Political Film Newsletter #25

Several films released in 1998 have already been nominated for awards. The Boxer has been nominated for the best film promoting PEACE. The classic Romeo and Juliet story, set in Northern Ireland, shows the human absurdity of a war between the modern Capulets and Montagues. The later peace agreement by British Prime Minister Tony Blair may be seen as a fulfillment of the ambitions of the director, Jim Sheridan, whose earlier In the Name of the Father won a Political Film Society award in 1993. MH
A second nominee for the category peace is John Sayles’s Men with Guns, a story of a retired physician who seeks to learn the result of a project to send newly trained physicians to the provinces of a Spanish-speaking country where indigenous peoples live without proper medical care. What the physician finds, instead of a fulfillment of the aims of the project, is that everyone is caught up in a life-and-death struggle between government and guerrilla forces. Any medical help to villagers is perceived as aiding either the government or the guerrillas, neither of which appear to be engaged in heroism. The physician’s naïveté is shattered, and the audience learns that the spiral of violence is endless unless the public awakens to the reality that indigenous peoples have a right to life without molestation, yet their plight is used cynically by guerrillas, who in turn provoke senseless violence from government forces. MH

Barry Levinson’s Wag the Dog has been nominated for best film in 1998 promoting the need for greater DEMOCRACY. Similar to Catch 22, the film plays out a plausible scenario to an absurd conclusion. In this case, a presidential candidacy wanes, provoking the incumbent to launch an external war in order to boost his re-election chances. The candidate allows political advisers to turn political campaigning into media hype, style without substance, thus destroying the meaning of democratic elections. Although the events appear to depict George Bush entering Iraq, no such docudrama is involved. Instead, the audience views a more paradigmatic portrayal of the way in which elections are used as devices to control public images rather than to debate important issues. MH
Mike Nichols’s Primary Colors develops the same theme as Wag the Dog–a president’s campaign is in jeopardy, so political advisers invoke various measures of damage control. In Primary Colors, a Clintonesque candidate is confronted by sex scandals but manages to distract the public into believing that he deeply cares about human problems. Political advisers, including the spouse of the presidential candidate, work out a successful strategy, as the candidate appears to want to win by any means necessary. Once again, the film is nominated as a plea to improve the democratic process before its crucifixion murders the memory of candidates who present clear and sincere alternatives to voters. MH
Bruno Barreto’s Four Days in September is a retelling of events of 1969, when the American ambassador to Brazil was kidnapped by youthful, idealistic “Marxist” guerrillas seeking to free their comrades from detention and torture by the dictatorship ruling the country. Though the words of the ambassador, Charles Burke Elbrick, we learn how a career diplomat opposed the war in Vietnam as well as military rule in Brazil and thus shared the views of his captors, who released him when the government in Rio de Janeiro allowed fifteen of their comrades to go to freedom in México. The film shows how Marxists were born because of the excesses of military rule and carries home the message that the best hope for economic progress and political stability is the establishment of democratic rule. The film has also been nominated as the best film EXPOSÉ of 1998, as the story brings to light facts that were not well known prior to the screening. MH

Although a documentary, not eligible for a Political Film Society award, Michael Moore (of Roger & Mefame) films his book tour of the United States and efforts to interview corporation heads regarding massive employment layoffs and corporate welfare in the context of megaprofits. A highlight of the film is the interview with the CEO of Nike, who says that “Americans just do not want to make shoes.” MH

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