In "Protocols of Zion," a peripatetic meditation on anti-Semitism, filmmaker Marc Levin fearlessly faces down his adversaries as he strolls from one lion's den into another. Incisive docu merits theatrical release, and is entertaining and substantial enough to attract at least a portion of the Michael Moore audience.

In “Protocols of Zion,” a peripatetic meditation on anti-Semitism, filmmaker Marc Levin fearlessly faces down his adversaries as he strolls from one lion’s den into another. From street crazies who think “Jewmerika” and “Jew York” are run by people like “Jew-liani,” to Nazis skinheads, Black Muslim prison inmates and the radio show of Jew Watch founder Frank Weltner, Levin pursues the issue of anti-Semitism straight into the murky places where it festers and blooms. Incisive docu merits theatrical release, and is entertaining and substantial enough to attract at least a portion of the Michael Moore audience.

Inspired by the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — a libelous, late-19th century tract authored by minions of the Russian czar and, until recently at least, a bestseller at Wal-Mart — Levin starts his journey into hate with the popular urban myth that no Jews died in the 9/11 attacks. Warned in advance, according to fundamentalist Islamic Web sites (and other impartial sources), Jewish workers in the World Trade Center stayed home and were spared. Not that he has to, but Levin proves this false, in some of his film’s more touching sequences.

Elsewhere, he takes the Mel Brooks approach. Want to make Nazis impotent? Make them funny. Levin isn’t out to ridicule anyone; his interview subjects simply make it unavoidable. Shaun Walker, the shirt-and-tie-wearing head of the white-supremacist Nation Alliance, has a profitable sideline in Aryan Wear boots (“the sole of our people…”) and can’t imagine Hitler ever being suicidal. When Walker rails about Jewish dominance of the media, Levin asks him about Rupert Murdoch. We have it on good authority, Walker says, that Murdoch is Jewish.

That should come as something of a shock to a lot of Australians, but nothing like the shock Levin delivers to his viewers with his exploration of scapegoating, willful blindness and the history of Jew-hating. Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semitic author Henry Ford (“The Eternal Jew”), for instance, at one time gave out a copy of the “Protocols” with every new car.

Recent dramatizations of the book — debunked as early as the ’20s by the Times of London and quoted chapter by chapter in Levin’s film — have aired on Middle Eastern TV. Despite its fanciful and self-betraying tone (would a group bent on world domination really make itself sound so demonic?), it has been accepted as gospel by a frightening number of people, in an already frightening time.

Some of Levin’s more articulate subjects are found in Trenton State Prison, where Levin had filmed some of his 1998 feature “Slam.” “Separation by definition propagates supremacy,” says one black inmate, who explains his own heritage of anti-Semitism.

Levin’s father Al, offers a perspective that differs from his son’s (“I always thought of myself as an All-American Jew,” he says) having lived through more blatantly biased times. Al Levin also reveals a bit of his own anti-Catholic bias in recalling his bullying boyhood neighbors — but when the helmer serves up some footage of ’30s radio rabble-rouser Father Coughlin, it makes things clear how one hate feeds another.

Protocols Of Zion

Production

A Blowback Prods. and Jersey Studios production presented in association with HBO/Cinemax Films. Produced by Marc Levin, Steve Kalafer. Executive producers, Jeff Herr, Sheila Nevins. Co-producer, Jennifer Tutt. Supervising producers, Daphne Pinkerson, Nancy Abraham. Directed, written by Marc Levin.

Crew

Camera (color, HD), Mark Benjamin; editor, Ken Eluto; music, John Zorn ; associate producers, Daniel Praid, Danielle Schleif. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Special Screenings), Jan. 21, 2005. Running time: 90 MIN.

With

Marc Levin, Al Levin, Shaun Walker, Frank Weltner, Abraham Foxman, Abraham Cooper, Lionel Zirpin.
Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more