy as Iran does hold regular Presidential and parliamentary elections, however imperfect and corrupted the country’s government and political institutions may be. Indeed, Iran’s politics seems to be no more and no less “democratic” than those of Western nations where leaders are more likely to be hand-picked by their parties or other interested organisations, be they local or foreign, and presented to voters as the only choices rather than the voting electorate itself being allowed to put forward credible candidates for leadership positions.

In the last few minutes of the video, Meyer quickly updates viewers on the events that led to the downfall of the Shah in 1979. Meyer probably could have made much more of US arrogance and failure to read the mood of the Iranian general public and the widespread dissatisfaction at all levels of society with the Pahlavi royal family’s corruption and the increasing violence of SAVAK. Viewers will note the parallel between the US ignorance of the changing reality on the ground in Iran, as people joined protests and mass demonstrations against the Shah’s rule, and the current US bewilderment and panic at events in many parts of the world – in China (Hong Kong and Xinjiang), Russia, Syria and Venezuela among others – where US-supported grifters like Alexei Navalny (Russia) and Juan Guaido (Venezuela) have failed to rally public support behind them to lead a coup against governments the US desires to replace with puppet regimes. This parallel and similar parallels between the 1953 overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadegh and the 2014 overthrow of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych – both coups involved violent mobs paid by US agencies to support overthrowing those leaders – surely make 20th-century Iranian history worth studying. A third parallel may be observed between the impoverishment of the US general public during World War II and the current impoverishment of Americans, the degradation of US national infrastructures and the evisceration of US culture, education, healthcare and other social services to feed an insatiable psychopathic appetite among US elites that celebrates violence, brutality and destruction in the service of empire.

The images used in the video are old and unfortunately the later part of the video uses photographic portraits of Mohammed Reza Pahlavi while Meyer does a general survey of that Shah’s rule – surely some old film footage of the Shah’s excesses might have been available. These are perhaps minor points in what is a general historical sketch of the vicious nature of both the US and British empires and their elites in a nation that has too much of a resource that both empires still need.

Conquering the Middle East: overview of the US plan to destabilise seven nations in five years

Carlton Meyer, “Conquering the Middle East” (Tales of the American Empire, 2 April 2021)

This episode in Carlton Meyer’s long-running “Tales of the American Empire” series revolves around a long-term military policy that the US had developed some time in the 1990s to invade seven countries in the Middle East and North Africa in the space of five years, overthrow their governments and install new puppet governments friendly to the US and Israel. This policy was communicated to retired 4-star US general Wesley Clark in the weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center towers on 11 September 2001 by a colleague, also a 4-star general, who later showed Clark a classified memo from the then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld listing the seven countries targeted for invasion: Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran. Clark later spoke to Democracy Now! about the memo and the plan in 2007. By then, Iraq had been invaded and its government replaced by one amenable to the Americans (with President Saddam Hussein having been executed on 30 December 2006), Lebanon had been invaded by Israel and Somalia by Ethiopia, and Sudan was starting to break up after civil war ended in January 2005 and the southern part of the country that would later become independent South Sudan in 2011 had its autonomy restored. Syria would soon be hit by a devastating and prolonged drought that, together with the burden of coping with refugees from Iraq and Palestine, would strain the country’s economy and political stability.

Meyer’s short film connects the US policy with Israel’s notorious Yinon Plan, formed in 1982, to expand Israeli territory as far east as Baghdad and as far west to the Nile River. According to the film the strategy was supported by the US oil industry to grab new oil-fields and by the US military-industrial complex which makes huge profits from prolonged warfare with no end. The film does not say who else would have benefited from this policy though it does mention that in the case of destabilising Syria from 2011 onwards with a de facto army made up of ISIS and other jihadi mercenaries, the US struck a deal with Turkey: Turkey would receive Syrian territory along its border with Syria if it would supply arms and military and transport equipment.

The film follows the fate of each of the seven countries on the list in the order they were to be invaded and destabilised, and their governments ousted and replaced. The summaries are short but succinct: the actions of the US and the West in undermining the countries on the list are shocking, with the use of jihadi mercenaries (many recruited through social media) as a de facto army in Syria; infiltration of political, economic and cultural institutions in several of these countries; US sanctions targeting Syria and Hezbollah causing a liquidity crisis in Lebanon’s banks in 2019; the NATO invasion of Libya in 2011 resulting in the murder of Muammar Gaddafi and chaos in that country that continues to the present; US encouragement and support for Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia in 2006, leading to war for several years; and the splitting of Sudan into two nations and the replacement of former President Omar al Bashir through a coup with a president acceptable to the West. Of the seven target countries, Syria and Iran have proven more resilient than the others, with Syrian President Bashar al Assad still in power in Syria due to his leadership and strong public and military support for him along with help from Russia, Iran and Hezbollah in pushing back and defeating ISIS-allied jihadi forces; and Iran overcoming Color Revolution attempts that took place over 2017-2018 and 2019-2020. The policy of destabilising these nations still remains in place.

With the accession of Joe Biden to the US Presidency in January 2021 and the installation of Anthony Blinken as US Secretary of State, the policy has roared back into action as a virtual centrepiece of the Biden Administration’s Middle Eastern / North African foreign policy with US forces carrying out a bombing raid on Syrian territory along the Iraqi border one month into Biden’s presidency.

The film serves as a good introduction to current US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa, and to the recent histories of some of the countries on the US kill list that have been invaded and wrecked. Viewers need to do their own research to get a better understanding of the enormity of the destruction and suffering the US and the West have caused to these nations though as the film by necessity has to cover several countries quickly and the coverage is either too broad or so selective as to be almost cherry-picking. The events described in the film need to be seen in a larger context: after mention of the Yinon Plan, Israel drops out of the film’s target sights, even its invasion of Lebanon in 2006 is glossed over. Viewers will get no sense of the Biden Administration as being beholden to the US military-industrial complex, Wall Street, the media corporations, the intelligence community, foreign governments and their Capitol Hill lobbyists, and other Deep State players with their own self-serving agendas. The eager participation of Britain, France, other states in the European Union, and other Western nations in infiltrating and weakening nations like Lebanon, Libya, Syria and others – in Britain’s case, by running huge propaganda and disinformation campaigns and creating organisations (actually fronts for British companies founded by ex-intel agents) that embed themselves in target nations’ security and justice institutions – go unmentioned.

It becomes clear that the West no longer has the moral authority, if it ever did, to insist that other nations must abide by its interpretation of the international rules-based order when Western nations clearly act like vultures in picking on nations much weaker than themselves.

Red Rover: a sparing character study of human behaviour in extreme situations

Brooke Goldfinch, “Red Rover” (2015)

In less than 15 minutes, “Red Rover” explores very minimally in a character-driven study the reactions of individuals and a community to an imminent global disaster, with the suggestion that future apocalypses and the destruction of civilisation are more likely to be caused by humans themselves than by whatever natural disaster triggers the apocalypse. In a world where lockdowns, mass hysteria and the sudden wipe-out of civil liberties may have caused far more deaths than the mystery COVID-19 pandemic itself has done to justify such government actions, this short film gains more relevance than it would have done otherwise. Two teenagers, Lauren (Natalie Racoosin) and Conrad (Christopher Gray) plot their escape from a remote and insular Christian religious community when they discover that everyone in the community has agreed to commit mass suicide via a communal Thanksgiving-style feast ahead of a supposed imminent asteroid crash into the planet. The two youngsters plan to take Lauren’s young brother John (Ian Etheridge) with them but disaster intervenes. With their families dead, the teenagers travel into town to find shelter. They accidentally come across a group sex orgy in which all the participants are high on drugs. The youngsters continue their search and muse on their future together: marriage, children, establishing a home together. Unfortunately too late Lauren and Conrad discover their time together to achieve what they want is much, much shorter than they’d prefer.

With spare acting and even more spare dialogue, Racoosin and Gray infuse life and credibility into young people who have had limited life experiences and who are at a loss in dealing with a world outside their community. They are forced to grow up more quickly than they expected to; at the same time they cling to remnants of the world that has suddenly destroyed itself, in heart-breaking scenes where Lauren dons a ballgown and Conrad talks about taking her to the prom and marrying her. The minor cast playing the teenagers’ parents do good work sketching out their families’ cult-like behaviours in very early scenes. The film crew pay close attention to the details of background surroundings: the dining room scene with a table heaped up with poisoned foods, the barren township with abandoned cars, plastic sheets scuttling across empty roads and broken glass in shopfronts.

An impression of the world falling apart, even before the asteroid may arrive, and the sad, passive resignation and melancholy that greet Lauren and Conrad wherever they go, linger long after the film ends in a blaze of light. In spite of this, the two teenagers seem determined to experience freedom and the joy of living in the short time they have together. The film drives home the point that even in the face of imminent extinction, people can still choose to live life defiantly and to its full extent. The reactions of two communities, at first utterly unlike each other but with more similarities than either of them can imagine, to the asteroid strike are sure to provoke much personal reflection or communal discussion about the nature of human denial and passivity in extreme situations.

Metal from the Dirt: a short surface survey of Navajo extreme metal

Clarke Tolton, “Metal from the Dirt” (2018)

Unfortunately like other documentaries I have seen on underground heavy metal, Clarke Tolton’s documentary on the underground heavy metal scene among the Navajo people in the United States doesn’t actually feature any of the music from the bands it focuses on. The Navajo are the largest First Nation in North America and have a large reservation stretching over northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico. Much of their land is remote desert with few highways and the sense of a vast land and being cut off from the outside world is very strong even in this short documentary. Lack of opportunity and access to education and work, unemployment, poverty and the psychological and social problems associated with these phenomena – various substance addictions, depression, a high level of suicide – are rife. Cultural trauma arising from loss of indigenous culture and values, and from past actions from the US government amounting to genocide, afflicts the Navajo. The frustration and desperation with their situation have encouraged the Navajo to take up heavy metal and especially extreme forms of metal such as death metal and black metal, with which the Navajo readily perceive parallels with aspects of their original culture. The scene, known as rez metal (“rez” being short for “reservation”) that has developed is a close communal one in which musicians and their fans and families support one another and express their traditional Navajo cultural heritage and values.

There are good interviews with individuals associated with Navajo metal bands like I Dont Konform, Mutilated Tyrant, Ashtaroth and Born of Winter. Despite having grown up poor in impoverished communities, these people readily perceive the problems they have and are very articulate in detailing the problems and issues they and their communities face. A strong DIY tradition exists among the rez metal bands: they amass huge cassette collections, and I am betting most of those cassettes feature self-recorded work that they share among their friends and other bands. Unfortunately the documentary does not say if bands share members and instruments, and act as roadies for one another.

The most interesting part of the documentary comes quite late in which one musician explains how black metal conventions and rituals mesh well with Navajo spirituality and religion. The wearing of corpse-paint matches the use of black and white paint by Navajo shamans; and black metal performances can be spiritual and transformative in the sense that performers and fans alike can forget (temporarily at least) their everyday cares and enter a different world through the portal of music where they find connection.

The cinematography is very good with an emphasis on the remoteness and isolation of Navajo people from the outside world, forcing them to be self-sufficient (which explains the DIY tradition) and to emphasise communal values over individual self-interest. Landscapes are very dramatic and there are scenes of mountains and valleys that could be straight out of science fantasy novels and films, and scenes where groups of musicians stand alone in the vast desert, silhouetted by blazing sunsets.

If only some of the bands’ music had been featured in the soundtrack, even as snippets of songs, I’d have been quite happy with this documentary, short as it is and only brushing the surface of a fascinating music scene. Tolton and other film-makers making documentaries on underground heavy metal are best advised to make their films for the people and the bands they are filming, and not for a “mainstream” public audience.

Hard Reset: a predictable and tired short film on human and AI relations in a future materialist society

Deepak Chetty, “Hard Reset” (2016)

The premise and the plot are predictable and rather tired, as are also the “Blade Runner” urban setting and that film’s use of the hard-boiled detective narrative together with science fiction tropes. In the not-too distant future, artificial intelligence is used to create cyborgs, known as synths, programmed to serve human beings in a limited number of ways – as miners, explorers, entertainers and prostitutes – that bespeak the materialist / consumerist orientation of society. These synths have no free will; indeed, giving them free will is a crime punishable by death as decreed by the bureaucracy, GovCentral. In this world, young detective Archer (Oryan Landa) finds solace with a synth, Jane PS626, to whom he pours out his dreams. The synth has to leave him for another customer who, against the laws of their society, programs her to have free will. The synth later kills him and Archer and his partner Sebastian (Holt Boggs) are sent out to terminate her if necessary.

With Archer having feelings for Jane PS626, and those feelings being reciprocated, bringing the synth to justice or just bringing her down becomes a complicated business for Sebastian and the three synth enforcers he brings along. Sebastian just wants to do his job, get his money and maybe a promotion, and be pals with Archer. Archer finds connection with Jane PS626 and the two escape to a derelict lot (shades of “Blade Runner”!) on the edge of the city. Sebastian and his enforcers track them down and the scene is set for an almighty confrontation.

As in “Blade Runner”, humans are portrayed as either existentially lonely, alienated beings who rediscover their humanity through a synthetic humanoid, or as dehumanised robot creatures. One wonders how Archer and Sebastian became friends as well as partners in the first place, the two men being so different. Jane PS626 learns to love and care for Archer in the brief time they have together. Just when viewers think they have seen the climax, as in most films featured on the DUST science fiction channel, “Hard Reset” introduces a twist into the plot – that’s why it’s called “Hard Reset” after all. We realise we have seen an alternative plot in which Archer reclaims his humanity, though briefly. The “real” plot is the one where Archer fails to seize the opportunity to escape his humdrum existence and as a result loses Jane PS626 – forever. He may never know what it’s really like to be human and is doomed to dream forever with no-one to share his dreams with.

Landa is appealing as Archer though he plays the character in the way I imagine Ethan Hawke would have done: the brooding, troubled Archer is drawn and fleshed out in a way that would have suited Hawke. McAdam is beautifully luminous as Jane PS626 but is not given a great deal to do; even Joanna Cassidy’s Zhora and Daryl Hannah’s Pris in their brief moments in “Blade Runner” had definite identities and despite having been made for very specific roles (Pris being a pleasure replicant) they both displayed abilities far beyond what they were required to be. As Landa and McAdam carry the film, viewers are entitled to think they’d be more than stereotypes. The rest of the cast do what they can in their constrained roles. The special effects are good for a short 40-minute film with a limited budget.

At least the film asks viewers to consider the morality of treating humanoid artificial beings in ways we would consider treating real humans as immoral. Synths may not have free will or the ability to know right from wrong, but just as exploiting animals because their cognition appears limited compared to humans is wrong, why then would exploiting machines with some limited cognition or self-awareness be moral? One might also consider that humans out of touch with their morality or humanity are no more deserving of compassion or empathy than those they treat grievously. This is a theme also of “Blade Runner”.

Unregistered: living authentically versus living a comfortable but insecure lie

Sophia Banks, “Unregistered” (2018)

This short film commenting on the treatment of undocumented immigrants in the United States during Donald Trump’s presidency (2017 – 2021) has a lush treatment that suggests it could be a pilot for a television series or a full-length movie. Rekker and Ata are two teenagers in love: we first meet them wandering through an open forest bathed in radiant sunlight. The first inkling that all might not be what meets the eye is Ata’s concern for her contact lens which she has lost in the forest undergrowth. At the same time images of her looking through a screen at herself and Rekker walking through the forest pop up briefly throughout the scene. Rekker wants to know why Ata keeps recording their moves in real time, and Ata replies evasively.

The two hear a megaphone message and they pass through the scene and into everyday city life in Los Angeles. Viewers realise the forest scene was an artificial creation, hologram-like yet apparently three-dimensional with objects that acted and felt like their real counterparts. Almost straight away a stranger not far from Rekker and Ata is identified by drones as “unregistered” – having been scanned by the drones, he is found not to have an identity they recognise, so they drop a cyber-cage over him and trap him – and police quickly move in, remove the cage and subdue him. They take him away to be deported to a camp.

Much of the rest of this love story cum police-state dystopia concerns the tension that arises between Ata and Rekker, as Rekker challenges Ata’s attitude towards living in a world of unreality, accepting comfort and security at the cost of giving up political freedoms and being able to choose to live authentically. The film later shows Ata at home with her parents, the parents being revealed as administrators in the police-state bureaucracy, and the tensions that develop between the parents and the daughter. Rekker drops by to give Ata a birthday present and at this point an unexpected plot twist also drops into the narrative, forcing Rekker to make a choice that will change his life and Ata’s life forever.

While the plot seems unfinished and the characters are rather shallow, the film makes a clear point about being able to choose an authentic life in which individuals can make choices and bear responsibility for those choices, as opposed to living vicariously through simulations or other people’s experiences, and not having the ability to choose what to experience and what to avoid. A life of comfort, security and conformity is shown to be no compensation for living under constant surveillance and in fear of being arrested and imprisoned.

The American Colony of Australia: how a master-slave relationship came into being

Carlton Meyer, “The American Colony of Australia” (Tales of the American Empire, 19 February 2021)

In this installment of his ongoing series of the extent and depth of the United States’ imperialist clutches on nations around Planet Earth, director / narrator Carlton Meyer surveys how Australia quickly passed from British imperialist control to US imperialist control during the 20th century; and how from the 1970s onwards, with the infamous November 1975 coup that felled Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, the US tightened its grip on Australian politics and society to the point that Australia is no longer an independent sovereign player in its part of the world (southwest Pacific) but through its security and military links is beholden to Washington DC and can make no independent decisions of its own without US approval. Meyer briefly points out that before the 1920s, Australia (even after declaring itself a dominion within the British Empire in 1901) was still very much a British colony, having to supply soldiers and raw materials to Britain during World War I in which almost an entire generation of young Australian men was wiped out, setting the stage for future decades in which political, economic and social leadership for want of talented men stagnated in this wide brown land. After World War II, during which Australians worked together with Americans to push back Japanese military forces, Australia fell quickly into subservience to the US: this meant supplying cannon folder to fight US wars in the Korean peninsula, Vietnam and other nations over the rest of the 20th century and well into the 21st century, with at least hundreds of Australian troops still stationed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Meyer’s main focus in this short documentary sketch is on two US-backed coups against the Australian government in 1975, when Gough Whitlam was sacked as Prime Minister by Governor General Sir John Kerr on the day when Whitlam planned to reveal in Parliament the extent of American spying on Australia through its Pine Gap facility; and in 2010, when Kevin Rudd was replaced by Julia Gillard as Prime Minister just days before federal general elections. In Rudd’s case, his crime in American eyes was to advocate working with China, Australia’s largest trading partner, rather than against China: a point of view that did not sit well with then US President Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” policy which aimed at isolating China by drawing in neighbouring states including Australia away from Beijing in trade and other forms of co-operation and into the US orbit. Gillard was seen as a suitable replacement for Rudd in part because of her support for Israel. After Rudd was deposed, Gillard quickly gave the US armed forces the use of military bases in places like Darwin and Fremantle around the nation, so that now US troops are more or less permanently stationed (through rotation) at these bases and train there. US penetration of the Australian armed forces is now wide enough and deep enough that the Australian military has become dependent on the US for orders and is incapable of acting on its own initiative, though Meyer does not go into detail as to how that situation began and developed over time.

Photographs and video stills are used to emphasise and support Meyer’s narrative and a map shows the extent of US military and surveillance bases in Australia. Many Australians may be alarmed (but not surprised) to know that all phone and email conversations and transactions in Australia are captured by the US. The highlight of the mini-documentary is a film of US political commentator John Mearsheimer, while visiting Australia, addressing an audience in a speech sponsored by an Australian think-tank, in which he explains how Australia, if it chooses to work with China or any other nation the US does not like, will be regarded as an enemy of the US and treated accordingly. That is to say, Australia will be subjected to economic and other pressures, some of which will be of a kind considered as war crimes if they were enacted by any other country, and to regime change of the sort suffered by Whitlam in 1975 and Rudd in 2010.

In such a short mini-documentary as this, the narrative tends to flit from one topic to another at a speedy pace in spite of Meyer’s minimal presentation. As a result, analysis is thin and sketchy, and viewers are best advised to do further research themselves on particular issues raised in the film that they are interested in. The value of this short documentary is to demonstrate to Americans and Australians alike that the relationship between the two countries is not a friendship of equals but a master-slave relationship in which the slave nation must know its place and accept its inferiority or be punished severely. For most people in both countries, this short documentary will be a real eye-opener.

Alone: drama and emotion in a tiny space-pod

William Hellmuth, “Alone” (2020)

A moving film about connection – and about how so strong humans’ need for connection can be that some individuals will travel across the universe for it – “Alone” packs in plenty of drama and emotion in very tight and limited environments. Astronaut engineer Kaya Torres (Stephanie Barkley) is separated from her research ship by an unseen disaster and her tiny pod is now languishing in orbit around a black hole. Torres sends out distress calls while she works out what to do and her calls for help are answered by Hammer (Thomas Wilson Brown), a cartographer marooned on a distant planet. Over several days as Torres’ situation grows increasingly desperate, the astronaut and the cartographer come to know and to care for each other. When her supplies have nearly run out, Torres drives her pod through the black hole and lands on Hammer’s planet. She follows a line of lights into a cave where a disheartening truth awaits her.

The film is a good study of human character under pressure in extreme isolation – Torres is light years away from human society, and no-one knows where she is or even if she exists – and Barkley does an excellent job inhabiting the character and her fears. The extreme isolation of space and how knowing how far away you are from the rest of humanity might affect your self-identity – after all, we often define ourselves in opposition against some humans or communities of humans – and throughout the film viewers can see Torres slowly disintegrating psychologically. From a brash person with a potty mouth and a stubborn spirit, Torres gradually becomes more fearful, succumbs to the demon hooch and relies more and more on Hammer’s communications through their computers to keep her going. She soon becomes obsessed with finding Hammer.

The film relies on good acting, which Barkley supplies plenty of, and the plot moves at a fairly brisk place. There’s not much time given over to philosophising and regretting the day when one had to board the research ship some time before catastrophe struck it. Barkley establishes her character as stoic and practical but over time Torres deteriorates visibly as her hopes of being rescued fade. As Hammer, Brown has harder work to do making his voice seem human, given the dialogue he has to deliver which reveals he does not know what vodka is. There is a suggestion that Hammer may not really be human at all. It is this fear perhaps that drives Torres to search him out and find out who he really is.

The technical effects are good without being remarkable for a short film on a tiny budget. The whole film is driven by dialogue and what the actors do with it. The plot’s climax cleverly is a test of Torres’ character and almost results in a cliff-hanger ending. The film seems to beg for a sequel but I consider it self-contained and complete.