Somebody get George W. Bush an agent.
Ever since Fahrenheit 9/11 became an overwhelming success at the box office, the president has played a leading (albeit unwilling) role in more movies than the Gipper. And with D.MAC, the Downtown Media Arts Center, launching a monthlong political film festival in October, we'll be seeing a lot more of him.
The Take Back Democracy Film Festival will present 15 films in a rotating schedule, with new additions arriving every week. Most are offered at free admission, and most take aim at the Bush administration in one way or another. Whether they focus on the Iraq invasion, Sept. 11 or shady corporate connections, the documentaries largely tap the same controversial vein recently punctured by the fleshy filmmaker from Flint.
"Obviously, everyone was shocked and amazed by Michael Moore's film for a variety of reasons," says Traci Yeager, executive director of the not-for-profit D.MAC. "And our two highest-grossing films at the center have been the political documentaries The Revolution Will Not Be Televised and Control Room."
Pursuant to those bookings, Yeager says, audiences kept requesting more films from the exploding poli-doc genre. So, about three months ago, she and program director Jason Neff started putting together films for a festival that would capitalize on Moore's success, bring in audiences and fulfill D.MAC's goals of "educating the public" and "always pushing the envelope."
The resulting marathon alternates screenings of smaller, lesser-known docs with some higher-profile headliners. The films are equally scathing, often one-sided and not above using fear as a manipulative device.
The festival gets underway with Bush's Brain, which debuts Friday, Oct. 1. Directed by Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob (from a book of the same name by James Moore and Wayne Slater), the film studies President Bush's political adviser/puppet master, Karl Rove. The Geppetto to Bush's Pinocchio, Rove is painted as a figure who operates in the shadows, masterminding whisper campaigns to smear and utterly destroy those who oppose his candidates. Using interviews with former allies and adversaries, Bush's Brain accuses Rove of: bugging his own office for political gain; starting rumors that former Texas governor Ann Richards was a lesbian and that John McCain had a "black love child"; using Sept. 11 as a marketing tool for the Iraq war; and even orchestrating a scandal that sent two agriculture officials to prison.
Also playing beginning Oct. 1 is Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism, a film that takes the "fair and balanced" 24-hour news network to task. Previously shown at private house parties organized by MoveOn.org (Happytown, July 22), the film seeks to confirm what a lot of us have assumed: that the Fox News Channel is an abortion of journalistic ethics and acts as the de facto GOP Network, wallowing in rampant conflicts of interest, false information and blatant bias. Filmmaker Robert Greenwald allows the Fox staff to hang itself, depicting on-air commentators parroting each other's one-sided talking points. Outfoxed is certainly comical at times (especially when it stars a fuming Bill O'Reilly), but Greenwald also makes the sobering point that Fox's tactics are spreading to other networks, and that American journalism is suffering for it.
Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, & the Selling of American Empire (beginning Saturday, Oct. 2) casts today's United States as a force bent on world domination. Directors Sut Jhally and Jeremy Earp focus on a small group of neoconservatives (including Paul Wolfowitz and Donald Rumsfeld) who in the early '90s introduced a foreign-policy proposal to unilaterally invade countries, secure foreign natural resources, increase military spending to its breaking point and generally increase U.S. control over the globe. According to the film, this Wolfowitz Doctrine was dismissed by the first Bush administration as too extreme. But the neocons hit pay dirt when Bush II entered office and put them in high-ranking cabinet positions. Sept. 11 allowed the administration to sell a war in Iraq with scare tactics and to make the doctrine official policy. Catastrophe is Fahrenheit 9/11 on steroids, warning that our country's budget cannot support designs on imperialism and could go bankrupt from the maneuver.
Although the films are the main draw of the festival, Yeager says that its "everybody get involved" message isn't just about movies. She says that D.MAC hopes to bring out an eclectic bunch of attendees who will encounter such auxiliary features as voter-registration tables and a mediated panel on the first night. And open dialogue will be encouraged at every screening.
"The entire point of the Take Back Democracy Festival is that we have a choice," she says. "You have a right to vote any way you see fit."
Still, most of the films have definite leftist leanings. To ensure that the festival doesn't appear too one-sided, Yeager says she has pursued films that present an opposite viewpoint.
"I've put the shout out," she says. "'Get me some conservative films. Get me the other side, and get it to me quick.'" But with the exception of two (Brainwashing 101 and The Siege of Western Civilization), most films from "the other side" weren't ready to be released when D.MAC began putting the festival together, she says.
But Lew Oliver, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, isn't buying it. With only two conservative films on the roster, Oliver says the festival "demonstrates pretty poor judgment by the folks in charge." He questions how hard they looked.
"Obviously I believe in free speech," Oliver says. "But if it's a festival being supported by public dollars, I think at least there ought to be an effort at some degree of balance ... particularly in the last few weeks before an election."
Surprisingly, Doug Head, chairman of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, concurs at least in principle with the need for parity. "Maybe they should show Birth of a Nation," Head quips. "That's a Republican film."
Yeager insists that neither she nor D.MAC is out to endorse or attack any candidate, and encourages protesters to come to festival to be "part of the process."
"I'm sure I'll get phone calls, I'm sure I'll get e-mails. But I think the majority of people would be able to discern that this is really not a political agenda."
After a moment, she adds, "You may see a Take Back Democracy Film Festival, part two." Which could mean that George W. Bush will again play the lead role.
(For a full festival schedule, visit www.dmacorlando.com)