- The Washington Times - Friday, October 22, 2004

It’s the bottom of the ninth, the score is tied and conservatives have begun a full-scale push-back where it matters most — at the movies. OK, I’m kidding. Mostly. It may be that the sermons reached only the choir, but the multitude of liberal-left documentaries (“Fahrenheit 9/11,” “The Corporation,” “Bush’s Brain,” “The Hunting of the President,” “Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch’s War on Journalism,” “Uncovered: The War on Iraq” and on and on) may turn out to have had some cumulative effect on the presidential race — at the very least on the wildly contemptuous feelings toward President Bush.

So the recent boomlet of conservative-minded movies came not a moment too soon.

Cue the obligatory caveat: All things being equal, movies such as “FahrenHYPE 9/11,” “Celsius 41.11: The Temperature at Which the Brain Begins to Die” and “Michael Moore Hates America” may be sermonizing to their own choirs. Still, the record of deceit compiled in “Fahrenheit 9/11” couldn’t go unanswered, and these documentaries do a bang-up job of debunking Michael Moore’s scurrilous mythology.

They may also create a sort of seedbed on the right side of the political garden for what will surely become a mainstay of high-stakes campaigns in years to come: the partisan documentary.

“The one thing I thank Michael Moore for is opening up a new genre, which is movies, that will now be more welcome to be delivery devices for political messages on both sides of the aisle,” David Bossie, president of Washington-based Citizens United, the conservative group behind “Celsius 41.11,” told the Salt Lake Tribune.

“It’s a great way for the American people to have messages — whether they agree with them or not — delivered.”

First, there’s “FahrenHYPE,” which was produced by the Utah-based Savage Pictures and is available in video stores right now. It appropriates some of Mr. Moore’s methods, but decidedly not his madness. As in Moore-docs, there’s ominous music, sassy humor and grainy archival footage. And as in “Fahrenheit,” there are emotional interviews with grief-stricken families who lost a loved one in Iraq.

“FahrenHYPE” talks to conservatives such as Dave Kopel, who did a lot of the movie’s spadework with his essay “59 Deceits”; the actor and converted hawk Ron Silver; and the liberal former mayor of New York, Ed Koch. The centrist Dick Morris provides the kind of sardonic narration that is Mr. Moore’s trademark.

One by one, Mr. Moore’s conspiracy theories are demolished. The myth of the seven minutes and “My Pet Goat” (wherein Mr. Moore paints the president as a helpless fool on hearing the news of September 11) is explained away by The Washington Times’ own Bill Sammon, a reporter who was there in Sarasota, Fla., that morning, as well as the teacher whose classroom Mr. Bush was visiting.

Just for yucks, the president’s unconvincingly sinister ties to the Carlyle Group are just as easily — and arbitrarily — retraced to the anti-Bush billionaire George Soros. The movie also reminds us that coziness with the Saudi royals is not a Bush family problem; rather, it’s a systemic problem with administrations as far back as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s.

Most damning of all, and what even liberals should concede is inexcusable, is the revelation that the appearances of three people in Mr. Moore’s movie were not consensual, the very definition of being “ambushed” on film.

The trio — an Oregon state trooper, the aunt of a serviceman whose Arlington National Cemetery funeral turned up in “Fahrenheit,” and an amputee veteran of the Iraq war — wanted nothing to do with Michael Moore. All were livid enough to call him on it, and their testimony is compelling.

“Celsius,” which opens in area theaters such as Loews Georgetown and Shirlington 7 today, is more nakedly anti-Kerry than “FahrenHYPE.” But it lands several punches of its own, namely a wider focus on the evisceration of human intelligence that began in the mid-‘70s and continued under President Clinton.

It begins with an analysis of Bush paranoia and a usefully sane discussion about the Florida recount; it ends up rehashing, unhelpfully at this point, the charges of “Unfit for Command: Swift Boat Veterans Speak Out Against John Kerry” co-author John O’Neill.

Taken together, “FahrenHYPE” and “Celsius” make for a powerful, comprehensive rebuttal. It’s too bad they weren’t released months ago.

More timely, though, is “Voices of Iraq,” an experimental documentary opening Oct. 29 at Landmark’s E Street Cinema.

In conjunction with Los Angeles-based Booya Studios, producers Eric Manes, Martin Kunert and Archie Drury distributed 150 digital cameras among Iraqis as far removed from each other as the Kurdish enclave in the north, the Baghdad slum of Sadr City and the southern settlements of the Marsh Arabs.

The producers invited Iraqis to film themselves and pass on the cameras. More than 400 hours of footage came back, and, taking the filmmakers at the word of their editing, Iraqis are far more optimistic about their future than we’re led to believe by the nightly news.

“Voices” is neither partisan nor conservative in any meaningful sense of the word. However, as an attempt to get behind the filter of the mainstream media — as a picture of reality unmediated by editorial commentary — it’s a more potent negation of Michael Moore, Craig Unger, Noam Chomsky and Co. than the documentaries mentioned above.

Finally, there’s “In the Face of Evil: Reagan’s War in Word and Deed,” which also opens in area theaters Oct. 29.

Directed by Stephen K. Bannon and based on a book by Peter Schweizer, the Ronald Reagan documentary folds the late president’s confrontation with totalitarianism — dubbed World War III in some circles — into the West’s current struggle — dubbed World War IV in those same circles — against radical Islam.

What this all will amount to is anyone’s guess. What’s clear is that conservatives, when outgunned by liberals, have a scrappy talent for playing catch-up: from starting think tanks and magazines years ago to counter the media and liberal foundations to, more recently, amassing cash under the rubric of independent 527 groups.

Conservative documentaries might just be the latest notch in that rivalry.

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