DOK.focus thematic series 2023:
POWER OF MEDIA?
The fourth power and the fantastic machine
"What a fantastic machine the camera is!" – a delighted King Edward VII is reported to have said. Just a few days after his coronation on 9th August 1902, the King was able to see moving images of the ceremony on a screen. He was particularly fascinated by the camera's ability to record things that had not actually taken place: filmmaker Georges Méliès had reduced the hours-long ceremony to a compact five minutes, moved the action from the dark Westminster Abbey to a French theatre and hired a young actor, clearly more attractive than the original, to play the king. King Edward was amused and the audience was equally enthusiastic. The film became a global success, bolstering the fame of the English royal family. This anecdote from the early years of cinema, when the dividing lines between documentary, fiction and hoax were far from negotiated, tells of the beginnings of our present day visual media world. It was soon impossible to imagine mass communication without images.
By the 20th century, the vibrant world of image culture had begun to permeate media reporting. Photos in newspapers and magazines and weekly newsreels guaranteed authenticity, created contexts and spaces of association. Today, billions of images vie for our attention; they have become an essential part of our contemporary lives. The media world owes its status as the fourth power in our civil society to the enormous potency of the image, all the more so with the rise of social media. However, in today's global climate of fragile truths and alternative facts, the camera proves to be a fantastic machine in two senses: it is emblematic of a media world that can both enlighten and manipulate and it is both a fundamental tool and a threat to democracy and the free world.
This year's DOK.focus series POWER OF MEDIA? deals with the ambivalent and at the same time existentially important role of the media in today's world in five selected films. With AND THE KING SAID, WHAT A FANTASTIC MACHINE we plunge into the vast ocean of media history, from the birth of the camera obscura to viral YouTube clips, from King Edward VII to Donald Trump. With a collage of social media clips, the film MANIFESTO gives us disturbing insights into the reality of life for Russian teenagers. 5 SEASONS OF REVOLUTION shows how reporting can become a form of nonviolent resistance with the story of an intrepid journalist in the Syrian civil war. IRON BUTTERFLIES documents how the shooting down of Malaysian airliner MH17 over Ukraine in 2014 was the subject of a widespread Russian disinformation campaign. In addition, in GOLDHAMMER we get to know a man who is empowered by our media world to reinvent himself over and over again: from lifestyle influencer, to jet-set escort, to hate-filled politician – a horror story of a coke-snorting 'king of the fantastic machine'.
5 SEASONS OF REVOLUTION
Germany/Syria/Norway/Netherlands/Qatar 2023, Lina, 95 min., original with English subtitles
With a group of other young journalists, Lina reports on the Arab Spring uprisings in Syria. Before long, any kind of reporting is brutally suppressed by the state. Initial hope gives way to the fear of imprisonment and torture. As the revolution ultimately turns into civil war, the group’s reporting becomes a means of non-violent resistance.
AND THE KING SAID, WHAT A FANTASTIC MACHINE
Sweden/Denmark 2023, Axel Danielson, Maximilien Van Aertryck, 88 min., original with English subtitles
A tour de force through the history of visual media: from the first photography through the birth of the camera obscura to the arrival of film; from the invention of the webcam to the first viral video and the mobile phone footage of the storming of the Capitol in Washington. An astute, visually stunning study of the power of visual media and how they shape and channel our perception.
Germany 2023, André Krummel, Pablo Ben Yakov, 92 min., original with English subtitles
Marcel Goldhammer does not want to be pigeonholed – as an openly gay model, actor and former sex worker, then a journalist who converted to Judaism and did his military service in Israel. As a millennial, this is all just fodder for his social channels. Yes, even the sex with his punters. And next? Politics!
Ukraine/Germany 2023, Roman Liubyi, 84 min., original with English subtitles
On 17 July 2014, passenger flight MH17 is shot down by Russian forces over eastern Ukraine. IRON BUTTERFLIES takes us back to this turning point in recent history, meticulously summarises findings on the crime and contrasts them with the grotesque Russian disinformation campaign – harbingers of a world in which lies can only be sustained through violence.
Russia 2022, Angie Vichito, 68 min., original with English subtitles
What does social media tell us about present day Russia? MANIFESTO is a film mosaic that consists exclusively of clips that young people there have posted on TikTok, YouTube and Periscope. The selection of original material gives an unsettling insight into daily lives marked by abuse, oppression and violence.