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INTERVIEW: Adam Curtis At The BBC Arabic Festival
Mat Colegate , March 17th, 2017 12:55

The film maker offers The Quietus details of his involvement with The BBC Arabic Film Festival

From the 24th to the 30th of March, the Radio Theatre at BBC Broadcasting House will be hosting the BBC Arabic Festival. The festival's programme of films will offer a wide variety of glimpses into this often confusingly portrayed part of the world, with one of the highlights being a special presentation by film maker Adam Curtis - Hypernormalisation, Bitter Lake - on how the British and American media have invented fake views of the Arab world for over 40 years. Adam Curtis agreed to talk to The Quietus about his involvement with the festival, while also giving us a bit of insight into a future project.

How did you get involved with the Arabic Festival?

AC It's run by the World Service, and in the last four or five pieces I've done there's been quite a bit on our relationship with the Arab world and how we tend to get it wrong, or mystify it, or use it for our own purposes. They came to me and asked if I would do something for them. The main function of the festival is to provide a place where people can see original films made by people from the Arab world, but what they said to me is “Could you do something predominantly for an Arab audience about how the West – Britain, America – has seen the Arab world in the past?” A sort of contrast.

I tried to work out what to do, what's the best story? You have to tell one story really, otherwise it gets a bit general. Then I suddenly though that the weirdest and in some ways the most comic – blackly comic – story, is of our relationship to Colonel Gaddafi. I sometimes think I could do a musical about that, because it tells you a great deal about how we have simplified our idea of the Arab world, but it also tells you about how hypocritical, callow and cowardly our own establishment is. And it's quite funny.

Didn't Asian Dub Foundation do a musical about Colonel Gaddafi?

I think they did! Did they do it at the ENO?

Yeah, it got dreadful reviews as well, if I recall.

I'm going into very dangerous territory. It got absolutely slaughtered! But I've noticed that people are fascinated by him. What's good about the Gaddafi story is that not only does it tell you about how we have projected stuff onto the middle east, but also he, as a weird ambitious man, agreed to play those roles that we wanted him to. He's a very strange character. So I won't use any Asian Dub Foundation music and hopefully things might go a little better.

Why do you think events like the Arabic festival are important?

The main reason is that if you look at the way the Arab world has been reported in the past, from about 1950 to about 1990, it is predominantly allies within those dictatorship led countries who do the reporting. What's really good since the late '90s is there's been a flowering of journalism by Arab people. We don't know enough about that, and I think the festival is an ideal platform to show not just Arab people some good films but also British people what it is that's being done. It's a corrective. Secondly, it's a very good venue for people like me to come and have a dialogue with Arab people who are interested in reporting on their world, because I can say to them “Look, learn about us as well. From how stupid, weird, and simplified some of our reporting was.”

What have you been doing in Los Angeles?

I've become interested in the rise of Paranoia and secrecy in America. You know how they want us to think that government secrecy is inevitable, that it's a part of life? I'm wondering whether it's not, and I'm trying to trace the roots of it all. It goes back to weird stuff in California in the '50s and '60s so I've been out there researching. I've got this lurking theory that actually throughout the last sixty years the intelligence agencies have been completely useless. In our country M15 have never caught a traitor in their life. Ever! Usually it's the local police who find the spies. One spy was found because he was so completely drunk in Whitehall that the police arrested him and he confessed to them. You know how everyone gets upset about Snowden? Even the NSA, for which he worked, admit that despite all their surveillance and their hoovering of our information they have never caught a single terrorist as a result of that. So that's what I've been researching. I think it could be funny.

Alan Moore has this great quote along the lines of that if you're on a CIA wanted list you have nothing to worry about, if however your name is slightly similar to someone on a CIA wanted list you should probably start running.

Absolutely. Good old Alan, that's exactly right. If you have to keep everything secret there's no way of your information ever really being tested in the real world. So you live in this strange bubble where you can go on believing in something because it's never tested against reality. That's why so many of them go mad.

The BBC Arabic Festival runs from the 24th to the 30th of March in the Radio Theatre at BBC Bradcasting House. For more infrmation and to apply for free tickets you can go to the website

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