Monday 23 April 2007

Hot Docs 04/22/07 - Manufacturing Dissent

At the very least, what can be said about "Manufacturing Dissent" is that it certainly creates a lot of discussion. And though its specific target is filmmaker Michael Moore, it's the more general questions that it raises which are far more interesting and relevant to the current state of documentary films.

I suppose "target" isn't a fair term to use since the film began initially as a profile of Moore by supporters of his films. It turns out though, that Moore's a bit of an arrogant weasel, a liar and not the nicest guy around. Probably not a big surprise to many people, but the question you start asking yourself is whether it's really relevant to his role as a documentary filmmaker...Well, it depends.

It certainly puts some of his interviews and statements into a different context and shows him to be a filmmaker crying wolf in many cases. I mean, would you get your news and form your opinions based around his statements? But having said that, is it really useful to attack Moore himself when a common criticism levied against him is his use of ad hominem attacks on individuals he doesn't agree with? Several attendees at Sunday night's Hot Docs screening felt that the film shouldn't in turn do the same back to him (two questions in particular posed to the directors afterwards --> 1) "Why did you choose to do this tabloid style...?" and 2) "Why did you focus on the man?").

I should back up a bit though...This is by no means a hatchet job out to get Moore. As mentioned above, there were no agendas being met as the filmmakers actually began the film as fans of Moore. After several interview requests were placed (in person and written) and promises were made, nary a response had been received by them. Their persistence as well as interviews with acquaintances of Moore's leads them to a different picture of both the man and his working style - even from before his first film. I don't necessarily have a big problem with the film pointing out Moore's personal flaws, but after a short time it's just not overly interesting. But in these interview segments we also see some flaws in Moore's methods.

If you've read anything about any of Moore's films, you know he has been "called out" for various transgressions with timelines and half-truths. Although I've never been overly fond of these techniques, I've never thought they've been bad enough to throw out the rest of his films. But "Manufacturing Dissent" highlights some of the more relevant ones and certainly, at the very least, makes you wonder why he left out footage of his interviews with GM CEO Roger Smith from "Roger & Me"...

Many documentaries attempt to simply record the facts and shy away from a point of view (let's steer clear of the "as soon as you make an edit, you've chosen a point of view" argument for the moment). But many others do indeed have an issue to raise or a theory to prove. In these cases, to what lengths is it acceptable to go in order to serve the greater purpose of the movie's message? Since Moore typically doesn't consider his movies to be documentaries (closer to "essays"), he feels he has more latitude.

Which leads to the assumption that he believes "the end justifies the means". But if, as Errol Morris states in the film, the resulting work of "Fahrenheit 9/11" is essentially preaching to the choir, then what was it's end purpose? It further polarizes the ends of the political spectrum - in 9/11's case it cordones off a portion of the left and almost begs the far right to tear down it's errors and misdirections. The argument soon focuses on these issues of the film and what is then lost is any reasonable discussion about some of the more salient points that were and could have been raised.

And that's my biggest problem with Michael Moore - the missed opportunities for inciteful debate. He's a talented filmmaker (I thought "Bowling For Columbine" was terrificly entertaining), but he seems to prefer taking up the pundit role to counter his far right opponents who use similar non-constructive methods. "Manufacturing Dissent" does a decent job (though not always entertainingly) at pointing out specific flaws in Moore's approach and raises broader questions for documentaries - Do you want debate or concurrence? Are you looking for the facts to present or do you want to flog an opinion?

1 comment:

Michael Guillen said...

Bob, I'm so glad you linked to your write-up on this film over at The Evening Class; thanks for doing so. Yours is a very solid response and between your write-up and Michael Hawley's, I'll probably pass om the film.