Symposium: Mass Surveillance — When Reality Exceeds The Fiction

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Paris, 7 November 2014 — As part of an exceptional event, the Lisbon & Estoril Film Festival and La Quadrature du Net partner for a symposium on mass surveillance. The largest gathering of thinkers, activists and artists – since Edward Snowden’s revelations – will take place in Portugal on the 14th, 15th and 16th of November 2014, in the Cultural Center of Belem.

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What assessment to make eighteen months after Edward Snowden’s revelations? How to get involved? With what tools? What is the role of the arts in this looming fight?

Julian Assange, Jacob Appelbaum, Wikileaks and Edward Snowden’s collaborator Laura Poitras – the journalist who filmed Snowden in Hong Kong and participated in the revelations that have changed the world – Julian Assange’s lawyers Baltasar Garzon and Jennifer Robinson, the philosophers Noam Chomsky and Edgar Morin, the author of the lectures Snowden and the Future, Eben Moglen, the co-founders of La Quadrature du Net, Jérémie Zimmermann and Philippe Aigrain, the CEO of El Pais Juan Luis Cebrian… will be the main guests of the first event of this scale in Europe.

Many writers, artists, filmmakers or photographers like Nan Goldin, Céline Curiol, Dorota Masłowska, Philippe Parreno … will join them along the way for readings, performances and interventions.

The symposium will be accompanied by a cycle of 15 screenings followed by discussion about mass surveillance.

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More information from the organisers: Philippe Aigrain and Juan Branco (
Schedule, venues and event details on:

Fiction and reality: beyond Big Brother

We live in a world ruled by fictions of every kind…The fiction is already there. The writer’s task is to invent reality. (J.G. Ballard, 1973)

Fiction and reality. Here is the twosome that Edward Snowden has perhaps the most sustainably shaken. Some alerts had already been raised with the revelation of the Echelon system at the end of the last century; the ever-growing number of terrorism laws, the progressively more oligopolistic Internet ecosystem during the 2000s… But, by revealing – that is materialising – the surveillance mechanisms that control every aspect of our lives, en masse and with no criteria, Edward Snowden has turned the anxiety of the future into a terror of the present.

Thus fiction and reality, but also, perhaps especially, fiction and (im)materiality. Because if no one could have imagined, nor anticipated the art and the scope of the surveillance we are submitted to, it is due to that immateriality of surveillance that we should question. How can Cinema or Literature capture what from now on goes without a body: that circulation of bits that cannot be controlled? How to narrate those lives that each day stray away from the physical world we know. What links can we find between the activists’ technical resistance to rebuild our autonomy and sovereignty and the new narratives taking control over the digital universe? Have we returned to the starting point, when Ivan Illich and a few critical thinkers described computers as a vehicle for a society of surveillance and control, and when Michel Foucault described the deeply securitarian nature of modern States? Is it necessary to repress the enthusiasm with which individuals take control of the digital world to communicate, to express or invent themselves in a new space?

Though our relationship with the world seemed defined, the invisible and the monstrous suddenly appeared to remind us of the siege that the powers put us under. How do we respond to that? Do we need to use figuration to denunciate more efficiently – exposing those interdependent bodies mutated into cyborgs – rather than the suggestion of this impalpable influence that surrounds us, dominates us and threatens us with all its weight?

In the end, it’s the relationship between art and resistance that this case questions. Because if there’s any lesson to take from the continuous discoveries about the massive surveillance we’re under, it’s that the simple fact of showing is a resistance act per se. Showing those who want to see everything on the condition of not being seen themselves. Showing, as well, how we can build our own narratives, conceiving a different digital universe, independently or in response to their vigilance.

At the time of faceless powers, how to structure this resistance? On whom will we henceforth rest to defend our freedoms in the future, besides whistleblowers? Are artists, eternal image revealers, shouldn’t they have their saying on this endless struggle? Isn’t creation itself threatened by this flood of bits, algorithms and automatic restriction devices, which obsession is to erase unpredictability, risk and anomaly? Those are the questions we will seek to answer by gathering some of the advocates of the virtual struggle (Julian Assange, Jérémie Zimmermann, Jennifer Robinson…) and some of the creators and thinkers invited to the festival. Because, in the end, though the fight of the invisibles has begun, what is better than a festival made of images and image creators to open the debate?