Are Latest Political Movies Propaganda?

Filmmaker John Sayles was so angry at the Bush Administration, he didn't write a letter to his congressman — he wrote a movie.

The resulting film, Silver City, to be released on September 17, stars Chris Cooper. Cooper, who most recently won an Academy Award for his performance in Adaptation, performs a new sort of adaptation in the Sayles project, acting out Sayles' take on George W. Bush in his gubernatorial years.

"She was on my DWIs, all that stuff from 10 years ago," complains Cooper's character — Colorado gubernatorial candidate Dickie Pilager, a former ne'er-do-well Republican political scion with some notable characteristics in common with those about Bush that liberals frequently like to mention.

"In about two weeks, I had a first draft so that we could start scouting," Sayles told ABC News. "We really felt like it was important to get the movie out before the election just to get into the conversation at the right time."

Accompanying the famous tidal wave from the trailer of The Day After Tomorrow — a disaster flick about global warming endorsed by former Vice President Al Gore — comes a tidal wave of films with liberal political messages hitting muliplexes near you.

An Embraceable Cultural Form

"People of liberal ideology have finally found a cultural form that they can embrace the way people of conservative ideology have embraced talk radio," says Robert Thompson, a professor of Television and Popular Culture at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University.

In addition to The Day After Tomorrow and its vice president bearing a striking resemblance in appearance and tone to Gore successor, Dick Cheney, comes a myriad of others:

The Hunting of the President, a documentary on the Clinton impeachment based on the book by left-leaning journalists Joe Conason and Gene Lyons, was directed and co-written by Clinton friend Harry Thomason.

"I think they did a really good job," Clinton told reporters at the Wednesday night premiere. "They did a good job."

A documentary formerly titled Tour of Duty provides a laudatory look at the Vietnam service of Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, filmed by former campaign aide George Butler, perhaps best known for his myth-making documentary about Arnold Schwarzenegger: Pumping Iron.

An updated remake of The Manchurian Candidate features Denzel Washington decrying a sinister plan to stage a political coup, saying, "this is rich people funding bad science to put a sleeper in the White House."

Spike Lee's new "joynt," She Hate Me, deals with a corrupt Enron-like company and features an image of President Bush on a three-dollar bill; Bush's Brain, a documentary about Bush adviser Karl Rove, is based on the not-flatteringly biography of the same name.

"Hollywood has its own very peculiar idea of balance this year," joked film critic and conservative talk show host Michael Medved. "Because we're going to have a whole bunch of anti-Bush films but they will be balanced a little bit by a few pro-Kerry films."

Phenomenon Makes Sense

But the phenomenon makes sense in a way, particularly right now.

There are a lot of angry liberals whose voices have been manifesting themselves through various forums — on Moveon.org, the campaign of former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, struggling lefty radio network "Air America," and the like. So why not Hollywood, with its famously left-leaning politics?

"If in fact you are angry about something politically, and you have clout in Hollywood, and you're able to get a script written and a movie made, that may be how you manifest that anger," said Thompson.

But many conservatives give this phenomenon a thumbs-down.

"What you're seeing is very, very clearly a very political agenda," said Medved. "There have always been liberal message movies, but so many of these seem to be specifically focused on getting George W. Bush out of office." Medved said the entertainment industry "is supposed to reflect all of us" but seems to recently have "clearly taken sides" with "no attempt at objectivity."

Perhaps the best-known of all the anti-Bush films is Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. Moore, whose myriad successes have frequently been accompanied by charges of intellectual dishonesty, recently won the coveted Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival.

In one clip, Moore accosts members of Congress, trying to enlist their support to get them to urge their sons and daughters to enlist in the Army and fight in Iraq. One clip from his film features Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., shooting Moore a strange, perhaps dismissive look after Moore asks him to do so.

Unfair Editing?

But Kennedy tells ABC News that Moore unfairly cut his response from the film.

"I have a nephew that has been called up as part of the Army Guard and he is waiting for orders," Kennedy said. "Originally he was told that he was likely going to Afghanistan. I have another nephew that just retired from Navy, and I have cousin who just returned from a trip to Iraq."

A transcript of the interview run by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune features Moore asking Kennedy to help urge his colleagues "to get their kids to enlist in the Army and go over to Iraq."

"I'd be happy to," Kennedy says."Especially those who voted for the war."

But Kennedy's response was cut from the film, perhaps creating the impression that Kennedy had no relatives involved in the armed forces nor did he think such tasks should be taken up by his relatives.

Propaganda or entertainment — and certainly this vast slough of films contains some of both — this phenomenon will live or die the box office, which may make it difficult for free-market conservatives to criticize.