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F-U-mentary: A look at political documentaries

28/08/2012

I’ve always had a problem with political documentaries. Not because they’re not interesting or thought-provoking, but because (for the most part) they’re not really documentaries. They’re commentaries.

Take a look at “documentaries” by Zeitgeist (The Corporation, etc.), Michael Moore (Bowling For Columbine, Fahrenheit 911, etc.), Brave New Films (Outfoxed), Nathan Frankowski (Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed) and others. Whereas a typical documentary points a camera at something and presses record, these documentaries have an agenda, and use the information they see as relevant to prove that agenda.

(Before you angrily comment that all documentaries have an agenda, please note there’s a difference between an agenda and an idea. Filming a penguin’s migratory pattern is an idea — proving that penguins’ homosexuality is fundamentally evil is an agenda.

Also note that many of these films are considered to be point-of-view documentaries, which I agree with. However, when they come up with definitive theories and conclusions, I have a problem seeing them as point-of-view. It’s like calling a scientific paper a point-of-view when it has a theory and works to test it.)

The most recent example of an agenda-proving documentary would be “2016: Obama’s America,” a film based on Dinesh D’Souza’s theory that President Obama is an anti-colonialist. A friend of mine asked me to go see this the other day, and against my better judgment I agreed. My judgment was right — I was shaking with anger by the time I left the theater.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not because of the filmmaker’s opinion … although I personally don’t agree with it. The problem I had with this film was the content and delivery.

D’Souza took a theory largely based on his personal hypotheses and ideas, and turned it into an ominous doomsday showcase of what will happen if President Obama is reelected — complete with a United States of Arab countries controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, complete U.S. financial collapse and lots of dark, looming clouds.


And theatergoers drank it all in.

As I left the theater, I heard comments such as, “Wow, I can’t believe it,” “That’s so scary” and, my personal favorite, “I’m tempted to stand outside this theater and ask everyone who leaves, ‘So are you still voting for Obama?’ Oh, who am I kidding, of course they’re not.”

The overall reaction was one of horror and fear. And this is exactly what D’Souza was going for. It’s exactly the same as when Moore wanted viewers to feel pity for ignorant and hostile Charlton Heston (as well as other gun owners) at the end of Bowling for Columbine. These filmmakers create a scenario and use the art of filmmaking to back it up.

Political documentaries are not really documentaries because they don’t allow viewers to make their own decisions. D’Souza did not start this film with the thought of, “I’m going to explore President Obama’s background and see what happens.” He started with, “I believe President Obama is an anti-colonialist, and I’m going to make you believe it too.”

When I watch a documentary, it’s because I want to learn something new. I don’t watch documentaries to solidify my own vague political beliefs against a backdrop of vague pieces of loosely interpreted information. That’s not educating myself about the world — that’s digging my head further in the sand so I can view the world the way I want to. I don’t know about you, but I would rather learn than hide.

If I want to watch a commentary, I’ll go the Settings option on the DVD.

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