Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9” reminds us of the importance of documentaries

Moore sprays the Michigan governor's mansion with water from Flint.

What is the role of the documentarian? Should they maintain a certain distance in their filmmaking or is it their duty to insert themselves in their art and take a stand? Should they let the facts speak for themselves or tell us what to make of the bits and pieces presented? Is documentary filmmaking a form of journalism or simply a glorified Op-ed?

The documentary form has come into question as debates regarding the merits of what makes a successful film rage on. For years, the liberal firebrand Michael Moore has been at the center of these debates. To some, his films are nothing more than political propaganda, for others they speak truth to power. While some enjoy his trademark comedic wit, others tune in for the illumination he’ll certainly provide.

His latest film, “Fahrenheit 11/9,” marks a wondrous return to form. Moore is as unapologetic as ever as he takes on his biggest target yet: President Donald Trump. After being vocally critical of Trump during the 2016 US Presidential election, Moore is out in full force reminding us of the craziness of our political moment. What sets his film above the rest is his willingness to spare no one and go to the places often not traveled to.

Moore dares to go to the places that are often overlooked: extensive time is spent in West Virginia visiting disenchanted communities. His intense focus on his home Flint, Michigan and the water crisis there is of great interest as well. His ability to tie much of the distress faced by the community to the national level is impressive and should illuminate and enrage. Kudos and attention is also given to the young student leaders of Parkland, Florida , which is sure to also delight audiences. Moore’s excellence shines with his unique ability to tie together so many complex ideas and areas into one coherent piece. While there are some times he’s get lost (somewhat inevitable considering the breadth of the topics he discusses) he quickly reorients himself on firm footing.

Those who take joy in pointing out how Moore is a partisan hack, be warned: when I say he spares no one, he truly spares no one. In his direct crosshairs are The New York Times, the Democratic party establishment, the mainstream media and even former President Barack Obama. That’s what makes his film so refreshing: it’s not a grandiose think piece that’s been done a million times, rather it’s an indictment of us and our culture.

His thesis: we’re all responsible for President Trump in one way or another. His execution: solid. This is not just a Trump movie ─ although we do learn loads more about the 45th President. To distill it simply as a takedown of the President entirely misses Moore’s point. If it’s possible to hone in on just one thing this movie is about, it is without a doubt a passionate call to arms to defend democracy.

Unfortunately, some of Moore’s over-the-top antics fall flat at times: comparisons of Trump to Hitler fall flat and feel a little cheap. He doesn’t include this without reason — his attempt to understand how democracies perish is notable — but the execution is rather tasteless. Attempts to perform a citizen’s arrest on the Governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder, also feel out of place, even for Moore.

While “Fahrenheit 11/9” is by no means a perfect documentary — its lack of focus and over-the-top dramatics at times leave more to be desired — it is at its core an empathic plea to us all to save democracy. Its urgency will grab you and roil you. You’ll leave angry, uplifted, and perhaps energized. Maybe the role of the documentarian is to force us to look at ourselves and ask deep questions. It’s films like “Fahrenheit 11/9” that remind us of the importance of the documentary and the ever changing role of the documentarian in our lives and in society.

Final Verdict: B+

“Fahrenheit 11/9” will be released nationwide September 21st.

jrobbins@theeagleonline.com


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