Political Film Review #97

POLITICAL FILM SOCIETY AWARD BALLOTTING CONTINUES
During January, Political Film Society members reduced the many films nominated for awards during the year 2000 to five nominations per category. The final ballot was sent out on February 3. To obtain a copy, go to the Political Film Society website.

ANTITRUST PUBLICIZES THE OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE MOVEMENT
The film AntiTrust clearly purports to be an exposé of someone more ruthless than Bill Gates; interestingly, Sun Microsystems and Linux were consulted for the movie. Directed by Peter Howitt, the protagonist is Milo Hoffman (played by Ryan Phillippe), who has followed up his graduation from Stanford to make a computer software breakthrough along with his partner Teddy Chin (played by Yee Jee Tso). (Stanford officials have insisted that the university does not endorse the film; an architecturally impressive building at the University of British Columbia is used instead.) Gary Winston (played by Tim Robbins), the head of N.U.R.F. (Never Underestimate Radical Vision), is aware of the talents of the two, who are operating from a garage; indeed, developments originating in a garage launched Hewlett-Packard and other firms, and Winston fears that an unaffiliated genius will put him out of business. Accordingly, Winston asks the two to come to his corporate headquarters somewhere south of Portland (the actual film location is Vancouver, British Columbia), for a job interview. Milo is eager for a big break to work alongside the great Gary Winston, who has surpassed Bill Gates in innovative technology, but Teddy refuses to go because Winston’s reputation is to buy up new software, reverse engineer them, market an inferior product, and make billions. Teddy believes that basic computer pipeline inventions should be shared gratis, and he is disappointed that Milo no longer subscribes to that philosophy because of the Faustian lure of fame and money. Winston owns some twenty communication satellites and is on the verge of completing Synapse, which will enable communication between any two persons on earth by audio or visual means as well as one-way messaging from N.U.R.F. to the entire planet, but his anti-trust vulnerability bedevils his corporate attorneys. (The film might have sought to influence the proposed merger of Time-Warner and America on Line, as the Anti-Trust Division of the U.S. Department of Justice allowed the merger in January 2001 with the stipulation that AOL had to abandon exclusive control of instant messaging so that other software vendors can provide the same product through AOL, though currently the big software firms are desperately trying to develop convergence technology, and the first to do so may become the new giant of the industry.) Milo’s expertise proves that he is capable of developing the one missing software component that will complete Synapse—reduced download time, with resulting clearer images. With his girlfriend Alice Poulson (played by Claire Forlani), he relocates to a delightful house near N.U.R.F. and meets the staff, including Lisa Calighan (played by Rachael Leigh Cook). One day he learns that Teddy has been murdered, presumably by a racist; on visiting the scene of the crime, he becomes suspicious that Winston is behind the foul play, seeking to wipe out competitors while stealing their ideas, in the spirit of Winston’s philosophy that in the computer business “You are either a 1 or a 0.” Milo realizes that N.U.R.F. has intelligence and surveillance technologies that will reveal who killed Teddy and whether Alice and Lisa are plants. He even learns that Anti-Trust Division official Lyle Barton (played by Richard Roundtree) has been bought by Winston. He then penetrates N.U.R.F.’s security system and discovers that his hunches are correct. Winston, however, realizes that Milo has knowledge about N.U.R.F. that would expose culpability in various crimes, so Alice is ordered to kill him by cooking a dish with ground sesame seeds, to which he is so allergic that he could become comatose, but he eludes the lethal meal. Always one chessmove ahead of Winston, Milo eventually connects Synapse to expose the connection between Teddy’s murder and Winston. Anti-trust, in short, warns the public that the dangers of software monopoly are real. The alternative, the open-source software movement (spearheaded by the Linux and Gnome systems), is given favorable treatment in the film. Indeed, one might ask how upstart AOL could accumulate so much capital in such a short time that it could buy out communication giant Time-Warner? The answer provided inferentially by the film is that consumers are paying heavily for the results of cut-throat competition and monopolistic practices by some internet service providers and software manufacturers. Accordingly, the Political Film Society has nominated AntiTrust for an award as best film of 2001 in the category Democracy. MH

BOARD OF DIRECTORS MEETS MARCH 3
The Political Film Society Board of Directors will meet to count ballots for best films of the year 2000 at 8481 Allenwood Road, Los Angeles, on March 3 at 7:30 p.m. All Society members are invited. Refreshments will be served.