A new age has dawned: the year of the political documentary, set in the era of digital technology. Folks are whipping out films and propaganda at a rate that would give Henry Ford an ulcer. At no time in history have we seen such an influx of visual media surrounding an election, just one indicator of the stakes involved in the November decision.
Blame or idolize Michael Moore for the trend, given his groundbreaking success with Fahrenheit 911. But don't forget the many others who've pioneered the way for documentary filmmaking's hostile takeover of political muckraking. Much credit is owed to such masters as Errol Morris, who recently brought us Fog of War -- Robert McNamara's military biography condensed into 11 lessons.
Regardless of its lineage, it would seem that pre-election candidate films are here to stay. At this very moment, it is possible to rent a DVD, download a movie or visit a multiplex to study up on the lives of George W. Bush and John Kerry. In major cities, Going Upriver is informing citizens about John Kerry's pilgrimage through Vietnam and his postwar activism. On video, Horns and Halos depicts the life of Fortunate Son (Bush expose) author James Hatfield and his battle against censorship.
Another offering from the agenda barrel is director Paul Alexander's Brothers in Arms, which will be shown this Saturday at Colorado College's Shove Chapel. This film primarily documents the daily routine of the Navy swift boat crews in Vietnam as told by the men who served under John Kerry on PCF-94. Alexander interviews the handful of vets about their lives before, during and after the war and constructs his film loosely around Kerry as a central figure and commendable war leader. The film grabs its title from the central theme of brotherhood that was developed on the Mekong Delta patrols as the men struggled to keep each other alive.
"These days are extra days," say the men about their lives after the war. "We were losing good men in a war we didn't intend to win ... how does it feel to die for a mistake?
Brothers in Arms also focuses on the difficulty of transitioning back into society and the soldiers' readjustment process. The issues: boredom, coming down from the adrenaline rush, depression, alcoholism, and a combination of post-traumatic stress disorder and survivor's guilt that nearly prompted suicide for some. The men characterize Kerry as a strong leader for them in the years following the war, much the way he was in 1969. Kerry's crew returned the favor, defending him against political attacks in his 1996 Senate bid and tirelessly working on Kerry's current presidential campaign.
Kerry opts to let his friends do most of the talking in the film, occasionally popping up to highlight a detail or throw in an opinion. Kerry questions our government's motives then and now: "Our government doesn't tell the truth. ... [I believe in] the responsibility of the government to the citizen ... things were wrong and I needed to speak out."
Even if Kerry were not a senator or a presidential contender, Brothers in Arms is well worth a screening. Though united through common themes and subject matters, every war narrative draws its uniqueness through individual perspectives. To honor the soldiers by listening to their stories is the least we can do.
-- Matthew Schniper
capsule Winning With Truth and Honor, a public viewing and discussion of Brothers in Arms
Saturday, Oct. 23, 7 p.m.
Shove Memorial Chapel, Colorado College, 1010 N. Nevada Ave.
Free, donations accepted
Sponsored by the El Paso County Democrats and Colorado Springs for Kerry