Watching privacy & surveillance

A subjective and partial collection of films on privacy and surveillance.



Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, is the portrait of an artist under surveillance, his art, his family, and his engagement for freedom and State transparency. It was directed by Alison Klayman en 2012. More details here.


Democracy – Im Rausch der Daten, a 2015 documentary film by David Bernet on the legislative procedure which led to the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). With European Union policy makers, privacy activists and lobbyists in full action mode. More information here.


From the Other Side’ is a 2002 film by Chantal Akerman about the border separating the United States (US) and Mexico and, inevitably, also the human and technological surveillance between them. It gives the opportunity to mention that Akerman wrote in her 2013 book ‘Ma mère rit’ about the day she was in the US and went to a shop at started complaining about the fact that at the US border she had been obliged to give her fingerprints as a criminal, and that, therefore, ‘America is not a free country’ (in English in the original French text).


In Order not to be Hereis a short movie by  by Chicago-based filmmaker Deborah Stratman that scans the violence of night surveillance, and how technology keeps people of places in order to protect a certain emptiness. It is available at Doc Alliance Films, where can also be found Hacked circuit‘, a 2014 circular short movie also directed by Stratman on sounds that illustrate eavesdropping, the visible and the unseen.


Optical vacuum, a film by Dariusz Kowalski based on a collage of more or less public webcam images and very private conversations, raising the crucial question of how interesting is any of that to you, or anybody. Made in Poland in 2008.


Prison images(‘Gefängnisbilder‘ in the original German) is a 2000 film by Harun Farocki composed of images of and about prisons, from both CCTV cameras and fiction and documentary films. Together they dissect how technology frames individuals in the prison space, but also many other aspects of life (and death) under a surveillant gaze, including identity, love, sex and violence, as well as their relation with the idea of spectacle.


A rather boring account of an otherwise great story. It might be useful to partially enlighten fully uninformed spectators, notably teenagers, especially if they do not have high expectations. Snowden‘ was directed in 2016 by Oliver Stone.


Ucho (The Ear), directed by Karel Kachyňa, filmed in 1970 and released in 1989. A Czech language film about a couple and a nation under surveillance, exploring the connections between knowledge, power and fear. Highly recommended.


The DVD ‘Wave Catcheraccompanies the book Wellenfang, and together they document the work of Christina Kubish in the Ruhr region in 2009 and 2010. Kubish developed custom-made headphones that make audible the electromagnetic fields around us, through a technique of electromagnetic induction. Her ‘electrical walks’ transform the listeners into modern flâneurs, strangely seemingly disconnected from the everyday reality surrounding them, but in fact actively discovering new connections with the invisible sounds of the landscape. ‘Wellengang, the book, explains how Kubish’s work help us experience the invisible presence of data flows, and why ‘wireless’ is not ‘waveless’. ‘Wave Catcher‘, the film, follows discreetly some electrical walkers, letting us watch how the feel the pulse of electrical fences guarding horses, or how they auscultate the heart beat of a cash machine. Beautiful.


Other interesting films include: Charlie Chaplin’s ‘Modern times‘  (1936), where interactive CCTV  reaches the toilets of a factory for advanced surveillance of the workers’ productivity; Alfred Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ (1954), about watching, knowing, and desire; Robert Zemeckis ‘Back to the future II’ (1989), displaying a highly connected house where seemingly private multimedia communications are monitored by the company’s boss.


For music on privacy and surveillance, see this basic selection, more music here, Surveillance clichés (I): The 1980s or Surveillance clichés (II): Heavy metal.