It may be impossible to accurately determine what effect Fahrenheit 9/11 will have on the 2004 presidential race, but one thing is certain: Michael Moore has revitalized the documentary form. Not only has Fahrenheit 9/11 ignited an intense political debate, it has also given rise to the discussion of the movie form itself.
Because Moore has an obvious agenda, many critics ask whether the film qualifies as a documentary. But that's nothing new: Documentaries usually express a point of view, and often an extreme one, such as Leni Riefenstahl's Nazi lovefests of the 1930s and Frank Capra's Why We Fight series during World War II.
Even Moore's critics concede that he has people talking and that he has spurred interest in other documentaries such as Super Size Me, Control Room, and The Corporation, which have played here recently or will be shown soon.
Here are a few more documentaries worth searching out:
• Liberty Bound (2004). First-time filmmaker Christine Rose asks, "Where is America headed?" Rose -- native of a small Texas town with one high school, one college, one hospital, and nine prisons -- takes to the road in search of the answer. Her approach is lower-key than Moore's, but her film is in some ways more inflammatory. She interviews historians and activists, along with some targets of Patriot Act-related investigations and interrogations. Liberty Bound is a powerful assessment of the growing challenges to our democratic principles, and it is an excellent debut for Rose. DVD copies are available on a limited basis from her Web site, www.libertybound.com.
• Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism (2004). Robert Greenwald, the director who gave us Xanadu, has recently turned his attention to liberal documentaries. His latest target is the Fox News Network, which media magnate Rupert Murdoch created in the image of CNN but with a decided twist. Some critics contend that the network's mission is less about news and more about serving as a propaganda machine for the Republican Party. Greenwald is one of them -- and he offers a lot of evidence in support of his argument. Outfoxed is sponsored by MoveOn.org, a liberal activist organization that is working to defeat Bush in November. Outfoxed is now starting to play in theaters, but DVD and VHS copies are available at www.outfoxed.org.
• The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara (2003). Errol Morris' The Fog of War is particularly relevant given obvious parallels between the early years of the Vietnam War and the Iraq war, which were characterized by policy based on bad information. Morris looks at Vietnam through the eyes of one of the war's principal architects, Robert McNamara, secretary of defense under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. An old man, his career long behind him, McNamara speaks candidly about the mistakes that were made. He says Kennedy planned to pull U.S. advisors out of Vietnam but that the assassination of the president in 1963 halted the plan. Johnson had other ideas, and unfortunately they involved a full-scale war. McNamara disagreed but publicly supported his boss. Now McNamara rationalizes his role in killing, but it is clear that he has many regrets. Rarely do we get such a detailed glimpse of historic events from an insider. The Fog of War is available for rent at local video stores.