Issue section: 

Radical documentaries - Iraq war on film - London Film Festival highlights

Radical documentary makers have been labouring away producing independent features as an alternative to the slavish US media for decades. Whereas before only a few hit the headlines and went beyond campus and cable television distribution the current period of fervent debate in the US has produced a new renaissance. Director Robert Greenwald (see Iraq War: Uncovered reviewed in this issue) has gained some notoriety in the States for his previous documentary Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. It's a sustained attack on the Fox TV station's news output which laughably purports to be 'fair and balanced'. It was an underground sensation before US release with huge sales of DVDs on the internet and generating a buzz through screenings by political organisations.

Another hit radical docu is Yes Men, recently released in the States, which follows the antics of two anti-globalisation protesters posing as World Trade Organisation spokesmen. They deliver nonsensical presentations to self-important dim-witted businessmen to hilarious results. See their website and blog on

The producers of Outfoxed are also backing David (Three Kings) O Russell's Soldier's Pay, which features interviews with Iraqi refugees, human rights officials and veterans of the current war on Iraq. Russell's mild mannered critical comments on the conduct of the war led to his short documentary being dropped by the studio. Russell says, 'Theatrical film is one of the last windows available to people on the left, because the mainstream media is such a neat fit with the sensibility of the right.'

His film I Heart Huckabees featured at this year's London Film Festival. It's a heady brew of existentialism, anti-capitalism and eco activism starring Jude Law. One of the best quotes about it comes from Variety magazine: 'High-wire comedy that captures liberal-left despair... it's Fahrenheit 9/11 for the screwball set.' It's baffling, witty, smart and fuelled by political questioning. Similarly offbeat was Todd Solondz's Palindrome about a young girl desperately wanting to have a child but forced to undergo an abortion by her adoptive mother. This is seriously challenging subversive work but the ambivalence on the abortion issue is deeply problematic for this brilliant film-maker who never shrinks from examining the underside of American family values.

A notable British film that I saw was Danny Boyle's Millions. Two kids come into possession of £250,000 and need to spend it before the currency changes to the euro. There's a soft hued sympathy for the Third World and the poor in the film as one of the boys sets out on a mission to help the needy. It's visually inventive with wry humour but let down by a magical ending which unravels a decent script. If you loved Ian McEwan's novel Enduring Love you will enjoy this sensitive and superbly directed tale of love and obsession in the aftermath of a tragic balloon accident.

Asher D starrer Bullet Boy was a commendable, if familiar and depressing, tale of a black teenager who finds himself drawn back into a spiral of violence after leaving prison. He supports his friend in a tit for tat exchange that turns murderous. Eric Rohmer made an unlikely turn towards politically informed film with Triple Agent, set within the France of the Popular Front: a milieu of exiled White Russians, French Communists and murky espionage. But it's pedantic and over-talkative with a shock bleak ending concerning the crushing influence of political ideologies.