These short essays to follow are written from the standpoint of trying to distinguish between violent behaviors for a means of survival, and violent behaviors that stem from an appetite to commit violent acts. After approximately 5000 years of civilization, humans have erected themselves out of the natural world and have constructed their own. The civilization system, so to speak, depended on infinite amount of resources, of all forms, to fuel the process. Resources that from our early ancestors perspective, were only there for the taking. At that time the population was significantly smaller, which meant the impact on the environment could be absorbed without recourse. Throughout time our mythology even reflected this perspective by placing the Earth at the center of the universe. As a result, the civilization system was highly successful in growth, and accepted violent acts as common place.
Acts of violence have built and will continue to build this world in the form of one species consuming the energy of another for its own survival. The modern world follows the same way. However, through civilization humans must question what is necessary for survival if they intend on surviving. Our modern society has packaged resources in cute little boxes made from almost any material. But for most, the thoughts on the origins of these materials, the true necessity of the items, and the impact on the environment are never questioned. Simply put, I believe the majority of the population has lost connection with the impact of how much violence we tolerate.
My hopes are to extract a truth that I can hold up to my self and decide are my acts just. It is important from my perspective that this kind of questioning begin to tingle in the cortex’s of the public’s consciousness. The human race has been very successful at taking control over a large amount of the planet. We have put a man on the moon, dabbled in the nuclear forces of the atom and now we can build a human with digital implants. Our power is only strengthened by our technology which has taken us now to the brink of a new age of human beings.
My thoughts lead me to conclude the following: if humans are to survive the coming times an awareness of the interconnectedness of life and matter must increase in the majority of the world population. Each one of us is made from living and non-living matter. Before you were you, your atoms were somewhere else, being something else. We are made from the Earth, as much as we are the Earth.
Man is not the center of the universe. Not only are we analogous to a proton in the vastness of the universe, but contemporary cosmology suggests (allowable through Quantum Mechanics) that the universe itself may be one of many. The point here is that a shift in perspective is in great need. We are part of something so immense and delicate, as opposed to something being just for us. With a perspective of ownership towards the world comes unregulated consumption, and with todays population size this translates into huge violence across the globe. In order for humans to survive in the future, their place in the universe must be clear.
Of course this will change many beliefs. Think of this: how can 2000 – 5000 years of ancient beliefs handle modern moral dilemmas such as stem cell research, cloning, human organ printing, gene manipulation, and the other issues that will surely arise as a result of twenty first century technology? I feel that the further we probe the more we will realize all creatures and even matter are at different levels of consciousness. Our actions are a result of our beliefs, which are a function of our perspective. The species is too powerful to run an old program at this scale of population. The violence is too great for the planet to absorb anymore. More importantly, for what purpose is this conscious engine intending to do and for whom? How many entities must be sacrificed for survival or for the sake of a tiny minority? What does the planet gain in dividends for being on the receiving end of such violent acts? Lastly, how does violent behavior affect our humanity, are we evolving or are we dis-evolving?
This leads me to the first basic question, when is it just to kill and when is it not?
More to come….
Written by Erik Niel
Over one year has passed since I first crossed the frontier into Libya, and what a long, strange trip it’s been. As I stared beyond the final border checkpoint into that empty landscape, before my eyes stretched the great unknown, a boundless abyss of uncertainty. What would become of me in this, the first war-ravaged country I had ever set foot in? Yet to my surprise, that dull sense of dread, such an ever-present specter since I first decided to go, suddenly disappeared, replaced instead with a growing feeling excitement. And so after many years of dull apathy, I felt a renewed sense of purpose.
Long before that border crossing, I fell deep into those dreary, dark doldrums that many filmmakers call home. Progress in the industry was inordinately, soul-sappingly slow. Time, however, wasn’t. And with each year gone, success seemed more and more distant, and less and less likely. Yet all this would change in just four days, those fateful four days in February of 2011. A passion long forgotten would suddenly be rekindled, ushering me across the Atlantic and to this sand-choked border hugging the heights above the Egyptian town of Salloum.
Not an hour from Egypt, we entered into Tobruk, site of the great World War II battle, and the first sizable city in the East of Libya. As we drove on those broken roads, we were greeted with a scene of quiet jubilation. The sense of citizenship coursing through the veins of the residents, newly freed from 42 years of Gaddafi, was like nothing I had ever witnessed. And as we worked our way toward Benghazi, the birthplace of the uprising, that same scene played before us…over and over and over. For the whole of the East was polarized, working as one to rid hapless Libya of the systematic oppression that had plagued it for two generations.
As we arrived in Benghazi, midnight had come and gone, but people were out in full force clearing the wreckage from the streets. The following day, we saw 12-year old boys don police hats and direct traffic at the light-less intersections. Downtown, we raptly watched as musicians and artists converged on the once foreboding internal security headquarters, now the media center and the cultural Ground Zero of the revolution. In the blink of an eye, a music and art scene burst forth from under the surface, and enveloped free Libya. Heavy metal, country, blues, jazz and traditional all converged on the media center, and brought its burned out shell to life. And all amidst a backdrop of utter devastation. 42 years of neglect had left Benghazi a living ruin, a bleak setting for a post-apocalyptic film. Yet despite the decay, the city was full of such life, of renewal, of spring come again. I took all this in with amazement, and for the first time in I don’t remember when, I felt a faith in humanity, dormant somewhere deep inside me, reignited. And I felt that same renewal course through my veins.
The idea for a music festival first came to me while I was exploring the ruins of the ancient Greek city Cyrene. While I wandered through the decaying Necropolis that winds down the hill toward Soussa, the youth were out in full force and exercising their creativity out in the open, letting their voices be heard for the first time in their lives. I thought to myself that the world needed to see this, the true face of the revolution. Not al Qaeda. Not Western governments, but the thousands of forgotten, a lost generation rediscovering itself in the music…in the requiem for youth. The more I pondered, the greater the need, it seemed to me, to show to the rest of the world this true face of Libya that I was seeing. And in those quick moments, I transformed from a down-on-his luck filmmaker into a music festival producer.
After leaving Libya for a few months, I returned only to find a large number of people had already heard about the idea. As a friend later explained to me, news travels near the speed of light in the metropolitan village that is Benghazi, and one person stumbling across a Youtube video of some unknown American talking about some Libyan music festival soon turned into 50 ad hoc festival organizers. Before I even arrived, I had a crew. And when I once again planted my feet on Libyan soil, we were off to the races. Soon followed coffee with businessmen, meetings with ministers, and appointments with NGO’s. Interest grew and grew, just as opposing forces violently clashed in the last loyalist stronghold of Sirte. A month passed, and when Sirte finally fell on October 20th, we used the occasion as a platform to advertise about the festival. And, oh, how splendid things looked.
As time wore on, however, it became painfully clear that nothing was actually getting done, and nobody knew what they were doing. The honeymoon was over, and my once robust crew attenuated down to three: me and two others. The enthusiastic voices of support in the National Transitional Council (NTC) had long grown silent, and the various NGO’s never bothered to follow up, let alone return our calls. To make matters worse, the idea was hijacked by at least four different groups, and what once seemed to be a concerted effort of the citizens of Benghazi became a desperate race between rival factions to hold the first festival. The NTC invited Yousif Islam for a festival at our original location. A local television channel began poaching from our lineup for theirs. And whispers of various other music events kept on surfacing throughout the month of January. It seemed the very spirit of the festival, the very spirit of the music, had been tainted. All the enthusiasm, all that newfound hope welling inside of me, was gone, slowly eaten away by the months of collective apathy after the fall of Sirte. Yet somehow, through all of these pitfalls, we remaining, we few persevered. And it appeared our perseverance would be rewarded. One day before the festival, we found ourselves the last ones standing, with a fantastic location secured, and 25 local bands ready to shake the very foundations of Benghazi. As we held the final briefing of the bands, I looked on in sheer amazement. We did it. After all this…we, we really pulled it off.
Sadly, however, the legs that supported us, and seemed to hold up while others fell, were nothing but an illusion, a cruel mirage in the heat of the desert sun. For at the 11th hour, the burgeoning politics of Benghazi laid to waste all our plans…and just like that, we were forced to cancel the festival. The music, the voices, went silent once again.
The aftermath was a particularly difficult time, for the shades of failures past continually haunted me. The hope I had so happily embraced turned to dust in my hands. I hated Benghazi, hated it with a passion, and it appeared that Benghazi began to hate herself. Disappointment and resentment ruled the day as Libya became mired in post-revolutionary stagnation. Once again, corruption was blatantly out in the open, and people felt that nothing had really changed, save for their ability to complain and criticize. Somehow the city reflected how I felt inside, and I wanted nothing more than to go home, to leave this dirty living ruin, lost within the echoes of the 20th century. Yet something inside refused to let me leave. Something I had yet to discover. Some burning question left unanswered.
One beautiful spring day, as I was walking by the lighthouse, the sun peaked through the clouds, and hit the ruined buildings in a peculiar way. And for the first time since I arrived, I saw it. I saw Benghazi. Not the ruined city of trash and rubble that I had come to know, but a hidden gem amidst the dust, a gem with many facets. To truly see Benghazi, to truly understand this unique city of contradictions, one must take them all in at once. All facets. This was a city with virtually no infrastructure. Crumbling hospitals. Decaying roads. And no law and order. Yet despite these civilization-smashing problems, Benghazi not only functioned, but functioned peacefully. In the midst of it all, here I was, a blonde sore thumb with a pony-tail, moaning about the festival and generally feeling sorry for myself. Yet I never felt any real danger, even in a city where most of the population possess small arms, with the police being nothing more than paper tigers. In spite of this, however, I walked virtually everywhere without being bothered (apart from crazy drivers and roving packs of vicious dogs). No, no. This was not Mogadishu. In fact, this was not even San Francisco.
As the rays of the sun illuminated this ancient city on the Bay of Misrata, I at last saw through the veil of my own darkness and gazed upon the true face, the true character, of Benghazi. Unconditional love for this city, my city welled up within, for she embraced me and took me as one of her own. And for the first time, I felt peace.
This story, my story, is not about a festival, nor is it about a nation burning in the flames of revolution. No, this is a story about how the city of Benghazi and I came to love each other, despite our many disagreements, and despite the great cultural chasm that lies between us. In the beginning, I came to her engulfed within the darkness of my soul, among the shadows of failures past. Yet in the end, she would come to love me as I love her, and lead me out of the darkness. As I left her behind in the sands of the Great Desert, I finally heard her song. And what a beautiful song it was.
The weather is cold but the spirits are hot. Slamdance 2012 is pumping like a well oiled machine. As a first timer here, I must admit its a wonderful experience to be part of a huge gathering of artists alike. Ten years ago when I made the choice to become a filmmake my goal was to see a project of mine on the big screen. In about 24 hours this dream with be coming true. My only hope is that it will be received well by the audience.
Either way my filmmaking spirit has been reenergized after a a long bout of financial illness and weakening confidence. It goes to show that things can flip on a dime and the world will give back. Honestly I am still not sure what to make of it all especially as a first timer to an event of this size. I must still remind myself that I am not here as a tourist but as a contributor to the festival. Hopefully all goes well at our screening tomorrow.
I again thank all of our supporters of the film, ‘We Win or We Die’ and of course all our supporters over the years. At 180 films we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Reporting from Park City, Utah
With all the struggles occurring in the world, this short film tells not only the story of one man, and a people. But also relays the resonating frequency of revolt throughout the globe, as they fight for the primal right of freedom, property, and the pursuit of happiness. ‘We Win or We Die’ strikes a cord that applies to me and all people I believe. The title does not just apply to Libyan people alone, it is a beacon of strength for all people to rally behind for a new age. In this writer’s humble opinion, this film is the film of the year, created by young lads with spit and hope. Go now and see this powerful film and witness the power of a collective force.
December 7, 2011, the creative crew of ‘We Win or We Die’ attended a kick off diner for the 2012 Slamdance film festival. Over Cuban food in Los Angeles Versailles restaurant, the crew enjoyed meeting other filmmakers, critics, and distributers as everyone toasted in the new festival for 2012.
For Matt Millan and Erik Niel this was the beginning of a new step in their 10 year career as filmmakers. Both men agree emphatically that none of their recent success would have ever transpired without the talent of animator Evan Sexton, the quality insights provided by Adrian Belic and Amir Masud, and of course Chris Testa and Harold Millan’s incredible knowledge and guidance to the project as producers.
Matt and Erik wish a warm thank you to all the supporters of the film who believed independent film making is a worthy endeavor. Without people like you Independent artists could not exist.
The crew gears up for Slamdance cometition taking place in Park City Uath in late January 2012. Morale is high and the crew is very excited to have been selected for such a big festival. To all 180 Films supporters and fans over the years we again say, “thank you very much for your support we could not have gotten this far without you.”
Be on the look out for updates as the festival approaches, from all of us at 180 Films, Happy Holidays.
“After traveling through the East, I now see Libya with different eyes. It’s as if a volcano of artistic expression erupted in front of me. And I’ll tell you, it’s ripe for the most rockin’ music festival on the Mediterranean.”
Rebirth: 17 of February Music Festival is an exciting new initiative: the first annual music festival in a liberated Libya, and soon to be the most epic music event in North Africa and the Middle East. It will be held on the one year anniversary of the uprising, and will run for three days (Feb.17th, 18th, 19th, 2012). It is the brainchild of filmmaker and music lover Matthew Millan, who traveled to the East of the Libya in April and May of this year to Libya to document the uprising. Within hours of entering into the country from Egypt, he became horrified at the level of devastation and neglect wrought upon the East of Libya by the Gaddafi regime. From the forgotten ruins near Shahhat to the half-erected buildings of Bayda, the East appeared to be remnants of an abandoned civilization. Yet amidst the dust of war, he soon discovered something extraordinary being born out of the spirit of Libyan people. From the sophisticated art of Bayda to the thriving music scene in Benghazi, a nuclear explosion of the arts had occurred, covering its plume throughout the East of the North African country. And while exploring the ruins of the Katiba the sprawling fortress that dominates the center of Benghazi, it occurred to him that a music and arts festival would be the perfect foil to highlight this blast of creativity, and in one of the most beautiful regions he has ever seen.
The idea was borne not only out of a strong desire to highlight to the rest of the world the rebirthing of the Libyan cultural identity amidst the chaos, but to raise money to help rebuild the decaying infrastructures that plague Libya. In September of 2011, Matthew Millan returned to Libya to secure the location for the festival, and to take care of the local logistics. The difficult process of bringing the festival to life in a war ravaged country will then be made into a feature length documentary, a singular event that encapsulates the Libyan Phoenix rising out of the ashes of the old regime.
By: Don Smith (smithpolitical)
It has been a hectic past few days. We are attempting to arrange the largest music festival in Libya’s history, Rebirth: 17th February Music Festival, in only a few months. We are also showing the film “We Win or We Die” all across Benghazi. I’d like to say many thanks to Tawfik and the International School that he runs for allowing us to show the film there. The overall response to the film, “We Win or We Die”, and the festival, Rebirth: 17th February Music Festival, has been positive. Most people have commented that he film reminds them of the revolutionary spirit that that had just a few months ago and the festival is an excellent way to celebrate Benghazi’s independence.
This brings me to Thursday October 20th. The air is electric with the news of the fall of Sirte and Gaddafi’s demise. The end of 42 years of tyranny has released a tidal wave of emotion. With crowds of people bombarding the streets yesterday, firing off pistols and assault rifles, it was like New Years Eve and the 4thof July rolled into one. With shouts of “Long live Libya” and “Long live America” filled the air as I was continually approached and thanked for the role the US had in the liberating of this country. I have yet to come across any anti-American sentiment since I came here and many Libyan want Americans to feel that Libya is their second home.
The people are ecstatic and the air is filled with hope as Libyans once again own their country and can control its future. However, there is also a deep awareness of the long road ahead of them. Libya as a nation is quite wealthy, but Gaddafi squandered that wealth leaving most of the nation in ruins. Construction has been in frozen for the past ten years leaving half-built buildings sitting in a state of suspended animation and many of the nation’s historical landmarks in complete disrepair. There is trash everywhere because waste management was cancelled once the war began and the water system needs to be revamped so the people can once again have clean drinking water. Very few police are on the streets and government offices have yet to reopen, but the streets are peaceful and these services should resume shortly.
The sectarian violence that has plagued Iraq has made many Libyans resolute to not let their country slide into a civil war. And while there is always some risk of conflict based on ideology, this is fortunately unlikely in Libya for a variety of reasons. Tribalism, while still present in the country, does not contribute to any longstanding conflict within Libyan society, having held much of the country together in the absence of government, and is no more significant than any other form of regionalism in any other country. Religious extremism exits only within a minority of the population and secularism is favored by the majority of Libyans over the establishment of a religious caliphate. This is not to say that Libyans wish to abandon Sharia law, in fact many would argue that it should be the basis of the legal system, but that the laws should be flexible and open to interpretation to allow the government to expand with the people. Another fear is that political opportunism will lead to fracturing of Libyan society because conflict can always be manufactured by those who wish to exploit it for their advantage. Issues can be created and then used to divide a once unified electorate. Already there are those in the West that question the validity of a government created in the East. Nor should any favoritism be used in the division of the country’s assets. Regionalism is important and Libya can easily exist within a federated system that complements this regionalism. One can only hope that the Libyan leadership will put partisanship aside and do what is best for the country.
Many dramatic events will enfold over the next few months as the nation shifts towards democracy and factions form into political parties. Libya’s first free elections will usher in a new era for the country. That and the drafting of a new Libyan constitution are sure to ensure years of peace and prosperity to come. Now is a time for excitement, and rebirth, for while many years of hard work are ahead the Libyan people know that Libya’s future is its own once again, the era of tyranny is over, and a new Libya sees the dawn.