Yet another filmmaker sets her sights on the president
In mid-July, Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 opened in France and made $3.4 million, showing on only 222 screens across the country. That weekend, in a single theater in Paris, a movie showed up that looked suspiciously like Moore's, only it had been made a year earlier by a woman from Texas who was her own film crew. It didn't make much money, but it left quite an impression, first-time filmmaker Christine Rose recalls from her home in Nova Scotia. "We had a Q&A on opening night, and that went on for over an hour before they pulled me out of the theater," she says. "But after dinner we walked by the theater, and people were still outside talking about the movie. And these were people who didn't even know each other but had met at my movie."
Upon first glimpse, Rose's Liberty Bound might indeed appear to be a quickie, cheapo Fahrenheit 9/11 knock-off. Regular Americans and a few well-regarded talking heads, among them World War II veteran and historian Howard Zinn and activist and author Michael Parenti, damn the Bush administration for going to war with Iraq, for stripping Americans of civil liberties, for using fear to intimidate its own citizenry and for using the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, to justify its egregious misdeeds. Like Moore, Rose repeatedly slams Bush for reading to schoolchildren rather than immediately reacting to news of the attacks on the World Trade Center. She uses phrases that repeat those uttered by Moore and his movie--chief among them, "regime change"--and she, like Moore, puts herself in the film, narrating it in a similarly angry, disbelieving tone of voice that sounds like a feminine echo of the Fahrenheit filmmaker.
Rose, who was born in Ohio 35 years ago come November and a resident of Huntsville, Texas, from the time she was 5 till she graduated from Sam Houston State University, would not deny Moore as her chief influence. She decided to make Liberty Bound after reading his book Downsize This, in which he wrote about how and why he made his first movie, Roger & Me, about how the closing of a General Motors plant destroyed his hometown of Flint, Michigan. A longtime community activist in Northern California, where Rose moved after teaching special education outside Fort Worth, she'd had enough with the bickering and inaction of her beloved Green Party and decided she would make a movie that would infuriate, engage and even motivate an audience to change the world, or at least oust a president. "I had just turned 33," Rose says now, "and I thought, well, if I'm gonna do it, I'd better start doing it."
So with camcorder and train ticket and a list of people she'd read about who'd been hassled by the cops or by federal agents for doing nothing more than protesting the president, she set out to make a movie. Almost two years later, it has still been seen only in France, where its distributor Take Off is based, and has distribution deals scattered about a few other European countries. It has no U.S. distributor and is available only on www.libertybound.com for $22, though beginning this month Rose will accompany the movie to screenings across the country sponsored by protest groups and activist film organizations. But unlike even agit-prop doc-maker Robert Greenwald's similarly quickie, cheapo Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism or Uncovered: The Truth About the War in Iraq, Rose does not have the blessing of MoveOn.org. She is out there on her own, one more anti-Bushie trying to preach to the converted and convert Dubya's preachers, delighted with her modest success but still hoping there's one distributor willing to pick up her movie before its November 3 expiration date.
"Ride Moore's wave!" she says, not so facetiously. Rose's executive producer, former actress Lorraine Evanoff, sold the film to Take Off last February but can't find anyone interested here. Before Fahrenheit, distributors said her movie was too raw and rinky-dink and perhaps even too risky; after Fahrenheit, they insisted it was nothing more than a hurried carbon copy. "And I don't understand it, and I've stopped trying to," Rose continues. "It's a film a distributor wouldn't have to pay much for, because it didn't cost much to make, and I was never in it for the money. They could make a fortune riding Moore's wave. People want to see stuff like this. I don't understand it."
They're not so much similar movies so much as companion pieces: If Fahrenheit is the work of a relatively restrained Michael Moore, who uses the audio from the attack on the World Trade Center but not the video, Liberty Bound is the work of someone far less subtle. Not only does she show the planes smashing into the buildings, she does so over and over and over; she also shows still photos of people leaping from the building and plays rarely heard audio communications between the United Airlines flight that crashed in a Pennsylvania field and the air traffic control tower in Cleveland. She also spends a good amount of time comparing Bush to Adolf Hitler, recounting not only George W.'s grandfather Prescott's well-documented dealings with Nazi Germany but also insisting that Hitler began his invasion of Europe as a "pre-emptive war" against Middle Eastern-based terrorists.
Where Liberty Bound is truly effective is in its firsthand accounts from people accosted and detained by police officers and FBI and Secret Service agents for doing little more than exchanging anti-Bush e-mails or speaking out against the war on terror in public places. One gentleman, who's identified only as "Winston," says he simply used the phrase "the twin towers" on an Amtrak train, only to be greeted by cops in Denver who accused him of talking to people on the train "about making bombs." On an audiotape of the interrogation, an officer tells Winston "we live in a different time now" and warns him to stop talking about "anything touchy" or else he will be yanked from the train.
There are several other examples, including a Navy vet named Michael Moore who was interrogated by feds after they intercepted an e-mail he sent to a friend critical of the Bush administration. The film also mentions how, when Bush spoke at SMU in November 2002, Secret Service agents interrogated a dozen anti-war protesters, who, they claimed, were "threatening the life of the president." Rose says there could have been "hundreds" more examples in the movie, but "some were just afraid and didn't want to be in the film. And since we finished the movie there's been this issue with the detainees at Guantanamo Bay and racial profiling and so many more examples. This could have been a whole film dedicated to that. But when I made this film we hadn't gone to war yet, and it evolved as the war did."
If nothing else, Bush has made good on one promise left over from his 2000 campaign: to put people back to work--if, mind you, those people are writers, Web-site operators and filmmakers who want to see the president put out of work in November. Rose is just one of many wielding a documentary as a weapon this election season, trying to put butts in seats and unseat Bush.
"When Michael Moore said, 'I don't want to influence the election,' that was dishonest," Rose says. "I do want to influence the election, but it's not like I am directly influencing anything. I hope the movie makes people start questioning and looking at things and questioning the media and their own beliefs and not just believing because it's on CNN or Fox. I am not campaigning for Ralph Nader or John Kerry. I am not telling people who to vote for, just to think. " --Robert Wilonsky
Attack and Counterattack
For those who were too busy with summer vacations to notice, the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth--a group of Vietnam vets who were profiled in the Dallas Observer a few weeks back ("Fog of War," July 29)--haven't stopped attacking John Kerry's war record. If anything, they've stepped up their efforts. SBVT members have recently made appearances on all three 24-hour cable news networks, in addition to getting coverage in The New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe and Dallas Morning News, among others. SBVT also just released a TV attack ad that summed up their message: Kerry's medals weren't earned, and his war record is bunk. The commercial was condemned by Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican and former Vietnam War POW, who called the spot dishonest, among other choice words.
None of the criticism leveled at SBVT has slowed them, however. When we interviewed SBVT spokesman John O'Neill, he told the Observer that his organization wouldn't rest and that it would use "whatever medium available" to help prevent Kerry from being elected president. He wasn't kidding. O'Neill, a Houston lawyer who first became a Kerry antagonist in the '70s when the two debated on The Dick Cavett Show, will soon release his new book, Unfit to Command. Last week, even though it wasn't yet available, the book was one of Barnes & Noble's best online sellers. Apparently, that pissed off Kerry fans--or someone, at least. An unknown hacker gained access to www.barnesandnoble.com, switched an older photo of Kerry with one from his earlier days and changed the title of the book to "Fit to Command."
Those crazy political operatives. Do the high jinks ever end with those guys? --John Gonzalez
Who Ya Callin Geek?
Or you could just listen for the sound of gunfire and explosions.
For three days last week, QuakeCon--part tradeshow, part video-game tournament--turned the Gaylord's convention hall into a massive dimly lit replica of a computer freak's bedroom, as thousands of gamers from across North America gathered to compete for $150,000 in prizes. And if you're thinking to yourself "big geekfest," well, smile when you say that. Torbull is.
Torbull, aka Craig Levine, is a 21-year-old Florida college student and managing director of Team3D, a professional gaming team. That's right, his team is paid good money to blow the heads off other digital players in games like Counterstrike and Quake.
"It's a great feeling to get up in the morning and love what you do," Levine says, grinning.
Levine and his teammates (www.team3d.net) pull in anywhere from $40,000 to $60,000 a year, he says, traveling the country to take part in numerous gaming tourneys like QuakeCon. Some of the money comes from wins; the rest comes from corporate sponsorships from hardware makers like HP and NVIDIA Corp. The payoff for the companies is obvious to anyone watching the players lug their own superfast, customized computers into QuakeCon. Gamers need cutting-edge hardware to play the latest, hottest games, like Doom 3, created by Mesquite-based id Software. Gamers turn to top players like Levine for advice on hardware. For companies like NVIDIA, QuakeCon sponsor and the maker of high-end video cards that produce the detailed, gory screen images, that means money in the bank.
"If you're buying a stereo, you go to the guy down the street with the good system," explains NVIDIA spokesman Brian Burke. "If you're buying a computer, you go to the geek down the street."
So, cheer up, Mom and Dad. Maybe all those hours your melanin-challenged boy is spending in front of his computer screen aren't being misspent. Maybe it's career training. And if a job clicking a mouse and staring endlessly at a monitor seems a bit mindless--well, put down the paper and get back to that spreadsheet, loser... --Patrick Williams
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