If 2014 felt like it was filled with fear, conflicting information, tension, and general nonsense all heading toward some cataclysmic end to civilization, then BBC documentarian Adam Curtis would like to take a crack at explaining why that might be.
Curtis is one of the great underrecognized journalists of our time. He makes sprawling documentaries for the BBC in which he spends years going through their massive video archive and piecing together untold stories of the politics and power that shaped the last century. The approach he takes would certainly send up some journalistic red flags, especially when he takes some major leaps from subject to subject without always fully tying them together. But Curtis approaches his work in a way similar to an artist, attempting to capture the feelings of his subjects as well as the overwhelming nature of the information that has to come together to cover very complex topics.
Writing about his new long-form doc, Bitter Lake, which premiers on January 25th, Curtis had this to say: “It is also an experiment in a new way of reporting the world. To do this I’ve used techniques that you wouldn’t normally associate with TV journalism. My aim is to make something more emotional and involving – so it reconnects and feels more real.” That statement really could apply to any of his films.
His new long-form film is about the recent history of Afghanistan. In Curtis’s words:
The film shows in detail how all the foreigners who went to Afghanistan created an almost totally fictional version of the country in their minds.
They couldn’t see the complex reality that was in front of them – because the stories they had been told about the world had become so simplified that they lacked the perceptual apparatus to see reality any longer.
The above 5-minute documentary is a sort of short-form inversion of that hypothesis. Rather than telling a story of politicians simplifying the stories they tell themselves, it’s about how leaders in 2014 deliberately complicated the stories they told the public in order to create a feeling of chaos that needed to be reined in by unchecked power.
Curtis uses the Putin regime as an entry point on his subject. He explains how the Russian President has employed a man from the conceptual art world to implement a confusing form of political theater in Russia. The regime propped up many competing groups and causes, making baffling moves for the sole purpose of keeping enemies unsure of what their true motivations were at any given time.
The documentarian goes on to relate this to many forms of cognitive dissonance in the Western World, specifically the UK. But anyone who’s lived through the Bush-era War on Terror, the un-prosecuted financial crimes of 2008 and 2014’s appalling revelations in the CIA torture report will recognize the double speak in American politics as well.
Get your dose of the “worst of” 2014 in the embed above and check out the trailer for Curtis’s newest long-form film right here. So long 2014, you sucked.