Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Sony Pictures Email Hack, the DPRK, and the Cancellation of the Upcoming Release of The Interview

This week Sony Pictures cancelled the December 25th opening of its new film The Interview--a buddy comedy starring Seth Rogen and James Franco, about an assassination plot to kill North Korea’s (DPRK) boy-leader Kim Jong-Un.
The cancellation occurred in the wake of the now infamous Sony Pictures email-hack.
I’ve heard theories that Sony, being a Japanese company, has all the more reason to be nervous of the DPRK’s threats. I’ve heard theories that the DPRK relies on its public reputation as being unhinged, crazy, and dangerous because that’s the only real power or influence they have on the outside world.
Yesterday, I saw one of Sony’s big-wigs explain on CNN that the film was not, in fact, banned. Nor did they “cancel” the film. He maintained that Sony was committed to releasing the film in the future, but explained that they had little choice but to cancel the upcoming release when individual theater chains announced, one by one, that they would not screen The Interview.
I later heard that Sony is making plans for a possible release of the film on Crackle--a movie channel/platform owned by Sony--in the new year.
While the FBI now says it has proof that the DPRK is responsible for the hack, the DPRK has maintained they are not responsible, and that they “will work with the FBI in a joint investigation” to prove they did not hack Sony. Of course, the statement was issued with an ultimatum threatening “grave consequences” if the US rejected the proposed joint investigation. I really don't believe the FBI. Anonymous just posted that the DPRK is indeed not responsible.
Without these public threats it would have been very easy for Sony to simply bury the film, or shelve it--which is essentially what they’ve done for the moment. Films are buried all the time. However, because of the publicity surrounding the hack, Sony was not able to do so quietly.
Earlier this week, President Obama said that Sony made a mistake cancelling the film’s release, stating, "We cannot have a society in which some dictator someplace can start imposing censorship."
I’d like to note that banning a film is not the same as cancelling its release. There are actually very few officially banned film in the United States, and the few banned films are banned in only in certain objecting states, but not across the entire United States. Bans are usually brief and overturned, and bans are often based on sexual or blasphemous content, and less because of political content.
It’s clear the DPRK wants to ban the film, on a global scale. The Sony cancellation of the upcoming release, however, is not a ban.
In reaction to the film release cancellation, the Alamo Drafthouse in Austin announced that they would screen Team America: World Police in its place. Other theaters followed suit. It seemed like a good alternative, and would certainly make a statement.
Team America is a 2004 comedy from Trey Parker and Matt Stone of South Park. Notably, Team America features the DPRK’s former leader Kim Jong-Il as a singing marionette. 
Then suddenly, out of left field Paramount Pictures announced that they would not allow anyone to screen Team America. I’m not clear as to why exactly Paramount would ban screenings of a 10 year-old film. A film that was not openly condemned by Jong-Il.
Regardless of who is responsible for the hack, and regardless of the DPRK’s threats of retaliation if the film was released, the DPRK has an interesting history when it comes to cinema.
Jong-Il was known to be a fan of Broadway musicals, opera, and was a cinephile with a personal collection of over 20,000 film titles. He loved Slasher films and Monster movies. He even wrote some books about cinema: The Cinema and Directing and On the Art of Cinema.
In 1978, Jong-Il kidnapped South Korean filmmaker Shin Sang-Ok and his wife, actress Choi Eun-hee, while they were in Hong Kong. He brought them to the DPRK in order for them to make movies for him.
After a few years in prison, in 1985, Sang-Ok conceded to make Jong-Il’s Monster movie, Pulgasari (you can watch Pulgasari in its entirety on Youtube).
Between 1983 and their incredible escape in 1986, Sang-Ok directed seven films produced by Jong-Il.
Sang-Ok had once been considered the “Prince of South Korean Cinema.” I’d like to say that he went on to make some important films after his escape. Unfortunately, Sang-Ok ended up producing the 1990s 3 Ninjas franchise in Hollywood. He was reluctant to return to Korea until the late 1990s, and he passed away in 2004.
Apparently Jong-Il’s son and predecessor Jong-Un, despite growing up in democratic Switzerland, exposed to Western and European cultures, is not the cinephile his father was.
Coming back to the Sony Pictures hack, and more notably, the ban on Team America screenings by Paramount, it is clear that this is very much about intellectual freedom--something that does not exist in the DPRK.
Russ Collins, director Art House Convergence, issued a statement this week addressing the film’s cancellation saying, “circumstance has propelled this work into a nexus of values, both societal and artistic.” Adding that, “It is also, as an artistic and national community, an opportunity to respond clearly to the behavior of an international bully opposed, by word and deed, to the value of freedom.”
Despite whatever its artistic and cultural merits, it’s notable that the unhinged threats issued from Jong-Un and the DPRK were enough to scare Sony Pictures into cancelling the film’s scheduled release. At what cost? I’ll tell you. At the cost of freedom. Freedom of expression, and of intellectual freedom. Artistic and creative freedom. The freedom to joke and laugh. The freedom to think critically about censorship. And, the freedom to produce creative, critical, and political content for entertainment purposes. This is also about repression and censorship, and to an extent it is also about terrorism.
While The Interview is very likely a mediocre comedy at best, cancelling a film due to vague political threats from an outwardly unstable and repressive regime is not something to be ignored. It’s a political issue and it subsequently raises many questions and concerns about control of content in Hollywood.
The more broad effects of the Sony hack have revealed some of the inherent hypocrisy, compounded by deeply entrenched sexism and racism, that is systemic within the Hollywood. Those Sony emails, they are the tip of the iceberg.
The Sony hack also exposed that it was a Sony executive who was chose Jong-Un as the evil villain in The Interview. Other emails detailed the negotiations on how graphic the scene would be, when Jong-Un is killed. Whether or not these choices were made in poor taste, and as risky as this was, it was, perhaps unwittingly, political.
I’ll also add that satire is an often misunderstood form of comedy that regularly relies on politically unsavory tropes and is aimed at skewering aspects of contemporary cultures, and (hopefully) evokes critical thinking in its audience. Satire is always for a particular effect.
I am still most curious about the Paramount ban on Team America screenings. It’s bizarre. Perhaps, it’s a pathetic attempt to drum up any kind of publicity at all. In my gut, I don’t think Paramount was acting out of any legitimate fear. It seems like a knee-jerk reaction.
The fact of the matter, however, is that we are talking about Hollywood. Some might argue, “it’s just a movie”. Surely, missing out on The Interview will not be devastating for mankind. I’m not sure seeing it will better our cause either.
I'm curious what happens next. If violence is perpetrated because of a screening of The Interview I would bet money it won't have anything to do with the DPRK. I pray, nothing happens. Period.
In any case, the Sony hack will eventually blow over, and The Interview will be released. It will probably be rather underwhelming in the wake of such a scandal. I’ll probably watch it eventually on Netflix, and I’ll have some cheap laughs. It’ll be fun. I will admit, I enjoy Rogen, Franco, et al. More importantly, I will watch it because I’m a cinephile dedicated to upholding and preserving intellectual freedom.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

"The Interview" and Intellectual Freedom

Hey all,

I suppose you've heard the news:

Corner Gas has a movie! I watched it (yesterday, at this hour), and it's really good. Seriously, if you're a fan of the Corner Gas show, or just a Canadian, I'd really recommend seeing/buying it. Oh, and there were some things happening in Alberta politics. Disappointing and stupid things.

Sadly, I'm not writing now to talk about fun or disappointing things: I'm going to talk about terrible things.

The Sony corporation has decided to block their film The Interview from going to theatres in any country. Now, this isn't because it probably sucks (no offense to Evan Goldberg, Seth Rogen, James Franco, Dan Sterling, etc.). It's because Sony is a cowardly corporation that bends to terrorism.

Probably not the words they'd use.

Here's one of many articles discussing it (NBC).

This is an issue of intellectual freedom and terrorism. Obviously. It's self-censorship based on some insane threats.

It is absolutely ridiculous that anyone in a "free" country would let psychopaths control our art (which, I admit, is a generous description of blockbuster movies). Maybe, MAYBE, if there was a real and direct threat on human lives we could make concessions in the short term. But there is no way anyone in their right mind thinks the North Korean government is a real threat to lives outside of their own country. There was never any real threat that "North Korean sleeper cells would bomb theatres," or whatever. The only people the North Korean's can really push around is their own citizens.

So far as I can find, there hasn't even been any credible threats. From the NBC article linked above: "a Department of Homeland Security official said that there was 'no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters,' but that it was aware of the threat." North Korea itself must be pleased with the turn of events: two less films criticizing it (there was a second movie cancelled, starring Steve Carell tentatively titled "Pyongyang"), and an inflated sense of importance in the world stage. But there is no realistic threat, Sony is just paranoid after their recent loss of information (and, really, why should corporations have privacy if individuals don't deserve it?).

Serves them right for having so much private information on the internet. The internet is public, every centimetre of it.

This is so weird that even Mitt Romney is on the right side of things. MITT ROMNEY, the dude that thinks a concept used to group and hide human beings behind a noun should be considered "people" (I always want to vomit/cry/flail-randomly-in-anger when I remember his words). He thinks that Sony should release the offending film online for free:

". don’t cave, fight: release free online globally. Ask viewers for voluntary $5 contribution to fight ."

The dude even asked Sony to get people to donate to fight Ebola. Mitt Romney. I don't even.

Terrorism won. Vague threats of death and damage swayed people, lots of people, and made them silence themselves and their works. Note to self: terrorism works. Though, I suppose this isn't *really* new information: the Sun News Network and Fox News have been using terror to influence people for ages.

Sony needs to release the movie online. Well, they SHOULD release the movie in theatres, but whatever.

Let's pretend Sony is right to believe that waves of North Korean fanatics are just waiting to bomb theatres (because, OBVIOUSLY, North Koreans that are allowed to leave the oppressive country are going to remain loyal without Suicide Squad style bomb implants), and we should stop having public gatherings (ie: theatre showings) of critical discussions. Then release the dissent online, and good luck to the bombers that need to destroy every server and household/public computer.

We cannot allow terrorists to think that threats of violence will realistically manipulate our media and our thoughts.

So, I think I've said some pretty strong things here. I would absolutely love to hear some responses from you, so please comment on this post. I'll definitely be happy to respond when I'm more sober.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Homeless Connect October 2014

FLIF had a great time at Homeless Connect in October. With all of the donations from EPL, we were able to hand out lots of books to the attendees of the event!

Two of our members helping out at our booth!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Fundraiser Being Used to Support Recently Cancelled Play

A production of the play Almost, Maine, written by John Cariani, has been cancelled at a high school in North Carolina, despite the students’ claim that they had permission to put on the production. The cancellation occurred because the principal felt that “the play’s “‘sexually-explicit overtones and multiple sexual innuendos’ are at odds with the school’s mission and educational objectives.”

In response to this cancellation, a Kickstarter campaign has been created by the those in the school's community to allow the students to continue with their production. Their goal has already been reached and they pledge to donate half of the excess money to OUTright Youth of Catawba Valley,” an organization focused on supporting LGBTQ youth, and “the other half of the excess [will go] to various arts organizations in [their] immediate area.”

Additional links: and

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Homeless Connect Reminder

Hi everybody!

We hope the long weekend treated you well and you are refreshed for the coming weeks!

This is just a reminder that Sunday (October 19th) is Homeless Connect. We'll be at the Shaw Conference Centre (9797 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

See you there volunteers!

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Homeless Connect: It's that time of year again!

Hey everyone!

This is just a reminder that FLIF will be participating in Homeless Connect on October 19th from 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. (Two weeks from today!)

Homeless Connect takes place at the Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton.

If you're volunteering, see you there!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Banned Books Week

It is now Banned Books Week, and hopefully you've seen some of the resources and articles raising awareness and celebrating intellectual freedom.

The CLA put out a press release on last year's survey of challenged resources and policies, as well as a report written by Alvin Schrader and Donna Bowman.

The ALA always has their webpage.

And there's an organization sponsored by publishers.

There are tons of ways to get involved this week. Raise awareness in your community (not everyone is as aware of banning/challenging books as you are). Loudly proclaim your commitment to and love for intellectual freedom over the internet or in person (Loudly: all in caps, at the top of your lungs). Take a commonly challenged book out of the library (return it on time and in good condition, please), or use your dollar vote to show support to publishers and authors of controversial works. Hug an intellectual freedom fighter (aka: librarian).

Here are some fun things that I found today:

A comic:

And a quiz.

Please let us know what you've found, what inspires you, or just whatever your brain wants to drop out in the comments.

Oh, and remember: banning and challenging works is real, and very serious. Don't celebrate Banned Books Week; celebrate our freedom to choose what we consume, and the people that fight for this freedom.


Monday, September 08, 2014

Happy International Literacy Day!

This year the theme for the UNESCO event is "Literacy and Sustainable Development". Literacy is so important to education, and it helps to build strong and sustainable societies. Though the event is being celebrated on a global scale this year, the main celebration will be taking place in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Click here to read more about the event, including its history and importance.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

FLIF On The Radio!

You've read about what we do on this blog - now you can hear us talk about it!

Back in March, two of our members participated in a radio interview with the campus radio station CJSR. The interview didn't air until August 7th, but if you were unable to listen, click here! We talk about a few of our projects, such as the Jasper Place Radical Bookshelf and Homeless Connect. If you want to skip ahead to the part where we talk, our interview starts at 3:20 of the broadcast.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Homeless Connect

We had a great time at Homeless Connect this spring!

Check out more photos of us and other volunteers at Homeless Connect on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

FLIF at Homeless Connect

FLIF will be participating in Homeless Connect this Sunday, April 6, 2014 between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. 

Homeless Connect takes place at the Shaw Conference Centre, 9797 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton. 

Come browse our books! 

Friday, March 07, 2014

International Women's Day

Thanks to everyone who stopped by our table in HUB on Tuesday to show your support for FLIF and International Women's Day (which takes place on March 8). We are very proud to have a part in celebrating women around the world and their right to express themselves.

We had the following books on display:

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl
Freedom from Fear by Aung San Suu Kyi
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai
I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Not Without my Daughter by Betty Mahmoody
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Putin’s Russia by Anna Politkovskaya
Wild Swans by Jung Chang
A Woman Among Warlords: The Extraordinary Story of an Afghan who Dared to Raise her Voice by Malalai Joya
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The tale of Two Nazanins by Nazanin Afshin-Jam
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Forever by Judy Blume
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
How the Garcia Girls Lost their Accents by Julia Alvarez
The Well of Loneliness by Radcliffe Hall
The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

For more information on some of these books and the authors, please see the following links:
I am Malala:


Putin's Russia and Anna Politkovskaya:

Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl:

Wild Swans and Jung Chang:

Malalai Joya:

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings:

The tale of Two Nazanins:








Sunday, February 16, 2014

Freedom in Forgiveness

In conjunction with Freedom to Read week, Edmonton Public Library is hosting humanitarian and activist Amanda Lindhout as she speaks about her experience as a hostage in Somalia on Monday evening, February 24th, at the Centennial Centre for Interdisciplinary Science (CCIS) on the University of Alberta Campus. Ms. Lindhout will also be signing copies of her book, "A House in the Sky." The event is free and begins at 7:30 p.m. More information can be found here:

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Health Canada Library Turmoil

The Harper government assault on Canada's libraries is of continuing concern not only to those in the information profession, but also to the communities that utilize our nation's resources. In an article published on January 22, 2014, the CBC disclosed a report criticizing government cuts to Health Canada libraries. The report, provided by a consultant to the department, noted a decrease in utilization of the library's resources. Health Canada scientists have blamed the decreased use on increased difficulty in accessing professional library services and materials.

For its part, Health Canada disputed the findings in the report, stating that "the recommendations [were] based on inaccurate information and [were] not . . . accepted."

Still, there remains cause for concern. Scientists and information professionals alike are worried about the impact of the government cuts on research and to Canada's international scientific reputation, and therefore, it is essential to be vigilant in ensuring that the concerns of those who are both directly and indirectly affected by these cuts continue to be heard.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The * Word

How far does "context" get us? In the case of one student at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, it may not be very far. On January 16, 2014, the Huffington Post reported that in November 2013, "the UNL student senate debated and passed a resolution 'encouraging a broadly inclusive and welcoming campus' that concluded:
Be it resolved, that as senators... We pledge to remove derogatory terms from our vocabulary (that may or may not be purposely directed as offensive) in regard to a person's gender, age, disability, genetic information, race, color, religion, pregnancy status, marital status, veteran's status, national or ethnic origin, gender identity or expression, place of residence, political affiliation, or sexual orientation."
The article went on to disclose that in opposition to the senate's position, one student used a racial epithet while quoting comedian Chris Rock to make his argument. The student, Cameron Murphy, argued that such language is acceptable in certain contexts and if used by certain people. In response, the school has attempted to impeach the Senator on the grounds that "intolerance of intolerance . . . must include intolerance of intolerant terms." 

While UNL has subsequently failed to impeach the student Senator, there remains the problematic issue of where intellectual freedom and freedom of speech fit when struggling to fight intolerance and "isms" in our communities. 

Can we allow for an understanding of context when dealing with speech -- and indeed, materials -- that include terms that we now consider derogatory and hateful? Is there room for an understanding of time, place, and source? Or should there simply be a zero tolerance policy when it comes to such language? 

Should our goal be tolerance or respect and understanding?