TIFF 2021: Flee is a Riveting Documentary About an Afghan Refugee

Flee is a devastating yet beautiful mixture of realism and un-reality. Vice Studios

Documentary realism rarely goes hand-in-hand with animated un-reality, but in Jonas Poher Rasmussen’s Flee, those two aesthetic worlds collide and create a feeling of being unmoored. The film follows Rasmussen’s long-time friend Amin Nawabi—a pseudonym to protect his identity—via interviews about his secretive escape from war-torn Kabul in the 1980s, his perilous refugee journey through several countries, and his life as a gay Muslim man who, one way or another, has to hide some part of himself. In a mere 90 minutes, the film plunges the audience into the depths of refugee trauma and the systems set in place to strip people of their dignity, but it also builds to moments of stunning euphoria, and to a moving, deeply considered understanding of the way Nawabi has had to compartmentalize his soul.

The film occasionally follows Nawabi during his daily routine, but for most of the interview segments, he lies supine, with the camera suspended above him, as if it were documenting a closed session of long-overdue therapy. These interviews are animated—rotoscoped, in fact—so as to hide Nawabi’s face, but even the most insignificant of noises are turned up in the sound mix, like Nawabi’s tense breath, and the way he shifts into position when he lays down to speak. His concealed reality frequently pierces the animated veil. Art director Jess Nicholls re-creates his subtle glances off-camera, as his doubts about revealing himself and his painful story come to the fore. Eventually, he makes stunning confessions to his friend Rasmussen, about his family and their whereabouts, which he has revealed to no one—not even his long-term boyfriend—for the nearly two decades he’s lived in Denmark.

Flee ★★★★
(4/4 stars)
Directed by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Written by: Jonas Poher Rasmussen
Running time: 90 mins.

The frame stands completely still when it captures Nawabi’s hesitance, but when he begins telling his story, it zips through time and space. Archival live-action footage establishes the broader political backdrop, while Nawabi’s intimate flashbacks transform in animation style. They capture his youthful zeal as a bit of an oddball child, with sweet crushes on Hollywood and Bollywood leading men, and a soundtrack of European and American pop music blasting from his pink headphones as he frolics through the streets. These flashbacks also capture the vague shapes of crumbling buildings and empty, transparent silhouettes of Afghan bystanders fleeing the US-USSR conflict. Nawabi’s memories of childhood happiness with his mother and his many siblings feel warm, and whole, but his memories of the war start out as suppressed. They lack finer details. These are eventually filled in the more he opens up—to the camera, and to himself.

His journey takes years, and it breaks up his family bit by bit, as they’re forced to navigate cruel and expensive traffickers and corrupt local authorities in several countries, who are hell-bent on using ghoulish immigration laws against them. Some of this quiet barbarism is downright nauseating, not because physical cruelty is overtly depicted, but because of how the film captures and magnifies its depressing impact, turning people, once again, into shaded sketches, where their humanity becomes lost. At their most monstrous, these events—as recalled by Nawabi—even lead to the animation becoming disintegrated and abstract as he migrates from region to region, as if he were unable to find any semblance of belonging, or permanence, or solid ground.

The effects of Nawabi’s trauma linger in the present. His decisions are often clinical and career-focused, born of a personal resolve to live up to his family’s sacrifices, and born of a gnawing survivor’s guilt that prevents him from pursuing happiness. He also opens each new chapter of his story with a fearful quiver in his voice. His stress doesn’t seem to subside no matter how close he is to Rasmussen, because of the way his story and legal status have been used against him in the past. In the present, he remains closed off from the world as a means to survive.

The original score, by Uno Helmersson, matches Nawabi’s most hopeless recollections through heavy strings that sink into the pit of your stomach. Its most memorable notes, however, arrive during a particularly pulsating scene, where the tension of Nawabi revealing a secret part of himself gives way to an unexpected display of acceptance. The music, while as hesitant and restrained as Nawabi by design, pushes forward regardless, and builds to a moment of liberation that, while fleeting, feels emotionally exhilarating. The film’s visual and aural fabric, after embodying so much anguish and indignity, radiates an overwhelming warmth and tenderness—a uniquely moving catharsis.  

An unfortunately timely film, Flee uses animation primarily to sharpen the dangerous edges of its refugee story, and to capture the devastating physical and emotional toll of never-ending war. But in brief moments, the film acts as a spiritual balm, offering hints and possibilities of a world where Nawabi might one day be able to fully share himself with other people. Where he might one day feel whole.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Flee’ Is a Riveting Animated Documentary About an Afghan Refugee

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Review ‘Muhammad Ali’: Ken Burns Documentary Enthralling

As many times as this story has been told, it will never be told better than in the enthralling eight-hour Ken Burns documentary.


hat’s my name?” Muhammad Ali kept asking, with his fists as well as his mouth. Here’s one to the jaw.

“What’s my name?” Bam. Here’s one to the eye.

“What’s my name?” Ali wanted to know, putting the question to Ernie Terrell in a gruesome February 1967 championship dismantling. Terrell, in pre-fight interviews, had insisted on calling Ali by his birth name, Cassius Clay. Ali had decided that was his “slave name,” although it was really his father’s name, and before that the name of a famous Kentucky abolitionist. Ali said he would punish Terrell for deliberately misnaming him, and made good

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A Look at the Documentary ‘Corporate Welfare: Where’s the Outrage?’

Today’s politicians want to spend more on EVERYTHING: Amtrak subsidies, sports stadium subsidies, green energy subsidies, even fossil fuel subsidies …

President Joe Biden says the handouts will “put more money in your pocket.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi claims they will “protect the planet for the children.”

They might. But a disproportionate amount of the money will end up in the hands of big companies — the ones with the most lawyers and lobbyists.

A new documentary, “Corporate Welfare: Where’s the Outrage?” gives examples of this. This week, my new video covers two of the worst.

First, tax “breaks.”

Memphis, Tennessee, has a program called the Economic Development Growth Engine, meant to entice new businesses to move to Memphis by giving them tax breaks.

The Growth Engine gave Swedish furniture maker IKEA a $9.5 million tax break. In exchange, IKEA agreed to create 175 new jobs.

Local furniture sellers pushed back.

“What about us?” asks Ron Becker, owner of The Great American Home Store. “We pay taxes here. Where is our financial incentive?

Good question. Lower taxes would be a good incentive. But Memphis politicians can’t lower taxes when they’re giving big companies tax breaks.

Such tax breaks are complex, so it’s big companies with plenty of tax accountants that generally get them.

Memphis is “pitting these gigantic corporations who know the government and have tons of lobbyists against mom and pop shops in our community that we’re trying to save,” complains Mark Cunningham of the Beacon Center, Tennessee’s free market think tank. “You’re basically asking people to pay more tax dollars in order for their competitor to succeed over them.”

“These are our tax dollars,” he adds. “We work really hard for them. They should go to things we need: essential government services, roads, schools, police, fire. … It’s just not the role of government to give money to big corporations.”

Two years later, IKEA still hasn’t created all the jobs they promised, and several local furniture stores closed.

“Such programs begin with good intentions,” documentary host Johan Norberg points out, “but they result in unintended consequences.”

He covers another handout with nasty unintended consequences: farm subsidies.

Farm Bill supporters claim handouts and special crop insurance deals are needed to guarantee America’s stable food supply.

That’s bunk. Fruit and vegetable farmers get no subsidies. There are no shortages of apples or pears. Crops do fine without subsidies.

“Only the big guys who have the resources” get subsidies, explains Mercatus Center economist Veronique de Rugy.

Some are not even American companies.

“The largest pork producer in the U.S., Chinese-owned Smithfield Foods, increased consumer prices,” says Norberg. “Yet they still benefited from the government subsidy system, heavily lobbying to keep feed prices low. It’s estimated that in 2019 alone, agribusiness spent over $135 million on lobbying.”

It’s worth spending $135 million to get billions in return.

By contrast, Jeff Hawkins spends nothing on lobbying.

Hawkins owns a farm in Indiana. He sells chicken to restaurant owner Pete Eshleman. The Indiana legislature asked Hawkins and Eshleman to give a presentation on farmer’s markets and local restaurants.

When they finished speaking, Indiana politicians told them that selling chicken directly to restaurants is “illegal.” The Indiana Farm Bureau, State Poultry Association and Pork Producers Association all testified in favor of banning direct farm-to-restaurant sales.

“They basically came up with a story that small farms processing chicken on the farm is a health risk,” complains Eshleman.

What really happened was that bigger, politically connected farms used the legislature to ban competition.

But Hawkins’ chicken was popular. His customers complained on social media and flooded the phone lines of state representatives.

In a rare twist, the politicians gave in.

Now, says Norberg, “restaurants like Pete Eshelman’s can serve locally sourced poultry, and neighbors have a choice in the food that they eat.”

It was a small victory against America’s anti-freedom, pro-big business, welfare-for-the-rich regulations.

You can watch Norberg’s full documentary at FreeToChooseNetwork.org.

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CBS reality series ‘The Activist’ to be ‘reimagined’ as documentary after taking heat for pitting activists against each other in ‘dystopian’ competition

Producers of a new reality TV show that planned to set activists against each other to fight for prize money have decided to “reimagine” the competition series as a documentary following intense backlash on social media.

Critics immediately denounced “The Activist,” which was set to air on CBS starting Oct. 22, after the show’s format was announced last week, slamming the series as a “dystopian” misrepresentation of the real goals and values of activism.

In a joint statement issued Thursday, CBS and production partners Global Citizen and Live Nation apologized to critics for the show’s ill-advised messaging.

“Global activism centers on collaboration and cooperation, not competition. We apologize to the activists, hosts, and the larger activist community — we got it wrong,” said Global Citizen, an international advocacy organization, in a preview to the joint statement.

Instead of airing a five-week series featuring six activists going head-to-head in challenges to promote their causes as originally planned, producers said the project will be converted into a documentary special showcasing the “tireless work” of the six activists without any competitive element.

“The Activist was designed to show a wide audience the passion, long hours, and ingenuity that activists put into changing the world, hopefully inspiring others to do the same,” read the joint statement. “However, it has become apparent the format of the show as announced distracts from the vital work these incredible activists do in their communities every day. The push for global change is not a competition and requires a global effort.”

“As a result, we are changing the format to remove the competitive element and reimagining the concept into a primetime documentary special (air date to be announced),” the statement continued. “It will showcase the tireless work of six activists and the impact they have advocating for causes they deeply believe in. Each activist will be awarded a cash grant for the organization of their choice, as was planned for the original show.”

It was not immediately clear what role the celebrity judges — Usher, Priyanka Chopra Jonas, and Julianne Hough — would play in the new project.

Hough, for one, issued a public apology amid the social media outrage, which she characterized as a “powerful demonstration of real-time activism.”

“Thank you for using your voices, calling me in, your accountability, and your candor. I am deeply listening with an open heart and mind,” the celebrity said in an Instagram post.

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Nowhere Inn Star Carrie Brownstein Explains Her ‘Meta Documentary’

Annie Clark and Carrie Brownstein in The Nowhere Inn. IFC Films

Carrie Brownstein’s work has always turned our expectations of the world on their head. As a musician, in Sleater-Kinney and Wild Flag, Brownstein has written songs with real meaning, taking on political and social topics other artists avoided. As an actress and writer, Brownstein has perfected the art of satire, first with breakout series Portlandia and now with The Nowhere Inn, a film co-written by Brownstein and St. Vincent’s Annie Clark.

The film, in theaters and on digital September 17th, is deeply unexpected—and one that’s best to go into knowing as little as possible. It’s framed as a documentary about St. Vincent, intercut with musical performances, but The Nowhere Inn becomes a pensive, tongue-in-cheek look at identity and persona. Brownstein plays a version of herself, a filmmaker tasked with making the documentary about St. Vincent interesting, and she and Clark also explore their real-life friendship as the story unfolds.

For Brownstein, who has recently penned a biopic of the band Heart (which she also plans to direct), The Nowhere Inn was a way to explore some significant questions about who we are and how we present ourselves to each other. We spoke with Brownstein about how the film came to be, its inspirations and why she feels art is best created off-center.

Observer: Where did the idea for this film come from?

Brownstein: It started from conversation that Annie and I have had kind of perennially as friends who happen to be in similar creative spheres, about authenticity and relatability and veracity. Also, our genuine affection for music documentaries and what they reveal and what they keep hidden. It stemmed from an ongoing discourse. But as we started to write it we realized that we didn’t want to approach music in a linear way. Part of the magic that draws us to it is indescribable and ineffable. We wanted to capture some of that impossibility and to ask to more questions than we provided answers. And to turn things on their head. It was a process that kept revealing itself to us until we were able to draw a handful of influences and throw out the idea of a straight-up documentary and make something that embraced what we love about film and music.

What were some of those influences?

Things like Persona. Things like The Man Who Fell to Earth. Phantom of the Paradise. Lots of Nicolas Roeg. The movie Privilege. Weird, esoteric movies, I guess.

Had you and Annie written anything together before this?

No. We hadn’t really. As Annie was beginning her Mass Seduction press cycle she had asked me to help her write some little interstitials for fake interview answers. So I remember we sat down in L.A. and spent an afternoon working on that. But our friendship has always entailed certain kinds of collaborative give and take. We sent each other snippets of songs or lyrics or ideas. We have a lot of trust in each other’s feedback and constructive criticism, so it wasn’t at odds with the dynamic we already have.

Would you describe this film as a documentary or is it something else?

It’s completely scripted, so I don’t know. That would be a real mindfuck to be like, “No, this a pure documentary. That’s Annie’s family and this is how we both are.” People would be like, “Whoa, that’s crazy.” That’s a great question because I don’t think I’ve had to describe it to anyone. I always just say, “You have to see it.” I haven’t been tasked with describing it. Someone in an earlier interview said, “This movie has been described as a meta documentary.” I didn’t come up with that, but sure. Maybe it is a meta documentary. I guess it requires some kind of neologism. But it’s just a movie.

One of my favorite ways to see something is with no background. Like when someone recommends a film to me I usually say, “Stop there. Don’t tell me anything about it.” No matter what the genre is. That just allows a submersion without preconceived ideas. You’re always operating in relation to the narrative you had going into it. If somebody tells you “The movie is like this” then your experience is shaped by what you assume you’re going to be watching.

As you were considering the concept of identity, did you come up with any sort of answer as to why we’re so obsessed with the rock star persona?

I don’t feel like we were seeking answers as much as we were aiming to explore and ask questions and enjoy the 360-degree trip of exploration and discovery. If anything, I’m more interested in maintaining mystery than I am in unraveling it.

What was the main question you wanted to pose?

For a practical and almost personal level we were thinking about why there is such an onus on celebrity—and often female celebrities are more tasked with this—of being relatable and being likable. Of exposing something vulnerable and tender, but then also simultaneously needing to be larger than life and unattainable. It seems like an impossible contradiction to uphold. I think that was definitely one of our questions. Why it’s necessary to know. Why you would want all of that magic exposed and revealed. To me, that seems antithetical in the space that art occupies, and not just music. To surrender to something I don’t think requires full cerebral awareness. There’s an emotional relationship to art that I don’t think requires biographical detail.

We were exploring that, but we were also interested in reveling the unknown of someone. Respecting and even allowing oneself to be kind of frightened and disarmed by how much you don’t know. How much you might never be able to know. To question what your relationship is to something that always feels just out of reach. Especially in this age of hyperawareness and instant gratification and a very voracious desire for detail. I think we were trying to explore that in a friendship, too. You’re always trying to peel back that layer, like “Is this really you? Is this really you?” And ending up at the answer of “Oh, maybe this isn’t really me either.” Which is one life’s longest journeys: Trying to get the core of who we are. And, for the most part, we were trying to have fun with all these things. Do a dance around all of these ideas in a way that is hopefully entertaining and not heavy-handed.

In the film, your characters talk about how making art can mean always feeling at odds with the world at large. Do you actually feel that way?

My feeling is that I’m very perplexed by this idea that the things we value are always at the center or the zeitgeist. We value the nowness. When you look back so much of what resonates are things that are actually out of step with their time. They’re ahead of it. They’re concomitant to it. They’re maybe behind it. But they’re not in lock step. And I think we’re just in this strange time where we’re supposed to be showing up fully formed and maybe that’s good for people and relationships, but I don’t know how good it is for art. The artist’s job is vacillate and find the outer edges of things and not just be aiming for the exact bullseye. There shouldn’t be a bullseye. To me, that is just the most conformist thing.

Personally, I struggle because we’re like, “Oh, we’ve got to be aiming for that bullseye.” But there’s something that feels so grotesquely capitalist about this idea of an artistic bullseye. How could that bullseye not be a product of mediocrity and capitalism. But then you’re like, “Wait—I do want that!” So you aim for that far edge and hope people come meet you over there. There’s a lot of value on things hitting now in the moment and it takes a lot of patience and faith in yourself to trust that if you’re not right in that fiery core of normalcy that people will still find you.

‘The Nowhere Inn’ Intentionally Evades the ‘Grotesquely Capitalist Artistic Bullseye’

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Nat Geo’s flowery Fauci documentary is getting absolutely torched online: ‘Pure garbage,’ ‘Worst doc ever,’ ‘This man belongs in prison’

A new National Geographic documentary portraying Dr. Anthony Fauci as an American hero and one of the country’s most dedicated public servants is getting mercilessly shredded by critics online.

What are the details?

The documentary, simply titled “Fauci,” aimed to show off the shrewdness and brilliance of the longtime National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases director known for managing America’s national response to the AIDS epidemic and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

But based on early reaction, that objective was a complete miss. Since debuting in select theaters on Sept. 10, the film has garnered nothing short of an embarrassingly negative response.

As of Monday afternoon, a trailer for the documentary posted on YouTube showed 59,000 dislikes in comparison to just over 4,000 likes.

The documentary is similarly unpopular on IMDB.com, where more than a thousand users have given the project an embarrassing 2.1/10 rating.

Fauci | Official Trailer | National Geographic Documentary Films


The film’s failure, however, may have less to do with the quality of the production and more to do with its slanted admiration for the unpopular subject.

According to one reviewer, the film is “clearly enamored with its subject who has attained movie-star-level fame.” But that is not a sentiment shared by many.

Fauci, despite being revered by progressive lawmakers and mainstream media figures, has long since fallen out of favor with much of the American populace, who are tired of his support for draconian health guidelines, endless economic shutdowns, and vaccine mandates.

That’s not to mention the fact that many Americans justifiably hold some level of suspicion towards Fauci over his involvement in funding risky gain-of-function research in Wuhan, China, where the virus originated.

What are people saying?

Comments posted on YouTube and reviews posted on IMDB drip with vitriol towards the documentary and its portrayal of the infectious disease expert. Below is just a small sampling:

  • “Pure garbage: Worst doc ever, I would give negative stars if it were possible.”
  • “You’ve got to be kidding: This man belongs in prison. He’s literally lied to Americans and destroyed lives. How in god’s name is anyone making a movie idolizing this criminal?”
  • “Absolute garbage. Can’t even believe this is a thing.”
  • “Propaganda 101. Prop em up on a pedestal and shine a big bright light on them to blind us from the lies. Glad to see from the rating and comments, the public is more awake than I thought.”
  • “He used US money to pay China to develop this virus. It’s his fault we are in this mess. We demand justice.”
  • “This man is one of the worst humans to ever walk the Earth. His lies, deceit, and empowered mistruth by the current administration does not deserve a documentary.”
  • “If this is not damage control, I don’t know what is…”
  • “Props to the camera crew for being able to keep the tail and horns out of frame for the whole movie.”
  • “Quite literally nobody wants to see this fraud depicted as something he isn’t.”

Another YouTube commenter noted the irony of a line used in the film, which says, “If you are a public servant, you don’t do it for the money.” As the commenter went on to point out, Fauci is the highest-paid federal employee, making $417,608 a year.

As if frequent interviews with Fauci were not enough to turn off critics, the producers trotted out notable controversial figures such as Bill Gates and Susan Rice to say nice things about the public health expert.

Despite their best attempts, it seems, America’s opinions on Fauci are settled. The only thing that remains now is to see how large the dislike count will grow.

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Review: ‘Fauci’ a Phony Big-Screen Documentary

Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks to reporters after briefing Senators on the coronavirus outbreak in China on Capitol Hill, January 24, 2020. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Deconstructing National Geographic’s propaganda pitch

You might be one of those people who never want to see Anthony Fauci’s face on TV again — or not. But it’s likely that the man himself will be broadcast and rebroadcast continuously, using the power status that Fauci has attained to further the current administration’s COVID protocols. There’s no better insight into this ideological puffery than the publicity campaign for the new documentary Fauci. This fascinating aspect of film culture is crafty and demands close scrutiny.

Presented by National Geographic, the same outfit responsible for Genius, the other Aretha Franklin biopic, Fauci is being sold with similar veneration. It’s not a film about science but about “following the science” of public leadership — as when politicians assert cant such as “Don’t question my authority.” You don’t expect cant from NG. The trust built up from decades of that iconic yellow-framed print magazine, with its vivid photographs of natural phenomena, makes us susceptible. NG’s film division is now the opposite of informative and wide-ranging; its political bias now resembles NPR’s. The Fauci doc typifies the continued narrowcasting of popular media into the congealed “mainstream” perspective.

And the pitch behind Fauci shows how. NG sneaks past old presumptions about the idea of “documentary.” (Blame the genre’s degeneration on Rob Reiner’s fictitious This Is Spinal Tap, where popularizing “factoids” — familiar legends and speculations — rather than truth created that new phony genre of the “mockumentary.”)

The selling of Fauci mocks our credulousness, increased by high-pressure COVID-19 fear-mongering, another advertising phenomenon. Fauci’s press release urges viewers (and media hacks) to accept the doc on the filmmakers’ non-objective terms: “With his signature blend of scientific acumen, candor, and integrity, Dr. Anthony Fauci became America’s most unlikely cultural icon during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Gullible reviewers are unlikely to suspect this seemingly innocuous description: “A world-renowned infectious disease specialist and the longest-serving public-health leader in Washington, D.C., he has overseen the U.S. response to 40 years’ worth of outbreaks, including HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Ebola.” The doc leans on Fauci’s role during the AIDS crisis to suggest he’s empathetic. (He’s shown reading the New York Times, quoting The Godfather, bragging about his Brooklyn roots.)

Scamming media naïfs, the release boasts the doc’s exclusivity, claiming that it’s “crafted around unprecedented access to Dr. Fauci.”

That should be the giveaway for any sharp viewer not on the NG payroll. The word “access” means collaboration from a brigade of celebrities. The lineup of their names makes for the release’s most startling clause:

The film features insights from former President George W. Bush, Bill Gates, Bono, former national-security adviser Susan Rice, National Institutes of Health director Dr. Francis Collins, former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Tom Frieden, journalists Laurie Garrett and the New York Times’ Apoorva Mandavilli.

These aristocrats affirm Fauci’s bona fides and give tribute. They’re what gossip columns call “boldface names,” and they’re also all partisan, as is the film’s tagline: “a revealing portrait of one of our most dedicated public servants.”

As so many media outlets have done, NG dispenses with the old journalism rule of balance. It refuses to be thoroughly informative. Fauci was directed by John Hoffman (Sleepless in America) and Janet Tobias (Unseen Enemy) — woke doc-makers now come in gender-posturing pairs. So do Fauci’s producing partners: Alexandra Moss (Not Done: Women Remaking America) and executive producers Dan Cogan (Icarus) and Liz Garbus (The Farm: Angola, What Happened, Miss Simone?), a veteran from the old days when docs probed for information about not-obvious subjects.

Anthony Fauci has become one of the most contentious personages in the history of American politics and medicine, but the press announcement avoids any challenges to the film’s agenda. There’s no indication that Fauci’s health policies provoke even an iota of displeasure or opposition. His fame is promoted in connection with his political tenure. That list of D.C. wonks attest Fauci’s careerism (implicitly his “brilliance”), while there’s no mention of the gain-of-function controversy — his deceit about directing research funds to the very lab in Wuhan from which COVID-19 likely emerged — now plaguing his career.

NG’s copy reads like a campaign ad, implicitly endorsing Fauci’s directives (even his fluctuating mask mandates, which Candace Owens perfectly likened to the kindergarten game “Simon Says”), as if his every thought and word are beyond reproach. Spielberg’s Lincoln was hardly less worshipful.

At this moment of enormous social, medical, and ethical disagreement, NG’s Fauci presents one-way thinking. NG’s pomposity climaxes in the press release’s final proviso: “Dr. Fauci had no creative control over the film. He was not paid for his participation, nor does he have any financial interest in the film’s release.”

The term “interest” is used ineptly, anticipating allegations of payment. But, really, it dodges more important issues of vanity and corruption. Propagandists who work at the behest of media corporations and institutions willingly bow to authority, and NG idolizes Fauci as the face and voice of that authority. Instead of investigating Fauci’s despotic sense of moral superiority to enlighten the general public, NG’s narrowcast promotional doc chooses persuasion over education.

Armond White, a culture critic, writes about movies for National Review and is the author of New Position: The Prince Chronicles. His new book, Make Spielberg Great Again: The Steven Spielberg Chronicles, is available at Amazon.

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Documentary on CIA’s Hunt for Bin Laden Doesn’t Truly Pull Back the Curtain – Reason.com

CIA vs. Bin Laden: First In. Reelz. Sunday, September 5, 8 p.m.

As the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11th attack approaches, there are at least a dozen TV specials available to watch, of varying merits. Here’s one reason you might want to take a look at—CIA vs. Bin Laden: First In, the Reelz cable channel’s documentary offering. Mike Morell, a former senior CIA official, is recounting how the agency was zeroing in on a compound in Pakistan where it suspected that Osama bin Laden was hiding out.

The CIA was intrigued by a tall figure its spy flights spotted walking briskly around the compound grounds, a man who the spooks called The Pacer—because they couldn’t figure out who he really was; his face was always carefully shielded from view. Bin Laden was known to be 6-foot-5; Morell wondered if the vast U.S. counterterrorism empire that had mushroomed in the wake of 9/11 might be able to get a fix on The Pacer’s exact height. The National Geospatial Intelligence Agency was duly invited to examine the CIA’s tapes of The Pacer, and proudly reported back to Morell that its photo analysts had established that the mysterious man was “somewhere between five and seven feet tall.”

That wasn’t much help with bin Laden, but it certainly offers an interesting new perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis, when John F. Kennedy and his national security cowboys nearly took us to into a shootout with the Soviet Union after that same National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (then operating under the name National Photographic Interpretation Center) identified a bunch of shadowy objects in reconnaissance photos of Cuba as Russian missile launch pads. (By the way, if you, too, can guess a guy’s height within a two-foot margin of error, they’re hiring.)

It’s the occasional odd anecdote like that one, coupled with a taut, dramatic construction, that make CIA vs. Bin Laden something more than a rehash of decades-old news. There’s the former head of the CIA operations directorate admitting—maybe a better word is bragging—that the Navy SEALs who broke into bin Laden’s compound (yes, the same one where The Pacer took his lonely walks) were bent on not capture but murder. “If we brought him to the United States, he would lawyer up,” says the CIA official. “Our interest was not in building a case so we could charge him with a crime. Our interest was to prevent another major attack on the United States.” Or the phone call the CIA intercepted from the house moments before the SEALs’ chopper arrived, the voice not identifiable, but the message as clear as death: “They’ve come from above.”

These details are related matter-of-factly in on-camera interviews with top officials of the West’s leading intelligence agencies, including the CIA, France’s DGSE and Great Britain’s MI-6. Even in a world where intelligence officials are increasingly disposed to give us a peek inside through memoirs and TV documentaries, it’s startling to watch a CIA boss confirm how an al-Qaeda triple agent faked his way into an agency compound with a suicide bomb that blew seven top American spies to bits.

Not that the spooks tell all. There is, for instance, not a word about how the CIA finally became convinced that they’d located bin Laden’s Pakistan hideout. For a decade, the common wisdom has been that the agency set up a fake door-to-door inoculation program to collect DNA from the occupants of the house, but Morell curtly dismisses any questions along those lines: “I can’t talk about that.”

Perhaps some tradecraft issue still makes it impossible for the CIA to discuss that. But other omissions seem to be more a product of the desire to cover agency asses. Though some of the officials interviewed in the show say, truthfully, that the CIA had been hunting bin Laden for years before 9/11, none of them mention that the members of that unit were regarded as paranoid whack jobs who emptied rooms instantly at headquarters in Langley when they made the rounds warning that nobody outside their group was taking al-Qaeda seriously. They were such pariahs that they took to calling themselves “the Manson Family.”

Not everybody interviewed in CIA vs. Bin Laden is a spy. Washington Post reporter Joby Warrick, author of three books on the war on terror, offers bits and pieces to keep the narrative on track, including the description of the raucous football-style rally outside the White House after the announcement of bin Laden’s death. At last, Warrick declares, “there had been a concluding chapter to this terrible event in American history.” As we saw in televised scenes from the Kabul airport last week, not quite.

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YouTube Removes Age-Restriction from Documentary on American Revolution after MRC Inquiry

Google-owned Youtube was caught censoring a historical documentary about the American Revolution.

The YouTube video titled “History: The American Revolution 1776 Documentary,” was restricted until Free Speech America inquired with the platform why such an innocuous video would be considered “inappropriate or offensive.”

“We’ve removed the age-restriction on the video you shared,” YouTube Policy Communications Manager Ivy Choi told Free Speech America in an email. “Occasionally, a video flagged to us may be mistakenly age-restricted. When this is brought to our attention, we review the content and take appropriate action, including removing the age-restriction.”

The video was originally uploaded in 2015. Free Speech America was able to confirm that as far back as at least Nov. 19, 2020, the documentary was “age-restricted” by the platform.

Videos that YouTube restricts can sometimes become “unavailable” for users who have “Restricted Mode” turned on, according to YouTube’s guidelines. YouTube explains in its guidelines that a restricted video can also become “unavailable” when it’s simultaneously “age-restricted.” The platform’s policy guidelines on age-restricted videos state: “Age-restricted videos are not viewable to users who are under 18 years of age or signed out. Also, age-restricted videos cannot be watched on most third-party websites.” Age restrictions can also limit a video’s ability to earn advertising revenue.

Additionally, before YouTube removed its restrictions, users had to click through two separate warnings asking if they were sure they wanted to view the video.

Last week, YouTube restricted Oscar-winning filmmaker Errol Webber’s short video titled “100 Reasons To Recall Gavin Newsom,” which slammed the tenure of California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) amid efforts to have him recalled.

While Webber’s video chronicles disturbing events that have occurred under Newsom’s governorship, other newsworthy events, such as a CNN news report on the Aug. 26 terrorist attack in Afghanistan, do not include any warnings from YouTube.

In recent months the video sharing platform has had other troubling incidents. YouTube received criticism from a U.S. congresswoman after it reportedly removed a video of a news conference that discussed a legal challenge to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s (D) “vaccine passports.” YouTube appeared to remove Sen. Rand Paul’s (R-KY) video protesting the platform’s censorship of one of his videos, and reportedly suspended him for seven days. YouTube also censored a video from the Convention of States Project hosted by its president, Mark Meckler, according to the organization.

Conservatives are under attack. Contact your local representative and demand that Big Tech be held to account to mirror the First Amendment. If you have been censored, contact us using CensorTrack’s contact form, and help us hold Big Tech accountable.

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What The ‘Woodstock 99’ Documentary Gets Right And Wrong

From HBO’s account, “Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage” looks like it was a bacchanalian nightmare of angry people dehydrating under the hot sun.

The music festival was planned to be a 30-year anniversary celebration of the original Woodstock — with peace, free love, and drugs — but in practice, according to accounts from the documentary, those hippie vibes were nowhere to be found. Instead, angry music was the background to sexual assaults, looting, and riots.

But the documentary’s commentators make the failed sequel seem even worse than it was, finding sexism and racism among the naked women and young white men.

That weekend in the summer of 1999, a youth culture full of uncertainty and anger, mixed with a frenzy of consumerism, took its toll on a patch of ground in New York state. It was only a few months after Columbine, the first major high school shooting, and the era of grunge was over.

The bands selected for the three-day fest were primarily angry new metal, with Jewel, Sheryl Crow, and Alanis Morissette randomly thrown in. Bands like Metallica, Korn, Creed, and Limp Bizkit were the primary draw.

The footage is nauseating: kids piled together in a toxic sludge after water ran out and porta-potties overflowed. But what really stood out in this documentary were two things: accounts of sexual assault and rape, and the documentary’s commentators’ outright disdain for the festival attendees more than 20 years later.

Sexual Exploitation and Racism

The documentary makes several broad assumptions. The first is that women who show off their sexuality are being unknowingly exploited, and that their willingness to show their bodies was proof of their victimization. The second is that the white people of the 1990s were terrible, racist people and they just didn’t know it yet, but they should have.

Security guards who were working that weekend spoke about the men in the crowd behaving like “savages,” tearing girls’ clothes off. The promoter said there were 10 incidents of rape reported, but this is likely an undercount given how many sexual assaults routinely go unreported. The promoter also pointed out what the documentary makes clear: women were walking around the festival essentially naked.

“I am critical of the hundreds of women that were walking around with no clothes on and expecting not to be touched,” the promoter says in the documentary. “They shouldn’t have been touched, and I condemn it, but, y’know, I think that women that were running around naked, y’know, are at least partially to blame for that.”

This is a perspective that Spin Magazine’s Maureen Callahan takes issue with, as do other feminists. To some, a woman should be able to parade through a hard rock festival full of angry young men while fully naked and it should be as safe as if she were in her own home.

While it may be a nice fantasy to imagine that all men should be in total control of their aggression and sexual impulses at all times, it isn’t reality. Women should probably be aware of that. They won’t always be able to avoid an overly aggressive male, but women also don’t have to walk around naked in a crowd of 50,000 men.

The film takes pity on not only the women at “Woodstock 99,” but women of that era in general. As a woman of that era, I have to say outright: we didn’t think we were much different than men. We wanted sex, we wanted drugs, we wanted rock and roll, and we figured it was our right to have them.

For the commenters all these years later, whiteness was also the problem at the 1999 festival. The documentary takes specific aim at young white men. That demographic that everyone loves to hate was actually not so hateful back in the 1990s.

What the documentary forgets is that the kids of the ’90s were essentially colorblind. They didn’t think there was a difference between white and black kids, and it would be more than a decade before they realized that believing in equality was racist.

Why So Angry?

One of the documentary’s points is that the festival went so incredibly badly because of the rock musicians. Some say Limp Bizkit practically incited the riots on the last night of the festival. Attendees burned down one of the stages after not-for-profit volunteers handed out candles for a Columbine vigil.

Spin’s Callahan says, “I mean, kids are ripping open ATM machines with their bare hands, and lighting Mercedes Benzes on fire, I mean they’re telling you what they think of your greed.” For Callahan, corporatism was part of the problem. The kids didn’t like being commodified, their tastes and allegiances bought and sold.

“It’s a very weird thing that you see at the end of the ’90s,” MTV VJ Dave Holmes said. “There’s just this simmering anger, and it manifests itself through sludge and angst.”

DJ Moby spoke against the white anger of Woodstock. “A lot of times when white people have embraced hip hop they’ve ignored the funk, they’ve ignored the R&B, they’ve ignored the subtlety and they’ve embraced homophobia and misogyny,” he said of new metal artists like Kid Rock and Korn.

“The same thing with metal. There’s a lot of wonderful, celebratory, joyful, fun metal, but somehow new metal embraced the troglodyte elements,” Moby continued. He blamed “money” for the co-opting of youth culture.

The original Woodstock, however, was organized by music industry insiders. Maybe they had lots of feels for the kids, but they were in it to make money, too. That American ethos has never changed.

What Were They Fighting?

But nothing big was going on in 1999, instead, everything big was on the horizon — and we all knew it. Jewel, one of only three female-fronted acts, said, “The Gen Xers and the next generation really weren’t fighting anything. I think the only thing we were fighting is we wanted to be angsty, and we wanted to be deep. I think the only thing we were really fighting is we didn’t feel like we had a purpose.”

In her view, part of the problem with the three-day concert was that there wasn’t really a “soulful purpose for the show.”

The anger in the music from Rage Against the Machine and the other heavy acts that made out the line-up was in part about fear and uncertainty, wanting to be prepared to take on whatever was coming, whether it was Y2K, school shootings, or some other incredible unknown.

It was only two years before 9/11, and the kids had no idea what the new century would hold. No wonder they were on edge.

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