Acclaimed journalist and filmmaker Laura Poitras on Tuesday released her first film since last year's Academy Award-winning Citizenfour—a 10-minute video for the New York Times which chronicles artist Ai Weiwei and WikiLeaks activist Jacob Appelbaum collaborating on a project.
Ai and Appelbaum are both known for their work against unchecked government power and state surveillance in China and the U.S., their respective home countries. They began building their installation together in Beijing in April. Poitras—who, like Appelbaum, contributed to the publication of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's disclosure of widespread government surveillance in 2013—asked to film them.
We Interrupt This Article with an Urgent Message!
Common Dreams is a not-for-profit news service. All of our content is free to you - no subscriptions; no ads. We are funded by donations from our readers. This media model only works if enough readers pitch in. We have millions of readers every month and, it seems, too many take our survival for granted. It isn't. Our critical Mid-Year fundraiser is off to a very slow start - only 206 readers have contributed a total of $7,500 so far. We must raise $42,500 more before we can end this fundraising campaign and get back to focusing on what we do best.
Poitras writes for the Times:
The art project the pair made, “Panda to Panda,” was not about surveillance. It was about secrets. They stuffed cuddly toy panda bears with public, shredded N.S.A. documents that were originally given to me and Glenn Greenwald two years ago in Hong Kong by the whistle-blower Edward Snowden. Inside each panda, Ai and Appelbaum placed a micro SD memory card containing a digital backup of the previously published documents.
The project’s title, “Panda to Panda,” is the synthesis of two terms created by dissident cultures. The slang term for the secret police in China is “panda,” which is a censorship-evading Mandarin homonym: “national security” sounds like “national treasure,” a.k.a. the panda. “Panda to Panda” also refers to peer-to-peer communication (P2P), a method of decentralized networking and a philosophy of egalitarian human interaction on the Internet.
Like the red lanterns Ai hung under every surveillance camera the government installed outside his studio, “Panda to Panda” playfully acknowledges and rejects state power.
Watch the video below: