Entrapment, food wars, and capitalism in three films

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In the aftermath of 9/11, our government acquired unbridled power to surveil, intimidate, arrest, and imprison many innocent people. Millions have died in Iraq, Afghanistan, and anywhere our country has gone to protect its "interests." Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo prison, assassination drones have come to symbolize our forlorn foreign policy. And now it's turning on our own citizens as surveillance is being ramped up. Arab Americans have been increasingly profiled, Muslims are considered suspect, and several have even been targeted for drone attacks.

A film that debuted at the recent Tribeca Film Festival offers compelling evidence that our government has gone too far in "protecting" its citizens. The Newburgh Sting, directed by David Heilbroner and Kate Davis, utilizes an amazing collection of footage gathered from hidden cameras to tell the shocking story of four men enticed (or entrapped) into participating in a bomb plot.

Newburgh is a poverty-stricken town 60 miles north of New York City, with high unemployment and homelessness. In 2009 a mysterious Pakistani-American government informant went to great lengths to enlist "Muslims" in a plot to bomb two Jewish centers in the Bronx. The only "Muslims" he could attract were low-income African Americans enticed by the $250,000 offered by the eager informant, who seemed driven to prove he could supply the "goods" to the FBI.

One of the "terrorists" had recently been informed his brother needed expensive surgery to save his life, another was a loner with mental illness, and the other two were also in it for the money only. Only one had actually attended the local mosque that was depicted as the center of terrorism by the media, and all were far from serious practicing Muslims. From the hidden cameras, we learn that none had any intention of harming any human being. After much pressure to go through with the plan, they were assured that no one would be hurt, and only buildings would be damaged. They all desperately needed the money and the movie supports the claims that they were entrapped.

The film is deftly structured, powerful with its revealing hidden camera images, driven by family members whose passions tear at your heartstrings, as sadness rather than fear develops for these so-called "homegrown Muslim terrorists."

The only Italian film at the Tribeca Festival, Human Capital (Il capitale umano), dissects the capitalist system and reveals excessive greed and dehumanization. Cleverly structured and filmed, the story starts at the end and works backward, with stories of three individuals affected by the supposed death of a bicyclist in a wealthy Italian countryside.

Director Paolo Virzì's  assured hand is supported by a stellar cast. Famed Italian actress Valeria Bruni Tedeschi won the Best Actress Award at Tribeca for her fine performance as a compromised housewife desiring to be a good wife and mother while balancing her husband's drive for money and profits against her own humanism. The award citation says, "Human Capital twists love, class, and ambition into a singular, true-life story that exposes the consequences of valuing certain human lives over others. A nuanced account of desire, greed and the value of human life in an age of rampant capitalism and financial manipulation."

Food Chains is a film that exposes the often hidden stages of how food gets to our table. The screening at Tribeca was accompanied by a panel discussion that further raised awareness of the plight of migrant workers and the attempt to raise their standard of living. The film focuses on the campaign started by Florida tomato pickers, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), to force supermarkets to pay just one cent more per pound. This would double their poverty wages. Publix, the largest supermarket chain in Florida, and one of the largest in the world, as usual, refuses to negotiate with the workers. They say it is just a labor issue between the workers and the farmers, and have ignored the protests and hunger strikes going on outside their main headquarters for months. Ethel Kennedy and members of the famous political family attend a rally and speak on behalf of the hunger strikers, along with many supporters.

The struggle for years has been with the growers, but it was realized that the big supermarket chains actually control the food industry, earning more than $4 trillion globally.  By going to the top of the food chain, new alliances have been formed between farmers and farmworkers, with several farmer allies interviewed in the film.

For a different take that challenges the status quo and searches for solutions outside the "capitalist greed" model, I highly recommend a brilliant series available free on YouTube, produced by the mastermind behind the Zeitgeist Trilogy that revolutionized social media. Hundreds of millions worldwide have watched the Trilogy, noted as the most downloaded video in Internet history. Now Peter Joseph has moved on to create an entertaining and educational series entitled Culture in Decline, an extension of his insightful analysis of the decaying American empire and the failed economic system. His support and development of Jacque Fresco's lifelong work, the Venus Project, putting forth an alternative "resource based economy," is an eye opener and something to actually consider. These brilliant thinkers and artists deserve our attention, they offer hope and ideas that can help move the struggle forward. You can buy the Culture in Decline DVD and help fund future episodes, or you can watch them free on YouTube.

Photo: Scene from "The Newburgh Sting." TribecaFilm.com

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