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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Keeping Ahead By Falling Behind

The forthcoming avalanche of War of Terror themed films has got me thinking. Hollywood seems to pride itself on being ahead of the political and social curve, too often resulting in the production of films that give off a tangible sense of back patting and shame-on-you-non-Liberal-elite finger wagging. But do any those films ever come out at a time when they might be able to make a real difference? Off the top of my head, I count eight films dealing in one way or another, and to greater and lesser degrees, with the quagmire in the Middle East: Redacted, Lions For Lambs, Rendition, In The Valley of Elah, Grace Is Gone, Badland, No End In Sight, and Charlie Wilson's War. I'm not saying these films aren't good, or that they aren't worth seeing, but I am asking if they aren't now just a little bit redundant.

It takes nothing now to be against the war in Iraq. It is widely accepted that the Bush administration misled the public regarding the motives for going to war, that information was distorted, that the U.S. government has not only condoned but engaged in practices that run contrary to the tenants of democracy and suspended some of the very freedoms that the war is officially being fought for. I don't object to the fact that a new slate of films confirms and explores these issues. I just can't help but wonder where all the anti-war movies were before, when their existence might have actually made a difference. Sure, there was Fahrenheit 9/11 back in 2004, but that only emphasizes my point. Michael Moore has always been a polarizing figure and he had nothing to lose by making a film that discredits the official war manifesto. Other people spoke out against the war, too, but kept their cameras rolling on other subjects. Now that is safe, and perhaps even commercial, to take an anti-war position, filmmakers are churning out these politically themed films faster than you can say "Oscar season."

To be clear, I have no problem with films (or people) that are against the war and demonstrate an actual understanding of the issues, have a point to make and ideas to express and explore; it's those that adopt an anti-war stance as if it's a trend, say the word "Iraq" without actually saying anything about it, that frustrate me. For example, this summer's The Invasion is a film that throws around references to Iraq without ever offering any actual insight into it, as if simply saying "Iraq" and expecting the audience to fill in the equation as "=bad" is enough and the issue need not be elaborated on. I think the war in Iraq is bad, but I also think that blindly agreeing that the war is bad isn't actually any better than blindly agreeing that the war is good. Just nodding along with the crowd accomplishes nothing.

In his Oscar acceptance speech in 2006, George Clooney congratulated Hollywood on always being ahead of the rest of the world in matters of political and social injustice. While I understand what he was trying to say and think that to some degree it is true, I disagree with the overall veracity of his statement. In order to illustrate, allow me to digress. The year before he won, the Academy had thrown a few nominations to Hotel Rwanda, a film that reminded the world of a tragedy it had once ignored. At the same time, the war in Darfur was in its second year. It is now approaching its fifth. Later this year a documentary called Darfur Now will be released, but the realm of Hollywood fiction isn't exactly teeming with films about the millions of displaced civilians, about the fact that China has sold millions of dollars in arms which have facilitated said displacement, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of deaths, for the sake of the oil and other commercial interests that China has in the region; or about how China uses the threat of its power of veto to prevent the UN from doing anything constructive to put an end to the conflict. In fact, until Mia Farrow wrote him a letter expressing her disappointment that the man who made Schindler's List could do anything to legitimize and condone a government that is financing genocide, Steven Spielberg was making plans to produce the openning ceremonies of China's 2008 Olympic games. My point is this: by the time Hollywood starts actively exploring the issues surrounding the conflict, it will probably have been over for about a decade.

To reiterate, I'm not saying that it's bad for films to be against the war, or that the issues being explored aren't important. I'm just saying that at this point it seems like these films are preaching to the choir. I believe that film, like any other artistic medium, has the power to influence people and change the world. It's just a shame that films which help shape the world for the worse (say... Triumph of the Will) come out at the right time, while those that could help shape the world for the better (say... Rendition, which explores policies ennacted under the Clinton administration, policies which seem tailor made for Bush's fight terror with terror strategy) come out when it's too late.

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