By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
By Claire Lawton
By Kiernan Maletsky
By Anna Merlan
Most compellingly, Schechter contrasts footage from critical overseas networks, among them the BBC and Al-Jazeera and German TV, with cheerleading U.S. cable outlets for which reportage meant wearing American flags in their lapels and repeating press releases and briefings handed out at Central Command in Qatar. A German news crew, armed with Geiger counters, reveals that the U.S. military used outlawed weapons, including radioactive depleted uranium, against Iraqi tanks; Al-Jazeera continues to display the corpses of innocents who got in liberation's way. And the capture and rescue of Private Jessica Lynch becomes a sort of ground zero: Where the American networks reported that she'd been stabbed, shot and tortured while in the hands of Iraqis, the Brits counter that she was in fact well-treated by Iraqi doctors in the crude confines of a ravaged hospital. If nothing else, you will walk out of the movie thinking you can believe nothing and trust no one; even the truth tellers lie like a Persian rug.
It's a point made again in Harry Thomason's The Hunting of the President, based on the 2000 book by Joe Conason and Gene Lyons. Thomason, the TV producer (Designing Women, Evening Shade) and best friend of Bill Clinton, sets out to prove there was indeed a right-wing conspiracy to bring down Bill and Hilary by retracing the familiar footsteps (Whitewater, Paula Jones, Vince Foster, Troopergate, Travelgate, Monica Lewinsky, Kenneth Starr) with spiked shoes. It's populated by footnoted sleazoids (Little Rock private detective Larry Case, Gennifer Flowers' left-hand man Larry Nichols), the martyred (Susan McDougal) and the misguided (American Spectator writer David Brock) and plays like a real-life version of one of Oliver Stone's conspiratorial wet dreams; either you already believe Clinton was gutted for having a wandering dick or you believe he got what he deserved, and his best buddy won't change your mind. Still, like WMD, it does make an estimable case that the media botched the coverage when reporters began believing they could make their names by ruining someone else's.
It seems to be the theme of this year's Dallas Video Festival: Trust no one. There might be someone watching you (Secret Tapes collects surveillance videos taken by the Communist police in Poland). Or someone's just plain lying to you. Dark Side of the Moon, a documentary by William Karel, stretches Schechter's premise to the snapping point; it's a "true story" with the ultimate twist, a sneering joke perpetuated with the straight face of a prosecuting attorney. Karel, using interviews with the likes of Donald Rumsfeld and Henry Kissinger and director Stanley Kubrick's widow Christiane, makes the case that the man who made 2001: A Space Odyssey also staged and shot the first lunar landing at NASA's request. In exchange, he received a special camera for the shooting of Barry Lyndon; meanwhile, people who knew of the phony footage of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon were eliminated on the orders of Richard Nixon. It's all an incredibly elaborate put-on--Alfred Hitchcock fans will sniff out the ruse, given the copious references to his films--but an effective sucker-punch, nonetheless. Trust no one.
Especially not Imelda Marcos, who attempts to come off like a saint in Ramona Diaz's documentary about the former first lady of the Philippines but is revealed as a woman partially demented and wholly in denial. Allowing Diaz astonishing access not only to herself but also her children Bong-Bong and Imee and other childhood friends, Marcos gives off the vibe of a dictator who believed hers was an iron fist encased in velvet; everything she and hubby Ferdinand did, she insists, was for the good of the people. Imelda doesn't judge because it doesn't have to; history has already damned the Marcos family, even if the Filipinos continue to put them in power (the movie ends with Bong-Bong and Imee getting elected to office and dancing to Depeche Mode's "Just Can't Get Enough," heh). It simply lets her try to charm the camera, which she can do--she looks younger now than she did in the 1980s--even if the audience is smart enough not to buy the con artist's act. No wonder Marcos is suing in an attempt to keep this movie out of theaters: She looks bad, even when looking as good as she ever has.
Also in denial are the killers featured in Rithy Pahn's troubling S21: The Khmer Rouge Death Machine, which documents the murder of nearly one-fourth of the Cambodian population from 1975 to 1979. Pahn's film deals solely with the Khmer Rouge's S21 security bureau in Phnom Penh, where nearly 20,000 prisoners were taken for "questioning" and only three survived. Pahn returns them to the high school-turned-slaughter house and reunites them with their captors, now middle-aged men who insist they're full of regret and were only following the party's orders. What seems at first cruel, the pairing of killer and almost-killed, never becomes wholly cathartic, because in their old environs, the jailers re-enact for the cameras their old duties and seem to relish the opportunity to be cruel, even to invisible prisoners. It's frightening to watch--and to imagine what they did to so many not so long ago.
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