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Posted by MTW at 05:01PM, Sunday, October 31st, 2004

Interview with the founder of Guerilla News Network, Stephen Marhsall, on Democratization of Media (Part 2)

In the second segment of my interview with GNN TV founder and film maker Stephen Marshall, we covered his two first feature films, Aftermath and Battlegound: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge. Both films leverage Marshall's mastery of what he describes as the "MTV esthetic." Both films are also very controversial.

Aftermath premiered at San Francisco's Herbst Theater in 2003. It is a highly controversial film that asks 11 questions about the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It contends that the United States government was either aware of (and did nothing to prevent), or was a willing collaborator in the attacks. In the first segment of my interview, Marshall discusses his experience of making and marketing a film with such sensational and emotional content:

MW: Your film Aftermath questioned the official story of 9/11. While San Francisco, where the film debuted, is a hot-bed of liberalism, you took this film on the road. What was your experience like of taking this film to different audiences around the country?

SM: Good question, Mike. A better question would be how the film has fared since its release. In each city, the flavor of the organizing element changed how it was received. I truly wanted to involve many points of views. From all elements, including a mainstream lawyer, who was questioning the ‘wrongful death’ aspect, to Alex Jones, who believes in complete conspiracy. In each city, we always attracted those people who were most adamant about the issue, and they most often felt it was a great starting point, but it wasn’t complete. And that was the point of the film.

Now, it's on Netflix (http://www.netflix.com/MovieDisplay?movieid=70037970&trkid=189530), where is has a rating of 2.7 out of 5.0, and that’s not a great rating. In fact, it hasn’t fared well with the mainstream very well, because a lot of those people can’t get past the third question of the timing of the crashes. For most people, getting people to ‘suspend their disbelief,’ which is a term that used in narrative film, but it’s also critical to this film. There’s a narrative which is accepted as the “Blockbuster” narrative for the 9-11 story, and ours was the “Underground" narrative. Once we got out of those initial venues, and got into homes, there it got much more challenging. Having that panel was a critical aspect for those who weren’t sure what they were hearing. On the DVD, we included that panel. And, I’m not sure many people understand how much integrity Peter Dale Scott has, because I think most people think this is all conspiracy mongering.

So, we have a huge divide now, in the public, between those who are willing to challenge everything that comes through the mainstream media, and those who find any challenge to it to be conspiracy-mongering. This is where “Aftermath” in many ways failed, although it tried to embrace both sides. We ended up getting picketed by activists who said that, by having George Soros in the film to introduce it (a tactic I used to bring my father in who doesn’t know anyone [in the film] aside from George Soros). They said we were part of the “Left Gatekeeping” that we were in fact being used to obfuscate the truth, which was the collapse of Tower Seven (of the World Trade Center). You may remember that during our panel we were picketed by a man who got up and said “you’re not speaking to the real issues.” Today, Mike Rupert, has been branded, because he won’t discuss these issues.

The 9/11 issue is so traumatic. It divided the human family of the United States into a million splinters, which is what trauma does. Just as trauma can create fractured personalities within one person - the same thing has occured in America. It’s like the Kennedy assassination, but there’s so much more to it. There’s not just one shooting and one death. There’s a series of culprits, and a plethora of events which you can look at. All of which have their own qualities which you can validate.

The issue for me is when people refuse to question on any grounds at all. There’s almost an irrational need to avoid questioning, and that comes from the trauma. Trauma dictates the need to follow authority. To fall in line, and to grace the leader with your loyalty – that’s patriotism – and that’s what we’ve fallen into. Now, of course, we’re in the echo, we’re not as much that way as a society, but we are. Because, while we don’t get mad at those who dissent, we write them off, or just let them labor in their vacuum.

MW: So, do you believe the unwillingness of the United States to question the events of 9/11 extends to societal roots that are deeper than influence of the media?

SM: I think it’s anthropological and sociological. The media is part of the organism of society, and that’s one of the things we were looking at in True Lies. We weren’t so interested in the conspiracy, as in the idea of denial. In some way, are we like a family, and like a family that has been traumatized, who have been led by a criminal element – even if it's like a father that beats their child, or sexually abuses their child, let’s not assign that to the American government, but let’s say that they’re a government that has been secretive, and who has been found guilty of things that we find untoward, in that same case, there’s a need to deny that. This is what we were asking.

It's far too simplistic to blame the media. The media is an organism of hundreds of thousands of people. Those in the media all have a very great benefit in breaking news. These are the people who literally make their careers on Watergates. So, to think somehow that they’re complicit in some plan which is coming from a top-down hierarchy – even with editors and publishers. I know people at the New York Times, and if they found a story that was legitimate, they would break it. The problem with these theories – and this was the problem with “Aftermath” – is that its very difficult to prove these things. And if there is conspiracy, you can bet in the year 2005 or 2001, we’ve gotten so good at covering these things up, and so good at creating false “black flag” operations, and false agents, that you’ll never find the path. So, the real thing isn’t about uncovering it. Its about looking at the reasons why we’re in the situation we’re in. Why the story that’s being told to us is so believable.


Next, I asked Stephen Marshall about his documentary Battleground: 21 Days on the Empire's Edge, which he filmed in Iraq. I was curious about how the Iraq he saw differed from that portrayed in the mainstream media:

MW: I’d like to ask you about your time in Iraq. You made a film “Battleground: 21 Days at the Edge of the Empire” which showed at Sundance. What was your experience in Iraq like? How did it differ from what you’d seen in the mainstream press?

SM: In the build up to the war, we never saw an Iraqis on television. We only saw one man, Achmed Chalabi, who turned out to be working through Cheney’s office as someone who was feeding false information on Weapons of Mass Destruction, someone who was manipulating the government into going to war. So, that’s who we saw, we never saw the Iraqis.

When I went to Iraq, I got really close to the Iraqis. Iraqis who were for the war, and Iraqis who were opposed to the war. Iraqis who were willing to jump into the fray of battle – not as Al Qaeda agents or terrorists, or even insurgents, but rather as farmers who were outraged at the penetration of their culture and their safety at the hands of the U.S. forces.

In the media, you only hear about terrorists and Al Qaeda, about battles between forces that are aligned behind Osama Bin Laden, and and the American forces. It couldn’t be further from the truth. And, so we’re in the gray. Eighty percent of the Iraqis I met weren’t interested in politics in any way whatsoever. They had lived under Saddam and had survived. And, they would live under a new government, which would not be the same fascistic regime, but they were going to have the same challenges to their security, and they just wanted to get on with it.

The sad thing about the American media coverage is the way in which it became complicit, and became a bullhorn for Pentagon policy. For example, Judith Miller from the New York Times, later went on record saying her job was not to deconstruct the Pentagon messages, but rather to report them to us, which couldn’t be further from the truth. The idea that critical thinking isn’t involved in journalism is a frightening excuse.

For me, getting on the ground [in Iraq] was about finding there were a lot of benefits in the war. A lot of Iraqis benefited from the action. And, that they didn’t care why the Americans came. They didn’t care if it was about oil. They didn’t care if we took all of the oil in Iraq. They just wanted to get back to some sort of sane existence, where they could at least communicate openly, where they could love their families, whether they were for or against the regime without fear that they’d be executed or sent away to some dark room somewhere. And, that’s something we can all relate to. The problem is that the [U.S.] administration has its own reasons for going so. So rarely are these reasons humanitarian or noble. That’s where the difference was for me.

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