A moderately interesting sampler of voices on the American left, “The Kingdom of Survival” weakens its good intentions with an all-too-common documentary fault: the filmmaker as gratuitous star. Writer-director M.A. Littler appears between each segment of this “7,400-mile journey in search of radical and alternative perspectives on the 21st century,” his self-conscious Johnny Cash-styled cool — complete with all-black attire, shades, mutton-chop sideburns and honky-tonk theme music — infusing the pic with an unfortunate vanity-project patina. This U.S.-German co-production has been picked up by 7th Art Stateside, but seems better suited to Eurotube sales.
Littler’s roadtrip starts out on the East Coast, with insights on capitalism from Noam Chomsky, then on class divisions from self-proclaimed redneck Joe Bageant. He then visits Ohio (academic Mark Mirabello), Idaho (where “die-hard hippie” Mike Oehler has founded a unique progressive community), San Francisco (pioneering 1960s student activist Bob Meisenbach), and Oakland (anarchist couple Sasha Lilley and Ramsey Kanaan). Finally there’s folk-musician/cattle-rancher Will Taylor, an antidote (“It’s like karma, man”) to all this articulate intellect. Public-domain archival clips, split-screen effects and Phil Koepsell’s widescreen lensing are excellent, but Littler’s onscreen presence is a constant distraction.