Saturday, August 21, 2010

More sanctions as Iranians boycotted from the Arts

By now most of us have an idea of the oppression that citizens of Iran face on adaily basis under this regime. One of the ramifications of this leadership hasbeen the people's exclusion from the international community, the regime'swillful effort to control exposure to any external social and culturalinfluences. Deprivation from this exchange between Iranians and other nationalshas been a huge loss to both sides, and last year's uprising and the world'ssurprised and supportive response to it was a first, auspicious moment in therecovery of this relationship.

Politicaland economic sanctions assume their hopeless role in international politics andthose on the receiving end of their trail continue on in resignation to yetanother harsh consequence of the respective determination of the powers thatbe. But what now comes as a fresh blow is the imposition of new sanctions incompletely virgin territory, away from the political arena, dead centre of theArts.

On 6 July 2010,YouTube announced the launch of Life in ADay, an experimental documentary incorporating footage submitted by YouTubeusers, calling for "thousands of people everywhere in theworld...on a single day, which is the 24 July this year to film someaspect of their day and then post it onto YouTube so that we can use it to makea film that is a record of what it's like to be alive on that one day".

For the many Iranianactive YouTube members this was a sensational opportunity to finally contribute,participate and share in a non-political world community project easily througha medium they knew well. After all it was the 2009 elections that inspiredcitizen filming in Iran and championedYouTube's direct route to the world outside. Conversely it was this veryfilming of Iranians on the streets and the brutality that ensued thatcatapulted YouTube into newsrooms worldwide and signalled it as a potent newssource.

A slap in the facethen when it came to browsing the FAQ (frequently asked questions) on the Life in a Day website to read "Anyoneover 13 years old can submit footage, except for residents and nationals ofIran, Syria, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea and Burma (Myanmar), and/or any otherpersons and entities restricted by US export controls and sanctionsprogrammes." So "The story of a single day on earth... Oneworld, 24 hours, 6 billion perspectives" is actively boycotting 1.5 billion ofthe 6 billion perspectives it pursues. Granted, YouTube is currently blocked in China but then theanticipated "6 billion perpectives" should be more accurately billed at 5billion – you can't include a nation for the dramatic statistics and excludeher for the inconvenience.

And so a great disappointment. The past year has altered perceptionof people in Iran after exposure to the true social climate there. And there isso much more to know. Wouldn't it be great to haveincluded these countries – to have seen something of daily life rather than theusual imagery, to have seen what they come up with – and left it to theindividuals to overcome what is necessary to contribute by choice? That wouldhave been more in step with the bountyand liberality of the project, especially given that most submissions willnaturally end up on the cutting room floor aspart of the course. Instead this decision is mean-spirited and hasty andcompromises the completeness of a project intended to be truly universal whenit is not open to all. Least onecelebrating diversity and the exchange of parallel lives.

YouTube has beendescribed as being "a 'Speakers' Corner' that both embodies and promotesdemocracy". A valid appraisal so why the concern and involvement with political sanctions? Is the film US government funded I wonder?Is YouTube US government funded even? This still wouldn't have made sense: the USsenate has allocated $55m to the Victims of Iranian Censorship Act (VOICE) tohelp Iranians evade government censorship of the internet and to put pressureon foreign companies not to help Iran in its repressive measures.

Perhaps there was an issue relating to plannedscreening at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Surely not when the SundanceInstitute prides itself onproviding a forum for film makers "to explore their stories free fromcommercial and political pressures". Even Korean electronics giant LG (Life'sGood) partnering the project says: "Using video footage to bring peopletogether to share their diverse perspectives and experiences helps enrich allour lives. Life in a Day is a perfect fit with our core values: Humanity,Pleasure, Curiosity, and an Optimistic Energy". Poignantly, these four characteristicsperfectly fit the Iranian psyche.

Looking to theLife in a Day team, the film'smulti-national footage will be directed by Kevin MacDonald who made One Day in September and Touching the Void, both provocativefilms that don't succumb to public expectation. As the morefamous member of the team, Executive Producer Ridley Scott, acclaimed director of Blade Runner and Gladiator's name has come under attack, circling Iranian Internet forums and inspring anaccomplished group of Iranian film makers in Amsterdam to create their own Iranian version of the Life in a Dayconcept in retaliation. Ironically, it was Scott who directed the campaign that launched Apple Mac computers in1984.

In this ad, in an Orwellian depiction of the Big Brother state of Nineteen Eighty-four, Macs are coming tosave man from conformity, with the strapline "With Macintosh1984 will not be 1984". This feared dystopian society is characterised by a large military-like police force, different kinds ofrepressive social control systems and an absence of individual freedoms. Allnow rather too familiar for comfort.

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