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Project Z

As the Cold War ends, a professor goes in search of an America without an enemy. Armed with a Hi8 video camera and inspired by the detective work of Walter Benjamin, he heads deep into the inner circles of the defense, entertainment and media industries, where he discovers a worst-case future being built from war games, video games, and language games.

Some thirty years later, a group of student filmmakers find the videotapes in a filing cabinet, along with a stack of old newspaper clippings, audio interviews and photographs. With the help of friends from the Global Media Project, the filmmaker produces an experimental documentary that goes back to the future, where they find the original maps for a new world order. An unexpected warning is found on the outermost edges of the maps: 'Beware of Zombies!'

The result is PROJECT Z, a film that updates another warning, issued by President Eisenhower in his 1961 farewell address, about the emergence of a 'military-industrial complex' and the consequences should 'public policy be captured by a scientific and technological elite'.

Combining rare footage from inside the war machine with corrosive commentary by leading critics of global violence, injustice, and inequality, the film challenges the living to write their own future before the walking dead conjure the final global event.

'The 21st century's horror show of automated warfare seemed to come from nowhere. Many of us are still trying to catch up. James Der Derian and Phil Gara are not. Project Z takes us back to the future of post-human warfare, when it was still incipient, before our fate was sealed. In a riveting tour of the laboratories for our now permanent wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and beyond, Project Z captures a world historic moment just before it takes place.' Jairus Grove, Assistant Professor of International Relations, University of Hawaii at Manoa

'Project Z is an amazing treasure trove for students of world politics. It documents that surveillance, simulations, remote killing and cyber crises have been with us for decades, yet constantly morph. Part fact finding mission, part political analysis, this film asks: What future do we want and for whom? Students will learn, love and change from and with Project Z.' Lene Hansen, Professor of Political Science, University of Copenhagen

'Disturbing and provocative...Project Z is perhaps above all a form of media about media, and as such runs along the lines of information command and control. It is a film that ventures beyond simply describing the weaponization of the signal, the ramped up virtualization of violence by war training cum entertainment.' Mike Hill, University at Albany-SUNY, Feedback

'Project Z comes on meditatively, a distant storm of images and interviews gathering to explain the new terrain of our post-national, neoliberal globe. Soon the metaphors - from viruses to terrorist cells, stock market bubbles, and yes zombies - start to crawl through clouds like heat lightning. Before you know it, the film strikes with multiple flashes of insight.' Roger Stahl, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, University of Georgia, Author, Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture

'In this clever, disorienting film, we are forced to see ourselves in the figure of the zombie, to see the zombie as ubiquitous and not only troubling but troubled. Ultimately, this is a film about how to be in the world, how to be mindful, conscious, and connected in our engagement with the myriad relations that constitute social and political life.' Laura J. Shepherd, Associate Professor of International Relations, UNSW Australia, Author, Gender, Violence and Popular Culture: Telling Stories

'A vivid depiction of global risk society and a vital critique of the inadequacies of militarized problem-solving in the face of it...Begs us to consider the question: how are peace and security best achieved in an intimately interconnected world? Perfect for use in courses on globalization, US foreign policy and international relations.' Dr. Stacy Takacs, Associate Professor and Director of American Studies, Oklahoma State University, Author,Terrorism TV: Popular Entertainment in Post-9/11 America

'Project Z offers a sobering account of the dystopic intersections of war, the state, security, economy, the environment, and global struggle. As one military leader states in the film, 'the nation makes war the way the nation makes wealth.' This film challenges its audience not to accept this articulation of war and wealth and to instead reclaim the planet in a more humane and democratic vision.' Michael L. Butterworth, Director and Associate Professor, School of Communication Studies, Ohio University

'Project Z powerfully re-orients our understanding of the political world. Visually arresting and intellectually unorthodox, this film will encourage students of international politics to adjust their vision and replenish their minds.' Gerry Simpson, Kenneth Bailey Professor of International Law, University of Melbourne, Author, Law, War and Crime: War Crimes Trials and the Reinvention of International Law

'Project Z and its Study Guide will have viewers considering the roles of government, institutions, and individuals in the creation of a desirable future society.' Eugene Nalence, Science Books and Films


Main credits

Der Derian, James (screenwriter)
Der Derian, James (film producer)
Gara, Phillip (film director)
Gara, Phillip (editor of moving image work)

Other credits

Cinematography by James Der Derian and Phillip Gara; edited by Phillip Gara.

Docuseek2 subjects

Distributor subjects

American Studies
Computer Games Design
Foreign Policy, US
International Studies
Media Literacy
Political Science
Popular Culture
War and Peace


war games, worst-case scenarios, complex systems, networked media, end of Cold War, Walter Benjamin, defense establishment, entertainment industry, media companies, war games, video games, language games, Global Media Project, simluation, virtual reality, beginning of new world order, zombies, military strategy, Iraq, Afghanistan, global violence, injustice, inequality, military-industrial-media-entertainment network, MIME-NET, Fort Irwin Advanced Warfighting Experiment, AWE, Orlando Florida Simulation and Training Command, simulation and warfare, Andrew Marshall, Post-Cold War, Hohenfels, Germany,Humanitarian Intervention Wargame, urban warrior, asymmetric warfare simulation, Admiral Arthur Cebrowski, network centric warfare, Paul Virilio, zombie as metaphor, global war on terror, threat of climate change, 29 Palms, world war z, global event, Ama Ata Aidoo, Tariq Ali, Mark Blyth, Tarak Barkawi, Mustafa Barghouti, Andrew Bacevich, Reda Bensmaia, Franco Berardi, Anthony Bogues, Jean Camaroff, John Czarnecki, Colin Dayan, Dan Drezner, Rana Dasgupta, Lene Hansen, Alex Galloway, Michael Hardt, Marsha Henry, James Hevia, Mike Hill, Gigi Ibrahim, Lewis Gordon, Kurt Jacobson, Sergeii Kruschev, Patrick Kelley, Rashid Khalidi, John Kim, Dennis Lehane, Claudio Lomnitz, Joseph Masco, Anne McClintock, Vasuki Nesiah, Trevor Paglen, Lisa Parks, Mimi Sheller, P.W. Singer, Charles Tripp, Eric Wilson, Richard Wolff, Eyal Weizman, Maja Zehfuss; "Project Z"; Bullfrog Films