Reactor

Government Noir, or When the Pentagon Meets Copyright Law

by Mostafa Heddaya on March 21, 2014

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(all screenshots via Gawker)

Over at Gawker, John Cook has posted a highly entertaining video commissioned by the Pentagon in 2001 to educate its staff on protocol for handling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Though the video gained notoriety when the Associated Press reported on it in 2004, because the government wouldn’t release it without redacted portions of allegedly copyrighted material, it has a deeply strange, noir-style conceit, presumably meant to lighten up a mundane bureaucratic topic. But the actual effect is more sinister, or at least uncomfortable, kind of like the Transportation Security Administration’s use of hashtags when it shares confiscated weapons on Instagram. And though it feels low-budget, the video reportedly cost $70,500 to produce, according to the AP report. (The origin of this particular copy of the video, which Cook gets into, bears reading.)

“FOIA is a customer service,” the video’s trench-coated pseudo–Humphrey Bogart protagonist intones, perhaps by way of explaining why the video uses the concept of diners at a restaurant to act out the transaction that takes place between FOIA requesters and the government. “May I please be allowed into the record room?” a femme fatale in a veiled red hat interjects at one point. Later, the scene inexplicably transitions to a ship, replete with canned-water sound effects. It’s not possible to embed the 23-minute-long video here, so you’ll have to head to Gawker to see the full thing. Take in the stilted dialogue, the strange transitions from elevator jazz to noir-ish piano bits. Connoisseurs of government kitsch: memorize the script and regale your friends over the weekend.

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  • Jarryh • S

    I liked the film quite a lot. It was very well done with so low a budget. Bureaucratic torpor made mysterious and addictive drama, wow.

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