Political documentaries aren't afraid to tackle issues that mainstream news outlets have at times treaded lightly over or ignored completely.
Michael Moore's incendiary smackdown of George W. Bush, "Fahrenheit 9/1 1," has attracted the most attention this year, but others -- almost all left-leaning -- have also drawn acclaim.
Filmmaker Robert Greenwald's informative "Uncovered: The War on Iraq" raised doubts -- many since confirmed -- about the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq. Independent journalist Danny Schechter's revealing and audacious "WMD (Weapons of Mass Deception)" convincingly argues the media was complicit in the war build-up by uncritically accepting administration rationales and turning the war into "militain-ment."
"Going Upriver: The Long War of John Kerry," is playing in local theaters. The film presents a thoughtful and moving portrait of Kerry at war and later as a mobilizer of anti-war veterans.
Why so many political documentaries?
Joanna Raczynska, media arts program director at Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center, said the obvious answer is that it's an election year. She programmed a just-concluded documentary series that included "Bush's Brain," about political strategist Karl Rove, and "The Corporation," on the dangers corporate domination pose to democracy.
But Raczynska said she thinks it goes beyond that.
"I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that television and other venues show a very one-sided view of politics, a very simplified and rightward-leaning view," Raczynska said.
"A lot of these political documentaries coming out in the wake of "Fahrenheit 9/1 1" seem very left-leaning and anti-Bush, but I would say they're invested in seeking out the truth, and if that's anti-Bush then so be it."
Conservatives would no doubt beg to differ. While political documentaries have historically been the province of the left, conservatives are starting to get into the picture. "FahrenHype 9/1 1" is out on DVD, and Sinclair Broadcast Group plans to run excerpts tonight of an anti-Kerry film, "Stolen Honor."
Here are a few films that -- along with "Fahrenheit 9/1 1" -- have recently gone to DVD:
"The Hunting of the President: The Ten-Year Campaign to Destroy Bill Clinton." This documentary, whose limited release skipped Western New York, traces the trail of the "vast right-wing conspiracy," based on the persuasive best-seller by Gene Lyons and Joe Conason.
The filmmakers interviewed Clinton confidantes and journalists, and some of the Arkansas Clinton-haters, right-wing financiers, opportunist politicians and conservative commentators who engineered what Clinton aide Paul Begala calls a "right-wing attempt at a coup d'etat."
"Control Room." Filmmaker Jehane Noujaim uses cinema verite to reveal the inner workings of Arab-language news network Al-Jazeera. Particularly interesting is the station's approach to covering the Iraq war compared to its American counterparts.
"Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Terrorism." This expose on Fox News, which went straight to video, presents the cable media outlet as little more than a house organ of the Republican Party. It's an illuminating look at the effectiveness of the right-wing "echo chamber." The documentary has its funny moments too, such as when talk-show host Bill O'Reilly is made to look ridiculous for claiming to have never told a guest to "shut up."