Saturday, September 18, 2004

The Independant (UK) : Michael Moore, it ain't: US right hits back with its own film festival

The Republican Party has a problem. They can spin the news media their way like jugglers at a circus but when it comes to making political films - one of the signature features of the 2004 presidential campaign season - it seems they just don't know how to attract critical respect and a mass audience.

Consider the evidence. On the left, we've had Michael Moore's box-office-record-breaking documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, the lightning rod for all right-minded Bush supporters who spit at the very sound of Mr Moore's name. We've had The Fog of War, Errol Morris's prize-winning portrait of Robert McNamara and his misguided leadership of the US military adventure in Vietnam. And we've had The Manchurian Candidate, Jonathan Demme's updating of the Cold War paranoia classic with a Halliburton-like corporation standing in for the Commies as the true new enemy of America.

Just out this weekend is John Sayles's biting satire, Silver City, about a tongue-tied, corruption-tinged heir to a political dynasty running for high office (sound familiar?). Still to come before election day are a documentary about Iraq by David O Russell, who made the Gulf War movie Three Kings, and the animated war-on-terror spoof Team America: World Police, from the creators of South Park.

The conservatives, meanwhile, can boast only the slim pickings of this month's American Film Renaissance in Dallas, billed as the "first and only" right-wing film festival in the country. A big Hollywood production this was not. Apparently the organisers wanted to invite Mel Gibson but had no idea how to contact him. Instead, they rolled out a series of low-profile, highly ideological documentaries and television reruns, most of which had received a critical drubbing if they had been seen at all.

Thus the Dallas crowd was treated to the world premiere of Confronting Iraq, which gave a resounding thumbs-up to the US invasion and purported to give the "real" reasons behind it (subtext: the non-existent weapons of mass destruction were only ever the tip of the iceberg). Anti-Clinton sentiment was alive and well in the shape of Mega Fix, which blamed the 9/11 attacks on the overweening ambition of the Clinton White House. The cringingly bad television docudrama DC 9/11, which portrayed President Bush as a no-nonsense hero after the attacks, was given another spin. The right-wing ranter Ann Coulter, who once suggested America should invade the Islamic world, kill their leaders and convert the rest to Christianity, was the subject of an adoring fly-on-the-wall book tour documentary.

Elsewhere, fearless documentaries exposed how environmentalists are corrupt, self-interested money-grubbers, and how gun control is the root of all evil, leading directly to Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and the Rwandan genocide. Michael Moore, meanwhile, was the subject of two direct attacks, Michael and Me and Michael Moore Hates America.

Don't expect any of these to hit a multiplex near you. The problem is not one of politics so much as film-making prowess: the conservatives may hate Mr Moore, but they can't deny he has a knack.


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