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Eighteen Terabytes of Afghanistan
July 9, 2010 11:14 PM   Subscribe

"I have just got my hands on something wonderful and precious. It is five computer drives containing the unedited rushes of everything shot by the BBC in Afghanistan over the last thirty years."

So writes Adam Curtis on his blog. Curtis is a documentary filmmaker who also works for BBC Current Affairs, and recently obtained access to this material from Phil Goodwin, a cameraman for BBC.

The material is amazing, astounding. Watch more than two, ten, thirty seconds at a time and you'll understand: most of us not involved with the Middle East or with war have been trained to watch this material with quick cuts, headline graphics, a newscaster's voiceover. Without these trappings of the conventions of broadcast journalism, you get an alternate viewpoint, a sense of really-being-there.

The footage of Afghanistan isn't just a shot of a cannon firing cutting to a shot of Kabul, but includes six slow minutes of government troops, poring over a manual, trying to figure out how to work a gun. Or, the footage at the beauty spa, for example, could be a typical 'zany' piece about the life of soldiers, full of conveniently 'absurd' imagery. Without any cuts, however, you get somewhat of a sense that this is just one part of a day in the life of a soldier, something on the level of going to the bathroom, the vending machine, the rec-room with the ping-pong table. The spa with a manicure.

Curtis: "It is just stuff recorded. It doesn't make any sense. But it doesn't make any less sense than the way Afghanistan is reported by newspapers and television."
posted by suedehead (30 comments total) 89 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is awesome. This is what the future was supposed to be like in the 1980s. John Brunner and Neal Stephenson did not write in vain.
posted by cgc373 at 11:19 PM on July 9, 2010 [6 favorites]


I would spend good time to watch this. All eighteen terabytes. It's near impossible to avoid the bias in Afghanistan reporting, context free raw footage is like tv utopia. Thanks for posting.
posted by shinybaum at 11:20 PM on July 9, 2010 [1 favorite]


Most importantly, don't forget to watch the attempted assassination of Hamid Karzai (NSFW - people being shot, killed). The silence in the immediate aftermath of the shootings is so very eerie and raw.
posted by suedehead at 11:21 PM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


Brilliant. I love Curtis' films. Several are available on the Internet Archive. (Curtis search reults)

Have I bored you all about my theory that Curtis' The Century of the Self is the secret background of the whole Mad Men plot arc? No? Well, consider it done.
posted by aesop at 11:28 PM on July 9, 2010 [3 favorites]


Adam Curtis is quite often brilliant, and I enjoy his documentaries heartily. I've had my disagreements with him, but he's still the most thoughtful and intelligent person making documentary films today. Wonderful stuff.

And he's far too good to be mentioned in the same sentence with a hack show like Mad Men. But I guess that's just my opinion. Either way, you should really check out Century Of The Self, which is well worth every moment. It's also in full on Google video.
posted by koeselitz at 11:51 PM on July 9, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is so much better than regular news editing, which seems often designed to minimize the information content of video.

Reminds me of the old days when you could tap into unencrypted live satellite feeds of the first Gulf War; you would see corpses of civilians crushed under rubble after bombings, followed by weeping mourners arriving, then yelling at the cameraman to leave. 30 minutes later you could tune into CNN and see the edited version - angry foreigners yelling at the cameraman, without any civilian corpses visible.
posted by benzenedream at 12:09 AM on July 10, 2010 [10 favorites]


Adam Curtis continues to rock my socks off.

Thank you for this!
posted by mondaygreens at 12:41 AM on July 10, 2010


The lead makes it worth a visit. Interesting alternative thinking to "grar, we don't belong there."
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:07 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


Flagged as"mindblowing".
posted by Optamystic at 2:20 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


That attempted assassination video was devastating. I've watched it four times. It's unbelievably powerful unabridged and without commentary. Makes me wonder why we (the population of the world) as a population, tolerate television news editing bordering on misinformation (if benzenedream's comment is accurate). There has to be a market for a news show that just plays clips like this, with perhaps a short objective introduction. The internet is big enough these days that it could exist with television in symbiosis: TV providing raw footage and internet providing commentary and depth. Sorry - half formed thoughts right now, I've never seen anything like this because I'm young and only half watch the 6 o'clock news (because it's mostly about a family whose adorable puppy has a sibling-like relationship with their canary). When I was younger, and HTML didn't have numbers after it and 33.6/56k meant something quite good, I demanded more, but it was hard to find, and then I gave up. Now it's almost the future (it's getting exponentially closer) and I think me and the news and current affairs zeitgeist can work something out. Thanks for posting this.
posted by doublehappy at 2:30 AM on July 10, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also - it seems to be a tragedy of our existence that nothing is ever in the right people's hands. Anyone with the financial capacity to collect 30 years of footage from Afghanistan is rarely going to make the best use of it. Also, there are probably four or five (or more) other major news networks with 30 years of Aghanistan footage. Imagine if they had co-ordinated their resources for thirty years and imagine the positive change that someone else with access to those co-ordinated resources could have made (OR not, OR this already happens with Reuters &c., OR it's impossible to co-ordinate, OR some other point I haven't thought about, OR intellectual property is too entrenched. OR it's called 'reporting', not 'changing').
posted by doublehappy at 2:50 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


There has to be a market for a news show that just plays clips like this, with perhaps a short objective introduction.

A few newspaper sites do it, just clip out two or three minutes of footage with no commentary at all, I love it and I'd watch a whole hour of it. I was at an anti-EDL rally earlier this year and the only objective footage was on the evening news sites like this. Everyone else had an angle, which is thoroughly strange to watch when you were there.
posted by shinybaum at 4:09 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains
And the women come out to cut up what remains
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier
Go, go, go like a soldier
Go, go, go like a soldier
Go, go, go like a soldier
So-oldier of the Queen!

/that's about the 3rd time I've posted that in an Afghanistan thread
//love Kipling



posted by uncanny hengeman at 5:04 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm with Doublehappy -- I wish there was more long-form footage like this easily available. Neat stuff, thanks for the post.
posted by Forktine at 5:34 AM on July 10, 2010


Thanks, I will use this to kick off my world history intro class in the fall.
posted by vincele at 6:00 AM on July 10, 2010 [2 favorites]


Aw, c'mon Koeselitz. It ain't like I linked to it or nuttin. But if it makes someone who likes the hack show mentioned above sneak a peek at something that tears the era to bits in a fantastically original light that they'll just-about-recognise from the show, then my hidden-roots-of-popular-drama mission here is a success.
posted by aesop at 7:50 AM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have watched The Century of the Self four times but I've never seen an episode of Mad Men.
posted by localroger at 8:02 AM on July 10, 2010


Utterly fascinating. Thanks for this great post
posted by the noob at 8:22 AM on July 10, 2010


I hate to bring up fallen heroes, but the Rocco/Tiger stream that I watched at work a couple of years ago was easily the best television I'd watched since the L.A. riots. Unfortunately, someone needs, and I mean really fucking needs, to interrupt, edit, censor or spin everything on TV in order to make a buck off our eyeballs. Those people deserve our undying contempt.

But think about what would happen in the flyover country if CNN et al repeatedly rebroadcasted bullet-riddled bodies of the non-blonde, white female variety in a dusty, far off land to their viewers in lounges and waiting rooms across the world. They'd clamor for change, because as we know, most of the populace is mostly entertained by circus. Now I have to get ready for tomorrow's World Cup final.
posted by jsavimbi at 9:22 AM on July 10, 2010


This reminds me of how WikiLeaks releases raw footage in addition to their edited pieces:
WikiLeaks receives about thirty submissions a day, and typically posts the ones it deems credible in their raw, unedited state, with commentary alongside. Assange told me, “I want to set up a new standard: ‘scientific journalism.’ If you publish a paper on DNA, you are required, by all the good biological journals, to submit the data that has informed your research—the idea being that people will replicate it, check it, verify it. So this is something that needs to be done for journalism as well. There is an immediate power imbalance, in that readers are unable to verify what they are being told, and that leads to abuse.” Because Assange publishes his source material, he believes that WikiLeaks is free to offer its analysis, no matter how speculative. In the case of Project B, Assange wanted to edit the raw footage into a short film as a vehicle for commentary. For a while, he thought about calling the film “Permission to Engage,” but ultimately decided on something more forceful: “Collateral Murder.” He told Gonggrijp, “We want to knock out this ‘collateral damage’ euphemism, and so when anyone uses it they will think ‘collateral murder.’ ”
posted by homunculus at 9:43 AM on July 10, 2010




That Karzai assassination footage is powerful. Nthing that we need to see more unedited footage of this type and less gatekept news.

I wasn't familiar with Adam Curtis, but thanks for pointing me to his documentary, aesop. I'm downloading it from archive.org to watch.
posted by immlass at 9:58 AM on July 10, 2010


That spa video is great. Poignant for some reason. These guys putting down their assault rifles to get a manicure. Something very human about it.
posted by jjray at 10:08 AM on July 10, 2010


Knowing a little bit about Adam Curtis, I'd like to point out that these clips are in no way more real or accurate than what appears on the news. There may be 18 terabytes, but he handed you what he handed you.

The purpose of the footage wasn't to understand Afghanistan, but to facilitate this comment:

"That attempted assassination video was devastating. I've watched it four times. It's unbelievably powerful unabridged and without commentary. Makes me wonder why we (the population of the world) as a population, tolerate television news editing bordering on misinformation".

Not picking on doublehappy at all. Point is, this footage didn't lead him to that conclusion, he was already living there for a decade, this footage just gave him another opportunity to say what he already knows. (Please, again, no disrespect intended at all.)

You (plural) tolerate it because that's what you want. Don't say "there's no market for unedited footage to be broadcast, so that's why we're stuck with CNN." No one wants it. We're temporarily thrilled to know it exists, "yay Adam Curtis-- no agenda there!" but in a week we'll forget it exists. It's the same with medical studies and data. "If you look at the studies, there's considerable evidence to suggest..." That just means he saw a tall stack he doesn't need to read.

It's an attempted assassination? All you saw is a guy, then shaky cam, then gunfire and guy dead. "He was promised to Corollas." I missed that part of the video. That makes him what, less bad? than if he was promised cash. But since it's cars it calls up the idea of a poor man used by others to do their dirty work.

What we want is not raw footage or raw data. We want it only to make an appeal to some pretend-objectivity that exists there. "If you look at the raw footage you'd see--!" We want commentary and interpretation. In most instances you already know what you want to believe, you're looking for "data" to support that belief. That's why the news has gone that way, why there are many more such shows, more blogs (yeah, me too) and less interest in such data. "We want Pharma to publish their data openly!" Well, they have. Have you looked? "We want wikileaks!" Sure you do.

You want it so the Huffington Post/Fox News can select, edit, and present what they saw, and then you can say, "Don't believe Obama/Bush/CNN/etc, if you look at the raw footage--!"

This is the game, it's partisan politics. It's not about the truth, it's about hating the other team. Raw data is only useful in juxtaposition with the "edited, biased, MSM." If there was no MSM, you'd create one.

If you're watching it, it's for you.
posted by TheLastPsychiatrist at 11:40 AM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


This is the game, it's partisan politics. It's not about the truth, it's about hating the other team.

Sometimes it's just about not needing to hear yet another breathless hysteric try to tell me what I'm seeing. And that includes those on my side, like wikileaks. The older I get the less I like echo chambers in my news media. Context free footage is only so useful on its own but surely there's wiggle room for minimum input from a wider range of biases.

Raw data is only useful in juxtaposition with the "edited, biased, MSM." If there was no MSM, you'd create one.

No, it's 'cause 18 terabytes on Afghanistan would likely include shit the MSM thinks I'd find boring, which I don't.

If you're watching it, it's for you.

Why else would I watch it.
posted by shinybaum at 12:00 PM on July 10, 2010 [1 favorite]


How do they get Karzai out of the car so quickly? It appears as if the shooter is above and behind the SUV. Wouldn't he have had a clear shot at Karzai as they were pulling him out of the car? Instead he unloaded into the bystanders.
posted by AElfwine Evenstar at 5:19 PM on July 10, 2010


Again, my apologies for any half formed thoughts - I'm supposed to be writing an assignment, so this is procrastination...

Point is, this footage didn't lead him to that conclusion, he was already living there for a decade, this footage just gave him another opportunity to say what he already knows.

I agree, but that doesn't make it less valuable. I haven't engaged with the news since I was fourteen. I wanted to, but it was difficult to find sources. I am fully aware that Adam Curtis has his own agenda - though I don't know what it is yet - and I know that he presented exactly the footage he felt would evoke whatever emotional or intellectual response he wanted it to, and I thought about that and responded anyway.

It's valuable, sometimes, to restate something we already know.

---

You (plural) tolerate it because that's what you want. Don't say "there's no market for unedited footage to be broadcast, so that's why we're stuck with CNN." No one wants it. We're temporarily thrilled to know it exists, "yay Adam Curtis-- no agenda there!" but in a week we'll forget it exists. It's the same with medical studies and data. "If you look at the studies, there's considerable evidence to suggest..." That just means he saw a tall stack he doesn't need to read.


No, we tolerate it because it's ubiquitous, and we (the people that haven't heard of wikileaks, and are scared of people wearing headscarfs, and are busy at work and don't have a lot of time in the evening, and think Iraq is the largest Islamic country and use phrases like "I got it off Google") tolerate it because it's represented for us, and we trust the news. I have a cognitive bias toward believing that the news shows me most of the footage they take, with just the boring bits cut out, and I have never considered how little we actually see, and I guess I have just assumed that if they're not showing us, it's not important. Watching this video gave me a perspective I haven't seen on television before.

It was a video showing people, not an event.

---

It's an attempted assassination? All you saw is a guy, then shaky cam, then gunfire and guy dead. "He was promised to Corollas." I missed that part of the video. That makes him what, less bad? than if he was promised cash. But since it's cars it calls up the idea of a poor man used by others to do their dirty work.

I missed the Corolla reference, and it was pretty meaningless to me. I couldn't even tell who the target was, let alone the shooter. What I got out of it wasn't a video of an assassination attempt, but a video of confused people in a place very different from where I live. The assassination attempt was on 5 September 2002 according to Wikipedia. I doubt very much that it got more than a mention on the news in my country. I live around the corner from the Film Archive, so I'm going to be down there during the week finding out what was actually on the news that week. If it's

I'm uncomfortable blaming viewers/readers for the poor quality of reporting. I accept the premise that, as media shows us less, we demand less, but note that if you replace the word 'less' with 'more', the statement remains true.

I'm not suggesting it's practical to just drop 50,000 hours of film on everyone's desk, I'm just saying that there is value in lingering on a shot. I've never seen the news treat events as anything other than events. These videos showed me people.

---

I think we should be able to flag our comments to make other users aware that we are okay being called on their content. I'm not a delicate rose petal; I'm here because I know I don't know very much and MetaFilter is a critical mass of anecdote and [sometimes] informed perspectives (just look at some of the ridiculously obscure questions marked resolved on Ask, for example). Having seen some threads go downhill fast, I completely understand why you'd disclaim your comment, but, to me, you're just spending two lines making sure nobody's feelings are hurt. I have a lot of confidence expressing my view but I'm rarely confident that they're even close to correct.
posted by doublehappy at 5:19 PM on July 10, 2010 [3 favorites]


Even if I was there at the shooting I wouldn't be completely unbiased. I have preconceptions, likes and dislikes that all inform my judgements. When does anyone get to be completely unbiased anywhere?

It's not about the truth, it's about hating the other team.

For you maybe, for me it's about building a picture and trying to be less judgemental.
posted by pencil at 6:14 AM on July 11, 2010


I'd never heard of this Jack Idema guy. Very scary.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 11:06 AM on July 11, 2010


"I have just got my hands on something wonderful and precious. It is five computer drives containing the unedited rushes of everything shot by the BBC in Afghanistan over the last thirty years.

It fills 18 terabytes of space."
18TB / 5 = 3.6TB per drive.

Where can I get 4TB drives from?

Or is it 5 separate NASes?
posted by wawawawa at 8:46 AM on July 13, 2010


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