Friday, August 06, 2004

Michael Moore is not alone. These are heady days for documentary filmmakers with something to say (or spin). But is the trend here to stay?

SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE - by Steven Winn, Arts and Culture Critic


No one knows if or how Michael Moore and his growing band of brothers and sisters in the bustling documentary film world will affect the 2004 national elections. That's a question even the most sophisticated exit polls can never fully answer. People vote the way they do, or don't vote at all, for a myriad of intangible reasons.

This much is clear: Whatever happens in November, these filmmakers have already raised a significant new voice in the discourse of American life. And that voice seems bound to grow in volume, urgency and complexity as a public skeptical of both mainstream media and mediated "reality" seeks new ways of apprehending, understanding -- and perhaps even evading -- a daunting real world through nonfiction narrative.

As that process is put in the service of entertainment -- the driving force behind any film that hopes to gain an audience -- the potent ingredients of advocacy journalism, cinema verite, agitprop, old-fashioned storytelling, postmodern deconstruction, black comedy and reality TV figure to blend and clash in heady, challenging new ways onscreen. What's been widely trumpeted as a heyday for the new political documentary, with "Fahrenheit 9/11, " "The Corporation," "The Fog of War," "Super Size Me," "Control Room," "Hijacking Catastrophe," "Outfoxed," the new "There's Something About W" and others, may be only in its infancy. For better or worse, the appropriation and artful shaping of fact has become a major growth industry.

"I'm not sure there are necessarily more documentaries or more political ones now," says Martin Kaplan, associate dean of the Annenberg School of Communications at the University of Southern California. "The big difference is the amount of public attention they're attracting. That's convinced producers and distributors (that) there's money to be made. And that changes everything."

(for the whole article, click on the title)


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