The Monster that ‘Google’ Created: some thoughts on EX MACHINA (2015)

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Here are the superb thoughts of Pip Thornton on our Being Human // Human Being event.

Linguistic Geographies

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Earlier this week I curated and co-hosted Passengerfilms’ latest event in London (quite aptly within a stone’s throw of Silicon Roundabout). Called BEING HUMAN // HUMAN BEING, the event featured a screening and discussion of Alex Garland’s 2015 film Ex Machina. The fact that we sold out before we even started advertising I think goes to show not only what an awesome panel we had in Lee MacKinnon, John Danaher and Oli Mould, but that the possibilities, ethics and potential dangers of Artificial Intelligence really are at the forefront not only of academic debate, but also of a wider public imagination.

Ex Machina is such an incredibly rich and provocative film that it was impossible to cover everything in one short night, so I wanted to write a few thoughts down here, some of which were raised on the night, but others for which there was no…

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Being Human // Human Being – Ex Machina

14 Mar

Join us for an event which seeks to explore what it means to be human, or simply alive, in a world in which the digitally processed virtual is increasingly experienced in the actualities of everyday life.

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Curated and hosted by digital geographies PhD students Mike Duggan and Pip Thornton, and featuring Alex Garland’s sci-fi thriller EX MACHINA (2015), the event aims to question binary definitions of virtual/real, nature/culture and human/non-human, engaging with critical debates around artificial intelligence (AI), law & ethics, gender, techno-capitalism and virtual geographies, while challenging the representations of these subjects in the film and other media.

Ex-Machina Trailer

The event will include short talks and a panel discussion involving Dr. John Danaher, lecturer in Law at the National University of Ireland, Galway and author of the blog Philosophical Disquisitions, Lee MacKinnon, lecturer in the Theory and History of Photography at Arts University Bournemouth, whose book chapter Love’s Algorithm: The perfect parts for my machine, was recently published in Algorithmic Life: Calculative Devices in the Age of Big Data (2015) and Dr. Oli Mould, lecturer in Human Geography at Royal Holloway, University of London, published film critic and author of taCity blog.

Entry just £5.00, join the waitlist here to receive purchasing information: 

TICKET INFORMATION

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Upcoming Event: TOXIC MATERIALITIES – Where Heaven Meets Hell

16 Feb

Join us for a screening of Sasha Friedlander’s stunning film ‘Where Heaven Meets Hell’ (2012), and an exploration of toxic materialities presented by Passengerfilms in collaboration with followthethings.com

 

Indonesia’s stunningly beautiful Kawah Ijen volcano, a popular tourist spot, belches smoke hundreds of feet into the air. Through the smoke tourists can see men carrying heavy baskets on their shoulders. These contain blocks of bright yellow sulphur chipped from the volcano’s smouldering slopes, destined to help make a range of everyday stuff from matches and fertilizer to cosmetics and sugar. Sulphur dioxide gas is thick in the air. It corrodes the miners’ lungs and the filmmaker’s cameras. Winner of multiple documentary film awards, Where Heaven Meets Hell provides not only a vivid insight into the harsh industrial landscapes of resource extraction but also prompts wider questions about the toxic materialities of our modern consumer cultures.

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The film screening will be followed by a panel discussion and Q&A chaired by Prof. Phil Crang (Royal Holloway University) with Dr Ian Cook (Exeter University, CEO of followthethings.com), Prof. Gavin Bridge (Durham University, a resource expert and co-author of Oil, 2013), Dr Jennifer Gabrys (Goldsmiths, author of Digital Rubbish 2011 and co-editor of Accumulation: the Material Politics of Plastic, 2013), and Andrew Hickman and Andy Whitmore from the London Mining Network (http:// londonminingnetwork.org).

Monday 29th February / 6:30pm / The Water Poet, 9-11 Folgate Street, London E1 6BX / £5 entry

Venue Website: The Water Poet

Facebook Event: here

 

Precarious Geographies of Nightcrawler: Passengefilms Recap.

4 Feb Panel Pic

[SPOILER ALERT!!!!!]

by Katy Lawn

Passengerfilms is back! Our first event in a while, in collaboration with Precarious Geographies (Ella Harris and Mel Nowiki) and Genesis Cinema, kicked off with a showing of Dan Gilroy’s Nightcrawler. Set in the hyper-precarious world of L.A., this complex and disturbing film raises more questions than you can shake a stick (or – perhaps more appropriately – a cheap camcorder) at.

Having never seen the film before, and not quite knowing what to expect – I have to say that it wasn’t an ‘enjoyable’ watch. That said, the best films are not always ‘enjoyable’. And it was a really, really great film – it’s one of those films you’ll sit and ponder over for hours after it ends. The sense of optimism at the beginning of the film as our protagonist, Lou, starts to make his way – finally gaining skills, money and influence after so many false starts in an impenetrable labour market – slowly crumbles into something nightmarish.

With such a darkly thought-provoking film, the ground was fertile for debate and comment from our two speakers: Dr Oli Mould (Royal Hollway) and Dr Will Davies (Goldsmiths). Much of the initial comments centred on Lou, the protagonist. Was he an embodiment of neoliberal capital itself – expanding and expanding, creating the conditions for expansion and monetary gain at any cost? Or is he symptomatic of the type of personality that that such a system engenders – an automaton, lacking empathy and spouting incessant management-speak?

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In any case, it is clear that  Lou personifies neoliberal logic in some sense – and this is a logic which produces a degree of precarity. At the very beginning of the film Lou hints at this himself, whilst trying to persuade the owner of a metal yard to give him a job: “Having been raised with the self esteem movement so popular in schools, I used to expect my needs to be considered. But I know that these days, our culture no long caters to the job loyalty that could be promised to earlier generations.” His attempt at securing employment inevitably fails, and it falls to him to create his own opportunities. The shift from secure employment to freelance ‘self made’ workers is emblematic of a precarious labour market and the way in which entrepreneurship and independence are demanded. Lou’s eventual turn to gonzo-crime-scene-paparazzo as a career choice was, then, not really a conscious choice but a last resort. There is an irony at the heart of the film; a contradiction in which Lou embodies these attributes which are praised by the rhetoric of the American dream – making your own opportunities, being an entrepreneurial ‘go-getter’ – but these are eventually writ large to the point of perversion.

In this sense it is possible to say that this is a satirical look at an economic system in which one is actually required to radically overhaul your ‘self’, to alter your subjectivity, until you develop the level of ruthlessness to become rich. If not… you stay a scrap metal thief, living hand to mouth in the dirt of L.A. The exploitation of Rick, Lou’s assistant is also perhaps emblematic of a sort of psychological precarity. If we take Lou as an emblem of neoliberal economics, we can also see that he changes the psychological state of those around him through a baffling mixture of obscure management speak and blackmail. Lou’s immorality is exposed in its fullness when Nina, the veteran news anchor to whom he sells his footage, somewhat reluctantly agrees to go to a Mexican restaurant with him. This is perhaps one of the worst scenes in the film: he blackmails her for sex (in order to secure their working relationship) in a matter-of-fact way: “I have to think you’re invested in this transaction.” Horrified gasps from the audience ensued.

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There seems to be an interesting subtext here – something like a cautionary tale. In this film, immorality triumphs. And that’s what makes it such an uncomfortable viewing experience – the audience feels complicit in the horror – watching Lou, being a part of viewing the tragedies he records and augments. And there’s more: the sickening feeling of injustice that those who are predatory and immoral make it to the top of the food chain. In this film, ruthless business expansion seems to win out over morality and humanity. This leaves open the question of whether this is inherently necessary in order to ‘make it’, or whether this is a choice we can make. In some ways, the film turns out to be a tragicomedy of people crossing moral boundaries simply to stay afloat: this is precarity in all its forms – emotional, monetary, psychological, moral.

Many thanks to Mel and Ella for leading the event, and to our wonderful speakers Will Davies and Oli Mould for their thoughts on the film. A huge success – hope to see some of you at our next event in February.

Upcoming Event: Passenger Films and Precarious Geographies present “Nightcrawler”

8 Jan

Join us on Tuesday 19th of January for a screening and exploration of Dan Gilroy’s fascinating film ‘Nightcrawler’ presented by Passengerfilms in collaboration with ‘Precarious Geographies’ and Genesis Cinema.

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Set in the hyper-precarious world of contemporary LA, Nightcrawler is a disturbing critique of the neoliberal urban condition. Its protagonist, Lou Bloom, is a young man frustrated by an impenetrable labour market in which even unpaid internships are inaccessible. Bloom embarks on a mission to make his own fortunes by forging a career in crime journalism. Lou’s willingness to cross boundaries others won’t in order to get the goriest footage means his career rapidly gains momentum. His merciless pursuit of uncomprehendingly brutal footage is met by both horror and admiration by TV stations. But this is not just a film about a sinister individual; Lou’s prioritisation of ambition and commercial success at the expense of compassion and humanity is itself a reflection of LA’s logics and ethical landscape.

Following a screening of Nightcrawler this event will draw out themes of precarity than run throughout the film. Precarious Geographies (Ella Harris and Mel Nowicki) are delighted to host Dr Oli Mould (Royal Holloway) and Dr Will Davies (Goldsmiths) who will discuss the film, followed by an audience Q&A. The discussion will explore the film’s depiction of precarity in the contemporary condition, including precarity as entrenched in neoliberalism, the relationships between media representation and precarity, and precarity in contemporary labour markets.

Tuesday 19th January / 7pm / Genesis Cinema 93-95 Mile End Rd, E1 4UJ / Tickets £5 from Genesis Cinema website http://genesiscinema.co.uk/GenesisCinema.dll/WhatsOn?Film=1214382 

Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/924419814309160/

 

Upcoming event: Lives Off the Grid

24 Aug

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When: Saturday 5th September, 7pm – 10pm

Where: The Actors Temple, 13-14 Warren Street, London, W1T 5LH (directions)

How much: £5 at the door – please reserve a place here.

Join us for a unique event that explores the everyday lives of people living off the grid, featuring two brand new documentary films: Off the Grid (2015) and Life off Grid (2015).

Being off the grid in today’s fast-paced world is a challenge, it involves complete isolation from state utilities and has an enormous impact upon people’s lives. These two films explore both those who pursue this lifestyle and those who have no alternative to it in two different communities across the world. Off the Grid is as short documentary by Meghna Gupta and Raihana Ferdous set on the remote island of Sandwip in Bangladesh. The film documents the arrival of solar energy to the community and the impact it has on everyday life. Life Off Grid is a film by Jonathan Taggart and Phillip Vannini about people who have chosen to build their lives around renewable energy in Canada, with beautiful, inspiring, and often challenging results.

The event will include short talks and a panel discussion by the film makers. Phillip Vannini is a world-renowned ethnographer, Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Public Ethnography, and a Professor at Royal Roads University in Victoria, Canada. Raihana Ferdous is a PhD student in the geography department at Durham University who researchers the growth of solar energy in Bangladesh and the impact on everyday lives. Meghna Gupta is the film director behind Off the Grid.

Facebook event page can be found here.

Reserve your place here.

Upcoming event: ‘Cities of Void’ and the apocalypse in film

30 Jul

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When: Tuesday August 11th, 7PM-10PM.

Where: JetLag Bar, W1T 6QB London (directions)

How much: £5 at the door – no reservation required.

This screening event focuses on an emerging cultural interest in post-apocalyptic space across literature, film, video gaming and academic scholarship. This growing interest is developed in the light of climate change and current economic crises.

The fascination with the dystopian is looked at through the lens of two videos shedding different light on the meaning of the apocalyptic. The first is the 1971 science-fiction feature The Omega Man (directed by Boris Sagal) which follows an immune scientist as he fights his way through deserted Los Angeles after it has been struck by a biological warfare.

The second, the award-winning typographic short film Apocalypse Rhyme (2014) by visual artist Oliver Harrison, reveals an already-present and slowly-evolving state of apocalypse.

The two films will be followed by a panel discussion discussing the complex relationship between the human and non-human unfolding in imagined and lived apocalyptic scenarios. This multi-disciplinary panel will consist of the director of the featured short Oliver Harrison, Paul Dobraszczyk (lecturer in Art History, University of Manchester) and Emma Fraser (PhD Researcher, University of Manchester).

Facebook event page can be found here.

 

 

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