RUN GRANNY RUN: Don’t it make your red state blue!
Arriving in Austin for the South by Southwest Film Festival, Mr. Film Culture was one swell-chested dude. I’d be on the Narrative Jury, awarding a prize to the best feature in Competition. More jollies: an appearance by me on the big screen. Manufacturing Dissent, a feature documentary that promised to reveal the “real” Michael Moore, was scheduled for its world premiere. Last fall, the Canadian team of Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine had interviewed me for their film, and I’d rattled off everything I loathe about the demagogue behind Fahrenheit 9/11.
Grievous news at the Paramount Theatre, site of the Manufacturing Dissent screening. In the lobby, a guilty-looking Melnyk informs me: “Your interview is on the cutting-room floor.” When the film was a rough three hours and 40 minutes, I was in the mix. (Who wasn’t?) For the 96-minute final version, I was long gone. Sorry! Well, even with one superb talking head egregiously missing, Manufacturing Dissent manages to hold on. It’s an engrossing, and convincing, indictment of Moore’s shady, manipulative tactics as a documentarian. And it shows him to be a thin-skinned, selfish-minded human being, with a dark history of screwing his friends on the left.
Remember Roger & Me, the 1989 film that hounded General Motors CEO Roger Smith? Moore complained that Smith had refused him an interview. It turns out that Smith did talk to him, on two occasions, but Moore buried this salient information when he made his movie. In Manufacturing Dissent, on the other hand, it’s Moore who fends off every effort by Melnyk to speak to him on the record. In one instance, captured on video, his strong-armed minions even have Melnyk and Caine ejected from a theater where he’s holding forth!
The documentarians had actually started out on Moore’s side. That was before they had to deal with him. Caine explained, “We’d done a profile of a right-wing media baron, Conrad Black, whom we didn’t like very much. We said, ‘Let’s do a movie about someone we really respect.’ Moore floated to the top of our list.”
Hold on! Not every public person on the left is a cause of disillusionment. Documentaries at SxSW by Framingham’s Marla Poras and the Waltham-based Bill Haney were stirring, emotional tributes to admirable political figures. Haney’s The Price of Sugar tells of the fortitude and courage of Catholic priest Christopher Hartley in battling the sugar cartel in the Dominican Republic and standing up for the Haitians who work in the cane fields as 20th-century slaves. This muckraking tract needs to be seen by everyone, from American sugar users (all of us) to the United Nations.
Poras’s grandly entertaining, genuinely feel-great Run Granny Run brings to life the heroic 2004 New Hampshire Senate campaign of 94-year-old Doris “Granny D” Haddock to unseat smug Bushite Judd Gregg. A SxSW bonus: I got to hang out with the charming, sprightly old lady, now 97, and she’s a swell hugger and kisser! Granny D for president! As she told me: “Though I lost, I helped turn New Hampshire from a red state to a blue one!”
Fiction films? Young Chicagoan Joe Swanberg premiered his third feature at SxSW in three years, Hannah Takes the Stairs, a sexy, slickly shot, deftly edited slacker tale about a butterfly breaker-of-hearts (Greta Gerwig) featuring a host of indie actor-directors including JP’s Andrew Bujalski. And the Narrative Prize? Our jury picked Jamie Babbitt’s Itty Bitty Titty Committee, an amusing anarchic comedy about a trouble-making band of politicized lesbians.