Movies that Matter – Issue 8

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. Two new movies that matter have made it onto our must-watch list in this issue of SHIFT…

New releases:


Released: 2015

Running time: 110 minutes

Viewing options: A trailer for this documentary can be viewed online at Films for Action; the full-length documentary is currently being screened in cinemas worldwide.

The product of fast and furious filming in the midst of a crisis, CITIZENFOUR is an explosive and tense documentary that smashes through the veneer of national security, revealing unprecedented surveillance overreach.

CITIZENFOUR takes the viewer on a blow-by-blow journey through the personal lives of filmmaker Laura Poitras and journalist Glenn Greenwald as they follow an electronic trail that leads them to Edward Snowden, held up as a political fugitive in a hotel room in Hong Kong. Snowden is a high-level analyst who works inside the National Security Agency the NSA – a whistleblower on the run,  driven to expose the indiscriminate mass-surveillance of Americans.

The viewer is transported into the lives of these investigators as they come together with the whistleblower himself. The documentary is tense, claustrophobic and candid, as Poitras, Greenwald, and Snowden respond to their moment of crisis amidst a media storm, forced to make quick decisions that will have long-lasting impacts on their lives, and far-reaching implications for society as well.

Described by filmmaker Laura Poitras as “the third part of a trilogy about America post 9/11”, CITIZENFOUR was already a work in progress when Snowden reached out to Poitras in 2013, using the pseudonym “CITIZENFOUR”. The first and second parts of Poitras’ trilogy are, respectively, My Country, My Country – a film about the Iraq war for which she was detained and interrogated on numerous occasions; and The Oath – a film about the US prison at Guantanamo Bay and the ‘war on terror’.

After viewing CITIZENFOUR, don’t be overly surprised if you feel a little paranoid – your days of trusting in your privacy when you’re on the phone, sending an email, or even browsing the Internet, are well and truly behind you. And remember: just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not watching you. The take-home message however is not one of fear, but a vivid call to not be complacent about our rights for freedom of expression. 

Engines of Domination

Released: 2014

Running time: 59:46

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

Get ready to view political power in a wholly different light after watching Engines of Domination, a documentary based on Mark Corske’s book of the same name.

Engines of Domination challenges deeply-held notions of power by force, authority, statehood and war as integral aspects of human nature. The documentary instead suggests that the political structures and institutions of human society, the “engines of domination”, form the tools by which human energy is harnessed for the benefit of the elite holders of political power.

Through a millennia-long period of refinement by the elite, the engines of domination now threaten the destruction of our civilization. It is the recognition that political power has only existed in its current form for the past 6,000 years – just 3% of human existence – that places the malaise of our contemporary civilization in context; not only have humans lived in different ways, but different ways of living are possible – today.

Engines of Domination argues that in order to save us from our “human emergency”, we will need to abolish centralized authority, dismantling the hierarchies of power that dominate our society, and replacing them with peaceful voluntarist communities. In doing so, Engines of Domination provides a compelling argument in favour of anarchism, and in favour of human nature.

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…

The Crisis of Corporate Capitalism

The Corporation

Released: 2003

Running time: 2:24:04

Viewing options: This feature-length documentary can be viewed free of charge online at Films for Action

The all-pervasive corporation is the dominant institution of our modern political landscape, generating great wealth for the owners of capital and great harm for exploited workers and the environment. The Corporation is a multiple award-winning documentary that diagnoses corporate behavior as inherently psychopathic. Featuring voices such as Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein, this is a must-watch exposé of the nature, evolution, and impacts of the modern corporation, and its increasing dominance in society and on our everyday lives.

Capitalism: A Love Story

Released: 2009

Running time: 127 minutes

Viewing options: A trailer for this documentary can be viewed online at, and the complete film can be purchased on DVD from Michael Moore’s website.

In Capitalism: A Love Story, film-maker Michael Moore strikes at the heart of what the rest of his work skirts around: the capitalist American dream-turned nightmare, and the dominant role that corporations have come to play in our everyday lives. Moore demonstrates how our love affair with capitalism has been soured beyond redemption – thanks to lies, abuse and betrayal – revealing the price that ordinary people are paying by propping up a power structure that robs them of their jobs, their homes, and their savings.

Activism: Fighting the System


Released: 2005

Running time: 1:22:14

Viewing options: This feature-length documentary can be viewed free of charge online at Films for Action

McLibel is a classic David versus Goliath case of two idealistic activists who take on a corporate behemoth: McDonalds. Filmed over the course of three years, Helen Steel and Dave Morris go from being anonymous campaigners to heroes of free speech in what is the longest trial in UK history. Infiltration, intimidation, and financial coercion are just a taste of what Steel and Morris are up against in their fight against the fast food giant.

Grasp the Nettle

Released: 2013

Running time: 1:29:32

Viewing options: This feature-length documentary can be viewed free of charge online at Films for Action

Activist and filmmaker Dean Puckett’s documentary, Grasp The Nettle, is a rough-and-ready grassroots exercise in participant observation that follows the journey of a ragtag band of land rights activists in London. Documenting their struggle against corporations, government, police, and their own internal dynamics, this film is a charming, and disarmingly intimate archive of efforts to create alternative communities outside the framework of consumer society.

The Weather Underground

Released: 2002

Running time: 1:30:26

Viewing options: This feature-length documentary can be viewed free of charge online at Films for Action

The Weather Underground candidly revisits an extraordinary revolutionary period of US history. Laying out the journey of a group of charismatic young radicals in 1970’s America called ‘The Weathermen’, the documentary is almost a run-down of how not to stage a revolution. Former Weathermen candidly reflect on their outrage over the state-sponsored violence of the Vietnam War and racism in the US. After a series of energetic public protests, the Weathermen decide to ratchet up the protest still further. Going underground, they use a sophisticated network of communication to coordinate the strategic bombing of government facilities implicated in state-sponsored violence. It was that outrage however, that spiralled into a vicious circle of violence that undermined their cause, and led to the premature end of a revolution. The documentary is an eye-opening reflection on the problems with engaging in any kind of violence, as relevant today as ever.

Transition to a Sustainable Future

The Economics of Happiness

Released: 2010

Running time: 1:08:16

Viewing options: A trailer for this documentary can be viewed online at Films for Action; the full-length documentary can be purchased at the Local Futures website.

The Economics of Happiness describes a world in which governments and big business promote globalization and the consolidation of corporate domination over society. This grab for power is in the face of resistance from communities struggling to come together to re-build their economies at a more human, ecological scale. Voices as diverse as Vandana Shiva, Michael Shuman, and Juliet Schor warn of the perils of financial instability, ethnic conflict, climate chaos and species extinction. The stark reality of peak oil provides an opportunity to embrace localization, a pathway to healing the earth and reinstating human well-being.

In Transition 2.0

Released: 2013

Running time: 1:06:47

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

Part introduction to the global Transition Towns movement, and part grassroots inspiration, In Transition 2.0 gathers stories from around the world, documenting the extraordinary things achieved by ordinary people. Community currencies, community gardens, and community power stations all feature in this celebration of what can be achieved when communities come together to take the future into their own hands.

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