July 21, 2004
Documentary Films Ask The Questions Mainstream Media Misses
BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
One night a few weeks back, there was a new gunslinger in town. NBC’s Matt Lauer was suddenly a take-no-prisoners crusader in the great muckraking tradition of American journalism. He went on the attack. Asked the hard questions. Refused to back down.
Who was he interviewing?
The President? Saddam Hussein? Donald Rumsfeld? John Ashcroft? Kenneth Lay?
No, he was face-to-face with Michael Moore.
Katie Couric may have appeared pale and nauseous as she took on a cocksure OJ Simpson one week earlier, but her tone wasn’t nearly as white-hot as Lauer’s. Not by a long shot. By the end of the interview, Moore looked sheepishly at his interrogator:
'Jeez, Matt. If you had gone after the White House like this before the War, maybe we wouldn’t be in Iraq in the first place.'
True enough. This election year documentaries like Michael Moore’s FAHRENHEIT 9/11, Robert Greenwald’s UNCOVERED: THE TRUTH ABOUT THE IRAQ WAR, Harry Thomason’s THE HUNTING OF THE PRESIDENT, and our film BUSH’S BRAIN exist for one reason: The mainstream media haven’t asked the hard questions. They have failed to create an historical context for the events unfolding before us daily on television screens and newspapers across the country. It has fallen to documentary filmmakers to provide access, to connect the dots, to deepen popular understanding of what’s been happening.
Whether you agree with us or not, we are not the enemy. What harm can we do? Maybe we steam up the place a little bit: create controversy, encourage dialogue. Perhaps, at our best, we can excite a disaffected electorate and lure them back into the political process.
Throughout the interview, Matt Lauer badgered Moore about his real motivation in making the film: "C'mon Michael, admit it. This isn't about filmmaking. This is about politics." As if that were some kind of crime. As if the two were mutually exclusive. As if a strong political point of view were anathema to good filmmaking.
In the film community, we are encouraged to take it to the edge where sex and violence and romance and humor are concerned, but politics? For God’s sake, don’t talk politics.
Lauer put Moore on the spot: "Isn’t it Disney’s right not to distribute your film?"
But, the more interesting question is this: "Why not distribute the film whether you agree with the filmmaker or not?" What can be better for us as a nation than to encourage voices? Here in Hollywood, studios like to take great pride in bringing a rich array of voices to the screen: James Cameron, Michael Mann, Spike Lee, Errol Morris, Steven Soderbergh, Ridley Scott, Woody Allen, Tim Burton. If you were to place Michael Moore on this list, you would be placing him exactly where he belongs.
Whether his film is incendiary or controversial or whether you believe him to be an enemy of the American way of life, it doesn’t really matter. Disney should have distributed the film for one reason and one reason only. To offer America what it can always use:
Isn’t that what America is supposed to be about?
A BUZZFLASH GUEST CONTRIBUTION
Michael Paradies Shoob is co-director with Joseph Mealey of BUSH’S BRAIN, a feature documentary about the relationship between President Bush and his closest adviser, Karl Rove.
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