Review: The Speculator, Dogs of Democracy, Placebo Alt Russia and Complicit

Placebo Alt Russia

Placebo is an English alternative band, headlined by lead singer and guitarist Brian Molko. The band is at times controversial, often attempting to discuss the oppressive political situation in modern-day Russia. Placebo does so powerfully: as artistic expression is the weapon of choice in Russia rather than demonstrations and protests, which are likely to land participants in prisons.

It takes a substantial amount of courage for Placebo to tour across Russia. The documentary acknowledges that, under Putin’s Russia, “a new law is likely to be introduced each week to suit the government’s interest.” And it would hardly be a surprise if such a law was used to prosecute the dissidents of Placebo. The documentary doesn’t merely acknowledge their courage in a vacuum: indeed, we are made aware that a great many other musicians avoid visiting Russia.

Nonetheless, Placebo embarks on a tour throughout Russia, living in constant fear. This feeling is particularly acute in large cities such as St Petersburg and Moscow. For their audiences, Placebo attempt to provide love, compassion and optimism – eschewing the harsh political and social realities of Russia. Their preparations for performances are so careful and thorough that we are unable to but marvel at the band’s objectives.

Placebo Alt Russia is not just about one band: but about the history and state of Russia; and the nature of the human spirit itself. The documentary provides a discussion of pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary Russia, and seems to indicate not a whole lot has changed since the bloody demise of Tsar Nicholas II and his family. That is, the country is still starved of its freedoms and yielding obedience to an authoritarian leader still remains.

Similarly, the documentary is a resonant portrayal of the importance of peace of harmony, of the resilience of the human spirit to point out atrocity and to stand up to it. Placebo Alt Russia is an in-depth film that leaves us with plenty to think about.

Placebo Alt Russia is showing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on July 9 at 9:30pm. Tickets can be purchased at:

Courtesy: International Film Festival Rotterdam

The Speculator

Yuntao du’s documentary, The Speculator, is an extraordinary depiction of the self-serving world of international business.

The documentary primarily focuses on the launch of Uber in Beijing in 2014. Uber began with a market capitalisation of one billion dollars, which was considered by some an enterprise that was ‘too big to fail’ – a phenomenon that is all too familiar in our post-GFC world.

Initially, Uber was a concept deeply frowned upon, and even stamped out in America and France. There were criticisms, far and wide, of the potential impact Uber would have on the taxi industry and the economy. We are keyed into the ins and outs of the rise of Uber through the eyes of a rogue journalist, who thoroughly assesses the impact of Uber on the taxi market in China. At other times, we are often provided with a bird’s eye view from the perspective of those greatest affected by Uber: drivers, passengers and policeman who are tasked with charging those who illegally operate under the Uber name. This particular documentary provides an ordinary viewer with great insight into the Uber industry, and the overall development of 21st century transportation.

Moreover, The Speculator is exceedingly interesting in documenting the state of Uber in China. As it is illegal, there is a significant risk associated with working for Uber or some such business. Some customers are so attuned to the dangers that are they willing to “help drivers” if the police become aware of a driver participating in the Uber enterprise. Customers even go so far as to fabricate stories about such situations, out of the fear that the driver’s car will either be impounded or that the passengers will be psychologically or physically harmed.

In an evolving 21st century world, The Speculator is a documentary that has contemporary relevance, and analyses these concerns in an interesting, insightful way. However, the documentary could do with more structure – as the scatterings of information can sometimes prove jarring and disorientating.

Ultimately, The Speculator is recommendable to anyone who uses Uber or would like to know more of the Uber and business industry.

4/5 stars.

The Speculator is showing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on 10 July at 6:30. Tickets can be purchased at:

Dogs of Democracy

Greek philosopher Diogenes, many years ago, said “humans would do well to study the character of dogs.” This rather sagacious phrase proves to be the bedrock of Greek-Australian director Mary Zournazi’s documentary. Attending to the courageous, resilient properties that dogs exhibit, Dogs of Democracy demonstrates how love and compassion can work to overpower prevalent sentiments of hopelessness.

Fittingly, Zournazi’s documentary takes place in modern Greece – a place which has been crippled by austerity and economic troubles. There is vast unemployment; even wholesalers are without decent quantities of food and drink. Consequently, there exists a mood of dissatisfaction and disillusionment that hangs over Greece.

Despite this, there are little nuggets of hope and optimism that are facilitated by the dogs that roam freely across Greece. One such dog is Loukanikos, the unofficial star of the documentary. For many of the poverty-stricken people in Greece, Loukanikos is a symbol of all the things that have disappeared from Greece – dignity, friendship and solidarity. “Without him, it just doesn’t feel the same,” one says in the documentary.

However, things wouldn’t have been the same if the Greek government got their way in 2004. Before the Olympics were to be held in Greece, the authorities attempted to exile the dogs from Athens. The Greek people wouldn’t have it; they fought for the dogs to stay and they prevailed. Zournazi reminds us, in this sequence, of the importance of animal companionship, and that dogs bring out the best of humanity.

Dogs of Democracy is a timely and important documentary. It reminds us that, even amid despair, courage, love and compassion can be a potent weapon of hope.

4.5/5 stars

Dogs of Democracy is showing at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival on 16 July at 9:30am. Tickets can be purchased at:


By Joanne Fong

Leukaemia. China. Government cover ups. iPhones. What do all these have in common?

Living in a world of consumerism, it is hard to stop and think about where and how exactly these products came to be on our shelves. From veganism, cruelty free make up to fair trade chocolate, it is apparent that we are becoming more aware and vigilant about what our money is going towards and inadvertently supporting through our purchases. A product that the majority of the developed world purchase and use on a daily basis, are iPhones and electronics. Look at the fine print on the numerous layers of packaging encasing these products and you will be bound to find the typical “Made in China” label that seems to be a staple component of all electronics. But what does this label and its prevalence really mean? No doubt so many products are manufactured in China for the cheap and fast labour, but what is the real price of this inexpensive labour?

Heather White aims to uncover the true cost of the electronics industry in China, in her documentary “Complicit.” This documentary follows the journey of Yi Yeting, a Chinese migrant worker, after being poisoned by benzene turned activist, in his attempt to take on the global electronic industry. The harsh reality of a complete disregard of human rights in favour of monetary gain is apparent as White depicts the compelling stories of factory workers inflicted with occupational diseases (such as leukaemia or nerve damage) from working with known carcinogens and other deadly chemicals. Despite the hardships, the unwavering vigilance and fight for justice of workers and families of those deceased is consistently shown in their activism as they take on the government and big companies such as FoxConn who are behind these wrongdoings.

An excellent documentary for those who want the rose coloured glasses to be lifted from their eyes and learn about the true nature and impact of how iPhones and other electronics come to be. The strength and resilience of the activists throughout the documentary spurs us to question; will we take a stand or will we remain as the multi-billion dollar industries and governments who benefit from these injustices do; complicit?


Christian Blackwell

The author Christian Blackwell

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