Alex Gibney premieres his Stuxnet doc Zero Days in competition
The Berlin Film Festival is officially underway, with jury president Meryl Streep presiding over a competition lineup that includes Alex Gibney's latest documentary, Zero Days.
The film explores the notorious Stuxnet virus, perhaps the most sophisticated cyberattack that has ever come to light.
"Evidently commissioned by the US and Israeli governments, this malware was designed to specifically sabotage Iran’s nuclear programme," the Berlinale wrote. "However, the complex computer worm ended up not only infecting its intended target but also spreading uncontrollably."
[If you prefer to read that sentence in German, here it is:
"Offenbar von den Regierungen der Vereinigten Staaten und Israels in Auftrag gegeben, sollte die Schadsoftware gezielt das iranische Atomprogramm angreifen. Doch der komplexe Computerwurm befiel nicht nur das eigentliche Ziel, sondern verbreitete sich unkontrolliert."]
"Although to this day officially denied, Stuxnet was created by two allied forces who were each pursuing their own agendas, and in doing so opened up the Pandora’s box of cyber warfare...," the film festival catalogue continued.
"In Gibney’s film, insiders chronicle the development of a programme code-named ‘Olympic Games’ – a malware which can paralyse the infrastructure of entire states in a split second without leaving any trace of those responsible. This story of a source code that caused severe damage outside cyberspace becomes a cautionary tale about the dangers of unfettered technologies and uncontrolled political power."
Gibney comes to Berlin fresh from the Directors Guild Awards, where his anti-Scientology film Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief competed for the DGA's top documentary prize. That honor ultimately went to Matthew Heineman for Cartel Land. On Saturday, Gibney won the Writers Guild Award for Going Clear.
Zero Days is perhaps the most prominent documentary to premiere at Berlin this year, but it is by no means the only one. The festival will showcase 77 nonfiction films "in a variety of forms," according to Berlinale organizers.
Almost a companion film to Zero Days is National Bird, directed by Sonia Kennebeck, an examination of the US military's drone program, where from computer screens miles from the "battlefield" Air Force personnel launch deadly raids from above.
According to the Berlinale program, "National Bird describes the dramatic experiences of three former Air Force analysts who have decided to break their silence about the secret deployment of these combat drones. Haunted by the realisation that they might have been responsible for the death of innocent victims, they are going public with their knowledge – regardless of the possible consequences.
The Berlinale documentary slate includes only the second nonfiction film directed by Oscar-winning actress Tilda Swinton. She made one of the films in The Seasons in Quincy: Four Portraits of John Berger, which examine the work of 89-year-old British author, filmmaker and artist John Berger.
"John’s a very inspiring figure... Some people you meet and they’re not quite as inspiring as their work. And some people you meet and they’re even more inspiring than their work. And John is certainly the second category," Colin MacCabe, who directed another of the four installments, told Nonfictionfilm.com. "And he has kept on thinking... He’s kind of endlessly productive across an incredible range of yk writing, photography, filming, painting, drawing, writing novels, writing reportage. He’s a great man."
The Berlinale will also host the European premiere of Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures directed by Randy Barbato and Fenton Bailey, which debuted last month at the Sundance Film Festival.
KIKI, which also premiered at Sundance, will have its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. The film by Sara Jordanö and Twiggy Pucci Garçon, takes viewers inside the dynamic world of the Kiki vogueing scene in New York, where many LGBTQ youth have created a supportive network for themselves built around dance.
Below are some of the other notable documentaries that will have their world or "international" premieres at the Berlin Film Festival:
Fuocoammare (Fire at Sea) - Italy / France By Gianfranco Rosi
The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble - USA By Morgan Neville
Where To Invade Next - USA By Michael Moore
Don't Blink - Robert Frank - USA / France By Laura Israel
Europe, She Loves - Switzerland / Germany By Jan Gassmann
Hotel Dallas - Romania / USA
By Livia Ungur, Sherng-Lee Huang World premiere
Inside the Chinese Closet - Netherlands By Sophia Luvarà
Eldorado XXI - Portugal / France By Salomé Lamas
Fei cui zhi cheng (City of Jade) - Taiwan / Myanmar By Midi Z
Die Geträumten (The Dreamed Ones) - Austria By Ruth Beckermann
Havarie - Germany By Philip Scheffner World premiere
Homo sapiens - Austria By Nikolaus Geyrhalter World premiere
Kate Plays Christine - USA By Robert Greene International premiere
Landstück (Piece of Land) - Germany By Volker Koepp
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on Deadline.com, CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and in Documentary magazine.