Media Burn offers startling history lesson in ‘Ghosts’

‘Ghosts in the Machine’
is a highlight reel
of culture and
history that
leaves viewers
with a profound
vision of truth

Ghosts in the Machine is a 65-minute mosaic of American video clips from the 1970s to the present. Created by four filmmakers using material from Media Burn Archive, the work is a meticulous and compelling stroll down memory lane.

Supplementing an abundance of newsfeeds and interviews with scraps of handheld footage, TV shows, technical demonstrations, political propaganda, first-person testimonials, color bars, static, live digital editing, and title cards, the individual stories at first glance roll like a random highlight reel of recent culture and history.

But the aftertaste produces a rather profound clarity: Americans have put some pretty bizarre and ugly shit out there.

“Our plan of attack was to bring Russians and Americans together to take control of historical narratives and fight the forces of confusion,” explains Producer Sara Chapman. “We began the project by thinking about the harmful proliferation of ‘fake news’ and the even scarier possibilities of new ‘deep fake’ technology.”

Chapman and Media Burn invited four filmmakers to create the separate narratives contained in Ghosts: Americans Dimitri Devyatkin and Lori Felker, and Russians Dmitrii Kalashnikov and Mikhail Zheleznikov.

The work was backed by an International Connections Fund grant of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. According to MacArthur’s Chicago Commitment Director Tara Magner, it fuels a global synergy that benefits us all.

“Collaborating with international peers helps Chicago’s cultural organizations create new work that inspires, entertains, challenges, and transports audiences,” she explains.

The filmmakers’ individual homelands are essential to exploring the “outsized role that the Russian-American rivalry plays in both nations’ collective imaginations and how that provides fertile ground for manipulation,” another focus of the project.

“Both Americans and Russians have been victims of disinformation campaigns that have caused them to lose trust in the media,” Chapman says. “Our question was: what is our role as citizens in safeguarding historical truth at a time when it is becoming almost impossible to distinguish between genuine and false information?”

The resulting tapestry weaves together a startling array of topics including neo-nazis, Sandinista elections, street protests, fake moon landings, and a brief glimpse of the French American actor Hervé Villechaize, who gained fame as Tattoo on Fantasy Island.

Media Burn describes the final cut as a film that “questions our ability to tell fact from fiction in media.”

In June, Ghosts screened in St. Petersburg to a sold out crowd at Len Doc, a popular documentary film studio and cultural center. It will appear in Chicago as part of a free event that will include a screening with the four filmmakers and a “spirited debate” on August 24 at Columbia College’s Film Row Cinema.

The film will also screen at Uncommon Ground in Edgewater on August 22 for an $8 fee.

Ghosts in the Machine
August 24, 2019 | 6:00-8:00pm
Film Row Cinema | Columbia College Chicago | 1104 S Wabash Ave.
Free Event For more information, click here.

About Media Burn Archive
Media Burn Archive is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization that collects, restores, and distributes documentary video created by artists, activists and community groups. Media Burn is a project of the Fund for Innovative TV, which has been producing challenging documentary video and television since 1990.