In a provocative speech at the London Film Festival last night (October 27), Focus Features CEO James Schamus launched an outspoken attack on what he referred to as “America’s vast homeland security bureaucracies”.

Speaking at the Vue Cinema in London’s Leicester Square, Schamus railed against the “tidal wave of surveillance” that is engulfing citizens in the US and other western societies.

Venturing briefly into the ongoing debate about future distribution patterns, he said that those “yabbering” about digital distribution should be aware of how information collected during online purchases is used by America’s homeland security. He also touched in the link between social networking and security agencies.

Schamus based his speech on a Department of Homeland security document, published last year, about his wife, the peace activist and novelist Nancy Kricorian. She was seemingly targeted because of her work with social justice movement, Code Pink.

The unashamedly highbrow address, with its references to contemporary narrative theory, intellectual property rights, definitions of privacy, the philosophy of Jacques Derrida and the art of Sophie Calle and Jenny Holzer, left some in the audience scratching their heads.

The event was staged by the London Film Festival together with creative industries training body, Skillset. At the outset, Schamus joked to Skillset attendees that “everything you’ll hear tonight will do nothing to further your career.”

Some of the material from the address will find its way into an academic book that Schamus (who also teaches film history and theory at Columbia University) expects to publish within the next 18 months or so. The Focus boss is due to speak later this week at the Screenwriters’ Festival in Cheltenham, where he will talk about why screenwriting is more important to the porn industry than it is to Hollywood.


*James Schamus is developing his talk for publication in book form, so the transcript is not available for publication