“Citizen Stan” paints an admiring portrait of Stanley Sheinbaum, an economics academe whose connections and principles have made him a key influence — even sans official governmental or diplomatic status — in numerous domestic/foreign policy issues from the Vietnam War onward. Done in straightforward PBS style by helmer Patty Sharaf, pic presents an endless chorus of approval that sometimes makes it seems like filmic equivalent of a testimonial dinner. But as a savvy inside player, and one driven by humanistic ideals rather than self-interest, Sheinbaum merits the attention. Pubcasters rep logical destination.
Born in humble circumstances to a New York City rag-trade family bankrupted in the ’29 crash, Sheinbaum took advantage of the G.I. Bill after WWII service, ending up an economics prof at Michigan State. There, he was involved from 1955-59 in designing the Vietnam Project, an economic development program he later learned — to his horror — that was mostly a front for CIA anti-Communist operations, including torture in the Project’s own Saigon HQ. His willingness to expose that betrayal cost him a subsequent think-tank job as the antiwar movement got going at home.
After a failed ’68 Congressional bid, he found himself involved to varying degrees in President Nixon’s downfall, rescuing jailed future P.M. Andreas Papandreou during Greece’s military junta, trying to broker peace in the Middle East, and agitating for LAPD chief Daryl Gates’ ouster post-Rodney King.
Marriage to Betty Warner, the strongly progressive-minded daughter of legendary studio head Jack, boosted his sense of activism while opening doors that would make the now eightysomething Sheinbaum a leading tree-shaker among lefty Hollywood fundraisers. (Some say Betty is the real driving force behind Sheinbaum’s efforts, though she stays well in the background here.)
Pic shows Sheinbaum hasn’t been afraid to take unpopular stands; willingness to deal with the PLO, for instance, hasn’t always endeared him to fellow Jews. But as A-list schmoozing footage and interviews (some archival) with Beatty, Streisand et al. makes clear, Sheinbaum doesn’t shrink from an argument.
Narrated by Richard Dreyfuss, docu is well made in a thoroughly conventional style.