Political docs add fuel to Euro fest fires

LOCARNO If the American indie film movement of the early ’90s reignited Europe’s love for le cinema Americain, American indies of the early 21st century — especially the docmakers — have rekindled the European passion for politically committed cinema.

And if there’s one person to thank for this resurgence of passion for topical filmmaking it’s that most unlikely of American anti-establishment icons: George W. Bush.

Four years ago, the Bush vs. Gore election race was greeted in Europe with a collective yawn.

But that was before either the dot-com bubble collapse or Osama Bin Laden’s airliners had hit. That was back when the only people who cared about Afghanistan were those who smoked hash or bought rugs. Or both. And the only people who cared about Iraq were political junkies or scholars writing theses about Saddam’s successfully flouting U.N. sanctions.

Well no one in Europe is sleeping through this election.

If that fact weren’t perfectly clear in Cannes with Michael Moore’s Palme d’Or and 20-minute standing ovation, then the Euro grosses for his pic should have removed all doubt.

With the film sprinting past $10 million in U.K. grosses for indie distrib Optimum, it’s worth noting that it wasn’t so long ago that documentaries didn’t make that kind of money from their entire U.S. run, let alone the U.K. dates.

At the Locarno Film Festival last week, one couldn’t walk into a theater, or even the Piazza Grande, without getting a film lecture on Contemporary U.S. Politics 101.

From Harry Thomason’s “The Hunting of the President” screening for thousands al fresco to yet another fest unspooling of “9/11,” from Patricio Guzman’s “Salvador Allende” to Robert Greenwald’s “Uncovered: The War in Iraq,” auds were packing themselves in to grapple with American politics and their impact.

And no one — from the journalists and fans to the filmmakers — is surprised by all the rapt attention.

In the view of Dutch journalist Ab Zagt, who was in Locarno serving on the Critics’ Week jury, “It all started in Cannes with ‘9/11’ and a picture that I think explained Bush more profoundly: ‘Bush’s Brain.’ Today ‘9/11’ is still breaking box office records in Holland.”

Zagt says the heightened interest is due to the fact that “this is the most important election in the world since Kennedy vs. Nixon. And with Iraq today we are all involved, from the price of gasoline to the cost of our mortgages.”

For American filmmakers like first-time director Zak Tucker, in Locarno with his political drama “Poster Boy” in competition, there’s never been a better time to confront and dramatize the political climate.

“Europeans are looking to see if Americans are wholeheartedly behind the Bush Administration or not,” says Tucker.

One of his film’s producers, Rebecca Chaiklin, who produced the election doc “Last Party 2000” and is working on politically themed docs for music/garment impresario Russell Simmons, concurs.

“The international community is concerned and frightened by the Bush Administration’s unprecedented aggressive moves,” she says.

“The corporate press and corporate entertainment have been complacent. So people are hungry for the truth at home and abroad.”

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