It's difficult to choose from so many great titles, but at least five stood out for progressives this year at the Tribeca Film Festival. The highly anticipated new doc from Michael Winterbottom, Emperor's New Clothes features Russell Brand, an entertainer who is experiencing an exponential rise in fame due to his fearless comical and articulate analyses of the woes of capitalism. Nothing and nobody can stop Brand in his Michael Moore-ish drive to expose the greed of banks and corporations. The Jesus-looking comic who recently toured in sold-out performances of his one man show, The Messiah Complex, which features large onstage panels of Che, Malcolm X and others, now runs a daily YouTube channel that has garnered over a million subscribers! He's concluded from years of activism that capitalism and its cynical manipulation of the electoral system has actually resulted in an expansion and perpetuation of corporate power. His frustration has resulted in a disillusionment with the electoral system, although he clarifies that he would encourage voting for a good candidate – if you can find one.
One of these 'good' candidates is featured in another political doc, Roseanne for President. That refers to Roseanne Barr, also a comedian who shares many of Brand's sentiments, but chose instead to run for office, supposedly at the prompting of Michael Moore. Although she lost her 2012 bid for the Green Party candidacy to Jill Stein who she describes as a misplaced corporate-type, Roseanne went on to become the Peace and Freedom Party candidate listed on the ballot in three states. The film is very funny while addressing serious issues, and much is learned about Roseanne's personal life, such as growing up Jewish in a Mormon state, the love and support she receives from her immediate family, and the many battles she endured in corporate Hollywood fighting for gay rights and working class images on television. A deeper respect for Roseanne is developed by the final scenes when she proclaims, “I'm not running as a publicity stunt, since my political views have pretty much ended my career anyway.“ Her frustration with the electoral system is displayed in a moment of fury, “To choose the lesser of two evils is NO damn choice at all. Wake up people!”
And a third documentary that also deals with the failure of capitalism, aptly titled Requiem for the American Dream, features Noam Chomsky and his writings. Probably the last long-form interview with the revered intellectual (actually recorded over a 4 year span) the film expounds on his “10 Principles of Concentration of Wealth and Power.” The film is neatly structured around the 10 points: Reduce democracy, Shape ideology, Redesign the economy, Shift the burden, Attack solidarity, Run the Regulators, Engineer Elections, Keep the Rabble in Line, Manufacture Consent and Marginalize the Population.
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In addressing the first principle, Chomsky notes that inequality in the world has reached staggering heights. This extreme reality has a harmful and corrosive effect upon democracy. Privileged and powerful sectors of society have never liked democracy, and for good reasons – it puts power in the hands of the general population and takes it away from the privileged. A vicious cycle develops with wealth buying power which in turn makes laws that benefit the wealthy, and they continue to pursue policies than benefit them no matter how it affects the rest of the population. New terms, plutonomy and precariat. Outreaching to the communities that address these issues. Cinematically, the doc utilizes a standard documentary format but is plagued by intense closeups of the main figure, probably assuming this is a flattering image. The overall arc of the story is also very predictable, counting down the 10 principles, in almost equal segments. But there is much to learn here. And Chomsky offers up new terms to describe current prevailing conditions, such as plutonomy (a plutocratic economy) and precariat (the precarious proletariat). You can read more about the film and see a trailer at it's website.
Another standout is the latest tome from British helmer Ken Loach, to the working man, this time an Irish man. Even when he makes a simplistic light comedy, it's injected with social consciousness, deep humanism and love for the characters. Jimmy's Hall is, you could say, a light Irish comedy that grabs your heart with it's love for those charming activists who know how to have a good time while changing the world. The title refers to the building once used for communists and others to organize and dance, a building that offends and threatens the church hierarchy.The utterly charming and politically astute story is written by the brilliant Even The Rain screenwriter, Paul Laverty, who has penned over a dozen Loach masterpieces.
The fifth political standout at Tribeca this year was a strangely titled film called (T)error. The annoying parentheses around the first letter cleverly makes the visual statement that there is an error in our understanding of 'terror.' The documentary is a multilevel 'who's zoomin who' thriller. Powerfully edited with complex and conflicted characters, the film exposes once again the government's failed efforts at addressing terrorism in our nation. By paying informants, many of whom are either blackmailed, bribed or in so desperate need of money that they will turn on their own people, many innocent people are unjustly imprisoned. This is what Cointelpro did to the Panthers.
This is what the government did to four Black Muslims in Newburgh, New York recently, dramatically portrayed in The Newburgh Sting. In this film, a young white American Muslim, wrongly charged with being a terrorist, essentially a victim of entrapment, ends up being imprisoned and his wife and young child are deported to the UK. The tragedy demonstrates once again that the FBI's anti-terrorism program has gone amuck. Both (T)error and The Newburgh Sting are powerful exposés of the failed war on terror, and ironically both share the same informer.