With 22 television monitors relaying images at once, More than Moore, a video installation at Visual Studies Workshop, instills a feeling of sensory saturation, even though the TV sets are all silent. (Headphones are provided.) VSW Associate Gallery Director-Acting Gallery Manager Bleu Cease is trying to make independent political documentaries more accessible to the public. His installation, the second phase of that effort, screens 55 films --- the same ones Cease brought to public spaces all summer and fall with his Propaganda Box. (See "Street corner politics," in the July 28 issue of City.)
Cease saw the furor surrounding Michael Moore's Farenheit 9/11 as an opportunity to bring attention to the current groundswell in political independent films. Though most of the material featured in the project leans to the left, it would be a mistake to think More than Moore is predictable.
Cease says part of his aim is to spark dialogue, and the installation represents a broad enough ideological range to do that. Taken side by side, the films reveal subtle nuances in the anti-war and anti-Bush movements.
"The agenda," says Cease, "was not to favor films that would move people towards the left. I was more concerned with [not] screening to the choir --- playing documentaries for people who already actively pursue documentaries."
You can't possibly cover all the films in one sitting. There's a temptation to approach the installation like a buffet, sampling until you get your fill, but you're better off settling down with one or two titles. These are intense, emotionally charged films meant to engage --- if not overload --- your empathy, agitation, anxiety, or all of the above.
"How do you not get burned out on this type of stuff?" Cease asks. "How do you not get turned off to the whole idea of political filmmaking after seeing so many? Media desensitizes no matter what type of media it is."
In Independent Media in a Time of War, documentary director Amy Goodman argues the opposite. (See an interview with Goodman, "The Sounds of Silence," in the October 13 issue of City.) According to Goodman, if the American public were exposed to the violence of the Iraq war for a week, the public outcry would be so great that the war would be over immediately. That may sound idealistic, but Goodman takes a rational, well-substantiated approach and simply compares the difference between CNN's European and American coverage.
"I'm not [even] talking about the difference between CNN and Al Jazeera," she says in Independent Media. CNN Europe regularly depicts the human cost of war, as do many other networks abroad. "Think about what the world sees and what we see here," she says. The film depicts footage of civilian casualties so heinous it will likely leave you rattled for days to come. And that's exactly the point.
Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, and Robert Greenwald --- relatively well-known voices of dissent --- are represented in the installation, but there's a wealth of other voices, styles, and topics. Greenwald's Uncovered: the Whole Truth About the War in Iraq and John Pilger's Palestine is Still the Issue both follow an almost identically non-stylized format --- a series of straight-ahead, succinct, and easy-to-follow interviews --- and benefit greatly from commentary from more conservative sources.
As an educational device, the installation overflows with information and context. Historian Zinn, for example, served as an Air Force bombardier in WWII; his talk about the human cost of war in Terrorism and War resonates with experience. Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee's skilled narration brings warmth and grace to Danny Schecter's Counting on Democracy, which tells the little-known story of African-American voting-rights activism in Florida leading up to the 2000 presidential election.
Aesthetic quality is debatable for nearly all the films, but most hit their targets: they get you thinking about the subjects they raise. And if you start to feel like you just can't take any more, some of the titles offer laughs. A lesson in economy, Mike Wellins' two-minute animated short America Lite uses a beer-commercial parody to criticize the erosion of the Constitution and Bill of Rights. Meanwhile, local animator Dave Puls's more forceful Sharks in the Water uses seemingly lighthearted, Monty Python-esque multimedia animations that belie a darker outlook and outraged point.
Other short titles are just easier to process but pack no less of a punch. Greg Wilcox's four-minute Fortunate Son exposes Wrangler Jeans' misappropriation of Creedence Clearwater Revival's political tune "Fortunate Son" to foment patriotism and encourage military enlistment after 9/11 --- all while models shake it in tight jeans. And the image of a clergyman yelling "Tonight, I am angryyy!" in solidarity with a crowd protesting the anti-gay-marriage amendment in Renee Solile and Mary Jo Godges' Texas Bullshit is pretty unforgettable.
The installation closes on Election Day with a reception including election coverage and live music. After that, Cease hopes to maintain the films in a permanent public archive at the VSW.
More Than Moore: Reviving the Political Documentary is at the Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince Street, until Tuesday, November 2. Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 12 to 5 p.m. Donations. A closing reception for More Than Moore and the Propaganda Box is on Tuesday, November 2, at VSW, 8 p.m. to 12 a.m. 442-8676, www.vsw.org