In 'docu-ganda' films, balance is not the objective
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"This is a revolution - that anyone can make a movie and spread the word about something they believe deeply in, and find an audience that cuts across politics," says Robert Greenwald, director of "Wal-Mart" and 2004's "Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism." Before the December release of "Wal-Mart" - about the effects of company policies on employees and communities - Mr. Greenwald set up a website and hired an organizer to contact church, educational, and civic groups willing to sponsor the showing of his film in their homes, churches, and schools. By the time it opened, 150 such groups had arranged 7,500 screenings, reaching 750,000 viewers.Skip to next paragraph
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At his website, Bravenewtheaters.com, visitors can log on to host a screening, or find one. "We're a movement using film to change the world," say site directions. "Get involved by hosting a screening or attending one near you. And bring your friends!" Two future Greenwald films deal with soon-to-retire Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas ("The Big Guy: Tom DeLay's Stolen Congress") and the war in Iraq ("Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers").
Does he feel the need to present more than one side of an issue? "Is it my job to tell the story that everyone is already getting over and over 24/7? I don't think so," says Greenwald. "In a democratic system you want to hear something that hasn't been told."
Others concur. "There is no such thing as objectivity," says David Zeiger, director of "Sir! No Sir!" "The idea of presenting one point of view that absolutely has to give equal time to another point of view is spurious. If you make a film with both sides, you are going to make a boring film. The [film] medium is not the same as journalism."
One problem with such "docu-ganda," say some media experts, is that the films risk limiting their audiences to those who agree with their premises.
"One concern I have about such films is that they are merely preaching to the choir. You're not going to have a fellow with an NRA [National Rifle Association] bumper sticker walking into [Moore's] 'Bowling for Columbine,'" says Matt Felling of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs in Washington, which studies news and entertainment media. "[Former US Sen.] Pat Moynihan was famous for saying, 'Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but they're not entitled to their own facts,' " says Mr. Felling.
A case in point is Don Richardson, who drove an hour to see a recent showing of "An Inconvenient Truth" in Los Angeles. His own community is too conservative for any theater chain to show it, says the retired railroad worker. "None of my Republican neighbors want to see it."
All this demands a higher media literacy from filmgoers, say Felling and others. But the ability to discern what is fact, what is varnish, and what is debatable is largely untaught, and viewers are often complacent, they say.
The advent of such films does not mean that people shouldn't see them, but rather that viewers should practice critical thinking, say experts. "The danger of the advocacy documentary is that things might be being kept from you ...," says Peter Lehman of the Center for Film and Media Research at Arizona State University, Tempe. But he adds that it is legitmate for a filmmaker to acknowledge that his film is not neutral. "It's a different mission," he says.