Movies that Matter – Issue 9

To learn about the world’s problems and the creative solutions needed to overcome them often means searching for hidden gems between the folds of sub-cultures. For the time-poor majority in our society, film is an unrivalled medium for informing and inspiring. The movies that matter are the ones that have the potential to change minds and inspire action. One new movie that matters has made it onto our must-watch list in this issue of SHIFT…

New release:


Reviewed by Harry Oshman

Released: 2015

Running time: 96 minutes

Viewing options: This documentary can be viewed online at, and the full length film can be pre-ordered on DVD (pending release) via the Frackman movie website.

Frackman is a powerful, punchy and poignant documentary about the conflict faced by one unlikely Australian activist and communities of Aussies directly affected by the roll-out of the massive multinational coal seam gas (CSG) industry in Queensland’s rural heartland.

Small landowners and farmers – in towns such as Chinchilla – who are feeling sick from leaking gas are running the gauntlet of machines, pipes, and processing plants on the surface, while deep underground bore water becomes polluted and aquifers run dry.

At the centre of the drama is the life of one man – accidental activist Dayne Pratzky – who had intended to settle down on the land but instead becomes drawn into a fight for his own property rights and the rights of affected communities to stand up to the industrial machine. His only entitlement is to the first six inches of dirt beneath his feet – but no more.

The problems start when the CSG exploration teams are allowed onto the land and find gas reserves on it. At that point the landowner loses the right to prevent the onslaught of full-scale drilling. Featured in Frackman is the grassroots Lock The Gate movement that is trying to get whole communities and individual landholders to keep the exploration teams locked out.

The mechanised invasion is acutely depicted in Frackman, bringing home clearly the conflict between citizens and the industry. The film is a lesson in various aspects of activism, everything from petitioning, grassroots campaigning and the detailed tactical planning needed for direct action and active resistance.

But at times the film is also funny, and moving. It shows that despite all the personal risks and constant stress Dayne experiences a full and complete life journey as he engages positively with his local communities and finds love and empathy in the process.

I saw this movie as a result of the efforts of a concerned group of people the Action FAW Brisbane group who were able, against the odds, to convince our mainstream shopping mall cinema to show Frackman. An amazing coalition of citizens turned up for the screening, including representatives from March in March and Lock the Gate. It showed me that despite the oddities of activist strategies like aligning with the conservative shock-jock Alan Jones and conceding to a pro-growth agenda, community engagement is still a very positive thing, as together we tackle globalised and industrialised eco-social destruction.

 Play catch-up:

Ever feel like you’re running to stand still when it comes to getting on top of what’s going on in the world? We feel that way all the time, so we’ve rubbed our heads together in a collaborative effort to get up to speed. Here’s where we play catch-up, with viewing recommendations for getting you up to speed with corporate capitalism, the activists that are fighting and have fought the system, and the creative wonders of transitioning to a low-tech sustainable alternative way of living…

Eco-spiritual change-making

The Wisdom to Survive: Climate Change, Capitalism & Community

Reviewed by Harry Oshman

Released: 2013

Running time: 56 minutes

Viewing options: A trailer for this documentary can be viewed online via Vimeo, and the full-length film can be purchased on DVD at

Beginning with a quote from Dostoyevsky that perhaps it is ‘beauty that will save the world’, the documentary Wisdom to Survive begins a moving journey of change by drawing us into a poignant world of sorrow and mourning for the state of the immense beauty of this world and the living creatures that still survive on it. The opening is emotionally intense – the whole documentary is so quiet – yet so powerful; don’t be surprised if you shed a tear.

Wisdom to Survive moves through all of the key environmental and social sustainability issues of our time in a poetic, sensitive and engaged manner showing us how to get involved. By sharing the perspectives of a variety of key thinkers such as Richard Heinberg and Joanna Macy, as well as activists of diverse backgrounds and life stages, it makes a powerful poetic point that capitalism needs to drastically change. We can be that change across a broad spectrum of approaches, from grassroots activism to artistic-spiritual activism, all inspiringly highlighted in one beautifully presented hour of eco-social change.

Anima Mundi

Reviewed by Kari McGregor

Released: 2011

Running time: 1:17:52

Viewing options: A trailer for this documentary can be viewed online at, and the full length film can be purchased at the Anima Mundi movie website.

Anima Mundi delves into the complex predicament of peak oil and climate change, presenting permaculture as a practical and holistic solution that prioritises resilience. Taking a whole-systems approach to our predicament, this documentary is refreshing in its honesty, while also being unafraid to venture into more philosophical and spiritual theories of change. Gaia theory is explained as a story for our age of urgency, and it is made clear that no matter how destructive we are, we are still not separate – instead we are intricately interconnected with the web of life, and what we do to the earth we do to ourselves.

The psychological battleground of our culture

Psywar – The real battlefield is in the mind

Reviewed by Harry Oshman

Released: 2010

Running time: 99 minutes

Viewing options: This documentary can be viewed online free of charge at

In Aristotle’s speculations on democracy he noticed a problem: “If in Athens everyone had a right to vote, the poor majority would attack the property of the rich and insist that it be divided”. Psywar’s proposition is simple. Just as fish swimming in a fishbowl are oblivious to the water in which they swim, so we the citizens of democracy are oblivious to the sea of propaganda that floods our information-rich environment. If we could be subconsciously convinced to maintain the machinery of wealth accumulation via an organised system of disinformation, elites at the top of the social pyramid would maintain their entitlement to wealth and an orderly society would prevail for the benefit of all – goodbye democracy and hello polyarchy – a soft core socio-economic dictatorship with free elections.

Created on a shoestring budget and made available to the community via a donation-funding model, Psywar is remarkably comprehensive. It engages the viewer with the opinions of key thinkers like Noam Chomsky, yet also backs up its case with compelling historical examples of how the system of psychological manipulation has evolved through time. By rolling back the history leading up to the Ludlow Massacre of 1914, it shows how elites in 19th century America have mutated democracy to ensure psychological compliance. Today we have a whole myriad of systems that keep us in check; from mass consumerism to mass marketing, to terror management, to non-participatory democracy and even PSYOP.

The take home message is this: for the sake of our humanity, we the citizens of democracy need to learn to resist the all-pervasive infectiousness of the psychology of propaganda – especially in a democracy – since psychological manipulation is key to undermining participation in it.

Century of Self

Reviewed by Harry Oshman

Released: 2002

Running time: 4 episodes of approx 58 minutes each

Viewing options: This documentary series can be viewed online free of charge at

“The secret of mass consumer democracy is not that people are in charge, but that people’s desires are in charge….”

Century of Self is an epic four-part historical journey into how our sense of self has been manipulated to ensure that elite power maintains an orderly control of the democratic state through the various crises of the 20th century. Thoroughly engrossing, this film manages to weave the story of the Freud family into a traumatising drama of two world wars and a great depression. Freud’s theories on psychoanalysis were exported from his home in Austria into corporate America by his family. His daughter Anna, and especially his nephew Edward Bernays, would inform corporate America on the details of psychological manipulation that heralded a new super-charged era of propaganda whose euphemism-du-jour was “public relations.

Century of Self is brimming with present-day resonance, and history buffs will savour the rise of corporate mind control that was well underway when the first great depression threatened to undo capitalism.  The role of the Freud family in the rise and fall of psychoanalysis as a political tool of control is consistently featured and this humanises the documentary, giving it a personal and social narrative in what otherwise would be a machine-like chilling account of mass-democratic manipulation.

Sigmund Freud cops some heavy criticism in Century of Self, but is that fair? I would argue that Freud did not intend his dark theories of the psyche to be so readily applicable to the evolution of public relations. Enjoy Century of Self and make your own mind up; it is a landmark documentary of our time and it is even more relevant today.

Lifting the veil on faith


Reviewed by Kari McGregor

Released: 2011

Running time: 84 minutes

Viewing options: A trailer for this documentary can be viewed online at, and the full length film can be purchased at the Kumaré movie website, either as a digital download or a DVD. 

Part social experiment, part documentary, Kumaré follows filmmaker Vikram Gandhi as he assumes the persona of Kumaré, an Indian guru in Arizona. Gandhi starts out with the intention to demonstrate the absurdity of blindly following a self-styled guru by showing that anyone can fake it, but finds himself connecting with his ‘followers’ on a more profound level, and wrestles with the ethical quandary of what and how to teach them.

Concealing his true identity becomes a struggle as Gandhi feels the weight of his conscience, having duped people who have come to him looking for meaning. The discomfort is palpable as it becomes apparent that Gandhi’s deception is no more ethical than that of the false guru whose intentions are less than pure.

Kumaré’s final teaching is delivered as Gandhi reveals his true self. With the sacred line in the sand crossed, will his followers accept the truth? And does the illusion of Kumaré reveal an even deeper spiritual truth about the guru within us all?

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