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Claus Mueller

Claus Mueller is  Senior New York Correspondent

He is based in New York where he covers the festival scene, professor at Hunter University, accredited member of the Foreign Press Center,  U.S. Department of State NY.


New York: Tribeca Festival 2022 wrap

The Tribeca festival featured 111 films and 16 online premieres produced by 151 filmmakers from 40 countries from June 9-26. 88 films were world premieres, 50 were directed by first-time film makers, and 46 percent of the 127 films presented were from female directors. Tribeca also provided a stellar home screening platform for U.S. audiences during the festival, with numerous narrative, documentary, and short films available.  

The festival continued its tradition of selecting outstanding critical documentaries for the program. Many documentaries presented a grim view of the apparent dystopian reality of contemporary U.S. society, reflecting moral and political challenges. In this review of three documentaries, some additional information is provided to elucidate the filmmaker’s perspectives.

AMERICAN PAIN, Darren Foster, USA, 2022

This well-researched and narrated documentary presents the opioid pill mill of the twin brothers Chris and Jeff George. Coming from a wealthy background, the twins collaborated with doctors to establish a chain store operation where individuals from Florida and other states were able to purchase all the drugs they needed or wanted. The twins worked in concert with doctors to process a huge number of examinations and prescriptions. The rapidly expanding pain-clinic operation was profitable and enriched the operators and the pharmaceutical companies producing and distributing the pills. Florida’s policy not keeping data on prescriptions nor requiring permission for opening these clinics helped. The business was openly run with full knowledge of the press and law enforcement officers. When the clinics were finally closed by the authorities, one twin already released from jail blamed drug addicts. Chris and Jeff denied responsibility for any harm they caused. In a related case, three major US drug distributors were not held responsible in early July 2022 by a federal judge for an addiction epidemic they caused.  In Cabell County they had distributed 81 million pills over eight years in a county with only 100,000 residents.

KATRINA BABIES, Edward Buckles jr., USA, 2022

In the superb and innovative U.S. HBO  2022 documentary KATRINA BABIES by the first-time director Edward Buckles jr. the film maker interviews people who were young and living in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina struck the city in 2005. Buckles investigates how the consequences of the disaster shaped their lives and families. They articulate the impact of Katrina; the social and psychological trauma caused by the destruction of their communities. Buckles provides reminders and new insights about the human dimensions of the Katrina nightmare, from drowning, forced relocation, living in poisonous trailers, and lukewarm federal and state financial responses to Katrina. As replayed nationwide during the pandemic years beginning in 2020, young minorities from New Orleans were deprived of regular in-person education for years.  This led to knowledge deficits, an educational burden not overcome by subsequent compensatory education. Buckles documentary is long overdue because most people have forgotten about Hurricane Katrina. More than half of the Katrina victims were minorities living in poor neighborhoods, which were flooded. They had no insurance, and were underemployed. Although not mentioned in the film, it should be noted that 75% of the 9/11 World Trade Center victims were white and male and less than 50 years old. They belonged to the upper income groups. The 9/11 victim compensation fund paid $2 million to each dead victim’s family.

THE YOUTUBE EFFECT, Alex Wiener, USA, Brazil, Germany, Taiwan, Chile, 2022

Written, directed, and produced by Alex Wiener, THE YOUTUBE EFFECT was one of the most challenging documentaries selected by Tribeca this year. Wiener and his crew interviewed YouTube supporters and opponents, social media researchers, YouTube executives, and academics from all over the world to find answers to crucial questions. YouTube is expanding continually, valued at more than $300 billion with 2.3 billion users, and is found in most countries with company operated/owned affiliates and proprietary data centers.  Its algorithms determine what creators produce and what keeps the YouTube audience engaged and growing.  YouTube has been able to elude any control by public authorities and has remained a monopolistic company driven by the earnings.

YouTube and other social media platforms must confront the same question, what is their impact on purchasing and normative / moral behavior?  The massive shift of advertising dollars to visual media seems to give a partial answer. The impact of YouTube content and of other carriers on normative behavior remains an open question. Attempts by internal committees at the company to develop new censorship guidelines have not received management approval. Interventions by foreign entities can pose an economic theat. YouTube algorithms are proprietary; whatever threatens the emotional engagement of the viewers, and their largest motivating video cannot be touched. If viewers are more likely to respond to currently upsetting content than anything harmonious, there is no need to change the algorithm. YouTube claims that 90% of harmful new videos are removed.  At the end of THE YOUTUBE EFFECT, the CEO of the company, Susan Wojcicki, shares her predictions that YouTube will provide benefits for education, connect the community, and technologies will offer tremendous opportunities. These bizarre statements escape reality. YouTube reinforces the fragmentation of social groups by reducing face to face interpersonal communication.  How YouTube exposure disconnected from intersubjective personal communication benefits education is a mystery. I gather from informal discussions with Silicon Valley executives that they set a strict limit on their children’s access to YouTube and other social media. However, YouTube will exploit any new technologies which strengthens the algorithm lifeblood of the company.


New York Claus Mueller



About Claus Mueller