Pine Gap: Snowden and Snowdon


p2327-Citizenfour-Snowden-1COMMENT by ERWIN CHLANDA
The inaugural Something Somewhere film festival was an outstanding success. Most films sold out. It will hopefully become a red letter weekend in the town’s calendar, as pledged by Alex Kelly, the charming, resourceful and efficient head of the organising team.
Bob Durnan is writing his take on this marvellous event which we will be pleased to publish.
Below is a “but” which in no way is meant to detract from the above.
The town’s interest in the heroic response by 33-year-old Edward Snowden (above, right) to history’s most prolific mutilation of personal privacy, by the United States of America, on a global scale and with Australian complicity, was substantial: Araluen’s 500 seat theatre must have been four fifths full for the movie Citizenfour.
The movie dwells a little too long on images of email texts and digital codes, which could have been dealt with by saying film maker Laura Poitras and Snowden had to find a secure way of communicating.
p2327-Citizenfour-GreenwaldBut the sequences in the Hong Kong hotel room, of Snowden talking with Guardian journalists Glenn Greenwald (at left) and Ewen MacAskill, is documentary film making at its peak, not just getting wind of a world scoop after the fact, but shooting it as it unfolds.
The stage was set – three chairs, three microphones – for a community discussion about Pine Gap, which vies with Menwith Hill in North Yorkshire for the title of being the USA’s biggest offshore spy base. It is a conduit to the CIA and NSA of every email, mobile phone call, google search, credit card purchase, web browse, airline booking and God knows what else you are making.
Panel member Russel Goldflam presented a thumbnail of “The Base” that could have been the introduction to the kind of lively debate Alice Springs had staged repeatedly in the past.
But there was no roving microphone, half the people went outside for a chat, and when the second panel member, Jonathan Pilbrow, had used his time pitching a protest in October it was all over.
For example, why didn’t anyone tell Member of Lingiari Warren Snowdon, who was in the audience, what he should be doing about Pine Gap, if he gets back in on July 2? Or what he did do when his side of politics was running the country?
Whatever happened to “think globally, act locally”?
We live in the mirror image of a Big Brother system and are more and more complicit with it.
Territorians live under a regime that sells public property without consultation to a foreign power many consider as hostile or at least on the nose; it pork barrels to its heart’s content; it conducts public discourse through missives flicked around by minders; and lavishes taxpayers’ money upon mates expected to return favours.
A good example of a country run by fear is when whistle blowers or people with concerns unrelated to their work will speak publicly only on the condition of not being named, lest they or their families are victimised: It happens right here, once or twice a week, as we in the Alice Springs News Online know only too well.
It’s a conversation we could have had last night as two elections are drawing near.
Are there are too many Snowdons and not enough Snowdens?


  1. I would like to express my disappointment that the above article summarised my contribution to the panel discussion after the screening of Citizen Four as follows: “When the second panel member, Jonathan Pilbrow, had used his time pitching a protest in October it was all over.”
    The majority of my time, in fact, was spent in making a pitch for the Independent and Peaceful Australia Network (IPAN) national conference to be held in Alice Springs on October 1 this year. I am a member of the IPAN conference organising committee.
    As part of the panel discussion I provided information about the aims of IPAN, the date of the conference and public forum which precedes the conference; and mentioned the name of speakers who would be presenting at the conference and public forum. I also talked about my hope that the conference activities would lead to some robust community conversation regarding the presence of Pine Gap in Alice Springs.
    My reference to the protest activity, which in the main is being coordinated by the Disarm group, and will take place in the lead up to the conference, was in response to a question directed at me by the Film Festival Coordinator. As part of this, I also mentioned that IPAN is planning to organise a protest the day after the conference.
    It would have been nice to have seen some reference to IPAN and the conference mentioned in the article.

  2. So Erwin, you have put me out of of a job yet again.
    Just when the third series of our “Finding” documentary series was about to go into production (Finding Bigfoot and Finding the Tassie Tiger were the first two), you managed to locate another of the world’s most mystical beasts.
    How is Wozza, by the way?

  3. We are grateful to the Alice Springs News for their coverage of the festival and certainly do plan to present Something Somewhere again in 2017.
    We approached local experts to be “Community respondents” after all of our films, other than ones where the directors or producers were available to do Q&As.
    None of our post screening discussions involved audience questions and we were mindful of not letting them run too long given film lengths.
    The idea of these discussions was to enable local reflection, to spark debate and share info with audiences about ways to get more information – such as the IPAN conference and the Close Pine Gap protests.
    We didn’t feel that a long discussion in Araluen from 9.40pm on a Sunday evening was the best forum to dig deeper in to the impacts and issues of Pine Gap and think the IPAN conference will be a great forum for this.
    We hope that the festival has encouraged discussion and debate on a range of topics and look forward to programming another event in 2017.
    We welcome feedback so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Thanks!

  4. Hi all,
    @ Erwin sure, roving mic talk-fests can be good but I don’t know that would have been the best use of the time when people were already restless after a feature length film.
    @ Jonathan Pilbrow. I for one greatly valued your contribution as a panel member to this event.
    Community organising (i.e ACTION not talk!) is an underappreciated role, but time and time again it is demonstrated to be the key way for civil society to keep behemoth powers (and tinpot regimes for that matter) in check.
    Thank goodness we live in a country where we are able put the spheres of power in perspective and respond accordingly!
    I look forward to the public awareness raising events and community discussions that will focus on Pine Gap later this year.
    @ Erwin, your concerns regarding corruption and abysmal NT governance are valid and shared by many.
    However, it is estimated that close to 100-200 deaths per week occur are executed with the press of an enter key as the result of the activities in Pine Gap.
    This happens just 20 kms from where we live and sleep. I am told there is no pause button for Sunday or holy days.
    The total percentage of innocent lives lost is unknown but it is worth mentioning nonetheless.
    Lest we forget.

  5. Hi Alex, all points taken, but it makes more sense to hold Mr Snowdon to account 55 days before the election than 91 days after it when, on past performance, and if he gets re-elected, he’ll be fast asleep again in his 12 month a year hibernation.
    True, your great film festival evening shouldn’t be the only pre-election forum on Pine Gap, but it could have been a fantastic one.
    Of course, with 11,476 readers’ comments since July 20, 2011 the Alice Springs News Online is a popular place to have a debate!


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