Tuesday, April 13, 2004

The silver screen has become an election-year battlefield.

Hollywood’s nimble liberals are at work crafting a well-timed cultural salvo against President Bush and those who support his campaign.

Efforts from Michael Moore and other filmmakers who criticize Mr. Bush and laud his Democratic opponent Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts will reach the public beginning in June, culminating just as voters head toward the polls in November.

“These shrill films use smear tactics which may make some profit initially, but they also stand to alienate a good portion of the American family audience. They spread heat, but no light,” said Tom Snyder, editor of Movie Guide, a publication of the California-based Christian Film & Television Commission, which offers reviews based on traditional values.

“These are the people who also went after Mel Gibson and ‘The Passion,’ and their criticisms backfired. The film has become a blockbuster. Now Hollywood is targeting Christian Republicans this fall,” Mr. Snyder added.

Sony Pictures already has optioned the film rights to former White House counterterrorism maven Richard A. Clarke’s book, “Against All Enemies,” which criticized White House terrorism efforts and received a publicity boost from Mr. Clarke’s appearance before the September 11 commission last month.

Meanwhile, the trend among some filmmakers to peddle their agendas and slam political opponents has become so pronounced that an industry name has emerged for it: “Documentaries as Swing Vote,” according to a symposium at an independent film festival in North Carolina last week, which featured Mr. Moore, actor Harry Shearer and others.

Mr. Moore intends to release a documentary called “Fahrenheit 9/11” — subtitled “The Temperature When Freedom Burns” — to theaters this fall, said “to contain explosive info about Bush,” according to this week’s Variety.

The film examines “what happened to the country after September 11 and how the Bush administration used the tragic event to push its agenda,” the filmmaker told the entertainment weekly in a separate interview.

It also traces “why the U.S. has become a target for hatred and terrorism” and depicts “alleged dealings between two generations of the Bush and bin Laden clans that led to George W. Bush and Osama bin Laden becoming mortal enemies.”

Mr. Moore’s documentary originally had financial backing from Icon Pictures, Mel Gibson’s production company, which dropped out of the agreement after “someone from the White House” warned the group about it, Mr. Moore told the North Carolina festival on April 4.

Filmmaker John Sayles has finished “Silver City,” a political satire starring Richard Dreyfuss that follows “a grammatically challenged, born-again candidate who is the scion of a formidable right-wing dynasty,” according to a review in the Hollywood Reporter in late March.

Newmarket Films, which will release the film “just in time to capitalize on what promises to be a contentious run for the White House,” promises the script will “shake up the political season.”

Not to be outdone, Harry Thomason — longtime Hollywood-based friend of former President Bill Clinton — will release “The Hunting of the President” in mid-June, based on the book by the same name by Arkansas journalists Gene Lyons and Joe Conason, which examined Mr. Clinton’s impeachment.

According to a press release, the film will “explore the myths and truths of the nearly 10-year campaign to systematically destroy the political legacy of the Clintons.”

Mr. Thomason hopes to promote his film through the California-based liberal activist group MoveOn.org and told an audience at a Texas-based independent film festival in mid-March, “Our object is to get as many people to see the film as possible.”

The cast includes “right-wing pamphleteers … religious fanatics and die-hard segregationists, all chiming in discord from the tops of their soapboxes,” the release stated. But Mr. Thomason told his festival audience, “The culprit in our film turns out to be the press.”

Karl Rove, Mr. Bush’s stalwart campaign adviser, also is the subject of a film documentary.

“Bush’s Brain,” already screened at the Texas festival, is described as “an angry account of the current president’s political tactics” by a Toronto Star reviewer.

Though he has yet to flaunt a Clinton-style celebrity entourage, Mr. Kerry already is warranting star treatment in three film documentaries about his life — and the “dramatic” soap opera possibilities of a Vietnam veteran turned peace activist.

Two already have been screened for the press at smaller film festivals.

“Tour of Duty,” made by filmmaker George Butler — who once profiled California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in the weightlifting extravaganza “Pumping Iron” — will be released in September, accompanied by a book of photographic stills taken from the movie to be published by Time Warner.

“John Kerry has had the most interesting life of anyone in the political arena since Theodore Roosevelt,” Mr. Butler told Variety this week.

“His history as a politician is that he’s been underestimated and that he has enormous willpower, not unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger.”

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