The Illusionists: Help fund it on Kickstarter

A few weeks ago, I had drinks with a young filmmaker I had started following on Twitter months ago. Her name is Elena Rossini and she lives in Paris. We talked extensively about her feature-length documentary project, The Illusionists. I’ll let her explain it in her own words:

As you may know, in late June I’ve launched an ambitious fundraising campaign for my feature-length documentary The Illusionists, which I wrote and I am co-producing and directing.

Here is the synopsis of the film:

THE ILLUSIONISTS is a feature-length documentary about the commodification of the body and the marketing of unattainable beauty around the world. The film will explore the influence that corporations have on our perceptions of ourselves, showing how mass media, advertising, and several industries manipulate people’s insecurities about their bodies for profit.

The Illusionists’ Kickstarter page has a video teaser and a longer explanation of the project: (its themes, style, and my motivations for making the film).

There are amazing experts already lined up for the interviews, including author & filmmaker Jean Kilbourne (best known for her iconic film series “Killing Us Softly”), psychotherapist Susie Orbach (best known for her books “Fat is a Feminist Issue” and “Bodies”) and Jenn Pozner (author of “Reality Bites Back”; she was recently featured in the New Yorker and on NPR). I’m also hoping to interview Umberto Eco, Gloria Steinem, Oliviero Toscani and Maurice Levy of Publicis, amongst others. 

Thanks to the incredible generosity of friends, friends-of-friends, Twitter and Facebook followers, the fundraising campaign has already achieved some amazing milestones. 12 days in, I’ve reached 43% of the total funding goal, with over 110 backers and more than 1,100 Facebook “likes” of my Kickstarter page. In short, I’m on cloud nine. But the road ahead is still long… if I don’t reach 100% of the funding goal by August 5th, I will lose all the pledges made so far.

On Kickstarter, I am offering “regular people” pre-sales of the film and various other gifts as rewards for donations: (the column on the right). I’m also developing a special package for sponsors whose mission is aligned with the message of the film that would offer exposure on the site, in all press material, and in the end credits of the film.

If this is something that resonates with you, go to and fund it. I just did.

Italian law turns increasingly illiberal. For bloggers too

The Italian Senate has passed a law-and-order bill that, pandering to fears about immigration-related crime, would severely restrict human and civil rights for immigrants, for the homeless, and possibly for Internet users. (The bill, sponsored by the Northern League,  now goes to the House).

If the bill becomes law in its current form:

  • Doctors will be allowed to breach professional secrecy and may report to the authorities any foreigners who seek treatment and do not appear to be legally in the country. Both doctor’s groups and the Catholic church have spoken out against the measure.
  • Vigilante groups will be allowed to start street patrols to monitor and report “events that can cause harm to public security, or situations of environmental distress”.
  • Foreigners who marry an Italian citizen will have to wait two years before obtaining Italian citizenship.
  • Homeless people will have to be registered as such in a database to be maintained by the Interior Ministry.

Finally, in a move that caused much outcry in the Internet community, the Christian Democrats’ UDC centrist party introduced an amendment that shows how little our politicians understand the Internet – not merely how online social dynamics work, but even what is technically feasible and what isn’t. If the bill becomes law, any time someone is suspected of instigating criminal behavior via the Internet, the Interior Ministry may request ISPs to put in place “filtering tools” so that the offending content is blocked from public view; ISPs who do not comply within 24 hours would be fined by €50-250,000. The amendment has apparently been introduced in response to the senseless noise created by some Facebook groups celebrating rapists and the Mafia. Yet, internet experts point out that there is no way to block a single offending piece of content: Italy’s government would then require ISPs to block entire domains. Star blogger Beppe Grillo has called for civil disobedience.

Our newest “sin tax” and our Ministry of Culture

Our country never ceases to amaze, really. Yesterday’s papers reported that a ministerial decree is setting up an extra 25% tax (retroactive on 2008 earnings) on profits from all “literary, theatrical and cinema works […] featuring images or scenes containing explicit and not simulated sexual acts between consenting adults.”

This starts out weirdly enough with the inclusion of literary works: if you are a comic artist writing a graphic novel, or a writer, are your characters capable of real intercourse, or are they just having simulated sexual acts?

Then there is the “consenting adults” clause: go figure the exception for depictions of rape (any educational purpose?), sex between minors, sex between adults and minors. I guess all these things have not been deemed worthy of an additional 25% tax.

And who decides whether a given sexual act is simulated or real? Details will be unveiled in a forthcoming decree by our Prime Minister, but it seems that our Minister of Culture, Sandro Bondi (picture), will get to define explicitly what works will be subject to the extra tax and what works are merely “simulating”. One wonders, with the state our cultural heritage is in, does this government department really have nothing better to do?

This “sin tax” is not a new idea; sources report that it had already been proposed a few years ago, as a tax on works containing pornography or promoting violence (of any kind, not just the sexual one). The “promoting violence” piece has been dropped; I guess sex is considered a luxury good, but you can still get a good deal on violence.

Web mood: more awareness, more censorship

Strange days here in Italy. The global financial maelstrom seems to be receiving less attention than the final death throes of an airline that should have been put out of its misery years ago. I am afraid we have not fully understood the implications of the financial meltdown on our lives.

The Web has been abuzz lately with the story told by Barbara, the proud mother of an autistic four-year-old child, who was mistreated to the point of humiliation at a kids’ event sponsored by Carrefour; Barbara was driven to tears by being told “If he’s not normal, you shouldn’t take him out in public”. Barbara’s original blog post drew almost 800 comments, the story spread like wildfire, and the company called her to offer their apologies. I hope that this helps each and everyone of us to practice more awareness in our daily lives. A weird-looking kid? Could have been my child, or yours.

The case of blogger Sergio Sarnari, which I thought would be thrown out of court, is instead winding its way through our legal system; as may will recall, he was sued for Eur400,000 by a furniture company for a blog post describing its disservice. Sergio wrote he would post the proceedings as soon as his lawyers allowed him to, but apparently it is not yet a prudent thing to do.

In the meantime, a Sicilian court had published the motivation behind the ruling that shut down “Accade in Sicilia” (“It happens in Sicily”), a blog by Sicilian journalist and historian Carlo Ruta, in late 2004.  In the meantime, he has been sued several times for defamation, for practising what elsewhere would simply be called “citizen journalism”. According to judge Patricia di Marco, based on a 1948 law, Carlo Ruta’s blog was “stampa clandestina”, or unauthorized press (something that could probably shut down 99% of Italian blogs). Here is Carlo Ruta’s appeal for freedom of expression, and here is an association that supports him and collects donations towards his legal costs.

Italian blogger sued for Eur 400,000 by furniture store

You talk about a new, Web-enabled dialogue between consumers and companies. You talk about companies monitoring their brand health in online forums and discussion boards. You talk about customer support teams dispatched upon a twittered complaint.

You guys are living on a different planet.

Last March, Italian blogger and PHP developer Sergio Sarnari wrote about his negative experience with a furniture store based in Castelbellino, near Ancona, which since his large order in May 2007 still hadn’t managed to deliver his furniture (kitchen measurements seem to have been a particularly troublesome spot). The post was frustrated in tone, but largely factual.

Yesterday, Sergio woke up to a comment, supposedly written by the store’s CEO and general manager, announcing a €400,000 libel lawsuit against him.

Either this is a hoax, or it just goes to show that the new dialogue between companies and consumers is still a long way from Ancona.