Shooting the Truth: The Rise of American Political Documentaries / Edition 1

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Political documentaries are more popular now than ever— Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (2004), the top-grossing documentary film of all time, is one of many such recent films. In this incisive book, James McEnteer parses the politics of nonfiction films of recent decades, which together constitute an alternative history to many official stories offered by the government and its media minions.

Tracing the origins of an oppositional documentary movement to the Vietnam era, McEnteer shows how a strong independent documentary tradition grew from television's failure to sustain a commitment to the public interest. McEnteer evaluates the work of four artists in depth—the intrepid Barbara Kopple; the puckish but deadly Michael Moore; Errol Morris, a connoisseur of human quirkiness; and anti-Bush crusader Robert Greenwald—and that of other courageous filmmakers, including Barbara Trent (The Panama Deception and Cover-Up: Behind the Iran-Contra Affair). McEnteer looks at the pioneering public affairs documentaries of Edward R. Murrow and Fred Friendly. Their 1950s CBS program, See It Now, won many awards but angered network owners who did not wish to alienate mass TV audiences with controversy. With Murrow's firing, the retreat of television from engaging civic issues in serious ways began in earnest. McEnteer devotes an entire chapter to the many 2004 documentaries made by both sides in that hotly contested presidential election. He concludes with a look at populist antiwar and antiglobalization films of Big Noise and the Guerrilla News Network, whose youthful producers push the boundaries of the documentary form.

As mass media fail—now more than ever—to fulfill their watchdog role over public officials and policies, the importance of documentaries committed to telling the truth increases. Such films bear witness to important events otherwise hidden from our view. Their makers dare to refute the falsehoods passing for conventional wisdom, sometimes risking their lives or reputations to reveal the nature of those lies and the interests behind them. As Shooting the Truth clearly shows, documentaries have become an essential component for making sense of our time. This book enlarges our appreciation of contemporary nonfiction films and invites debate on the many issues it raises.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Shooting the Truth highlights the rise of one of the recent louder voices in the marketplace—the political documentary."


American Journalism

"Author James McEnteer analyzes the politics of a range of documentaries of recent decades, providing chapters which evaluate four artists in depth and use their approaches and works as a foundation for revealing political documentary contents, approaches and growing popularity. While the analysis is particular to these artists as far as selected films used as examples, its implications hold many insights on the documentary film as a whole. College-level audiences of film studies in particular will want to read this."


California Bookwatch/Midwest Book Review

"Is the modern political documentary an alternative to the television industry's failure to sustain a commitment to the public interest? According to McEnteer the transition began with the firing of Edward R. Murrow in the 1950s over the controversies he raised in the pioneering television show See It Now and is thriving with such producers as Big Noise and the Guerilla News Network. Along the way he closely tracks the work of Barbara Kopple, Michael Moore, Errol Morris and Robert Greenwald, with forays into other documentary filmmakers whose conclusions run contrary to what the government and Big Media offer. He describes how deception works on both sides of the great issues, how political filmmakers influence public opinion and sometimes policy, and focuses for a chapter on the films on all sides of the 2004 presidential campaign."


Reference & Research Book News

"The rise of political documentaries in the US may be a reaction to the decline of the liberal television network news-gathering operations, which are hemorrhaging viewers to less professional cable news outlets such as the right-turning Fox channel. As television news has become partisan and trivialized, claims McEnteer, viewers hungry for news have turned to nonfiction films; he points out that eight of the ten top-grossing documentaries of all time were released since 2002. Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, which grossed $120 million, became the bellwether for anti-Bush, antiwar polemical documentaries. Defining nonfiction film as propaganda, the book concentrates on films that challenge official government narratives and offer competing alternative narratives of their own. McEnteer devotes chapters to such major talents as directors Errol Morris and Barbara Kopple, the more widely known ambush artist Michael Moore, and Robert Greenwald (best known for Outfoxed); Moore remains front and center. This book on the latest permutations of documentary films was as inevitable as it is welcome. Essential. All readers; all levels."



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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780275987602
  • Publisher: Greenwood Publishing Group, Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/28/2005
  • Edition description: ANN
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

JAMES MCENTEER is an independent scholar, journalist, and the author of Deep in the Heart: The Texas Tendency in American Politics (2004) and Fighting Words: Independent Journalists in Texas (1992). He is a former Fellow of the Joan Shorenstein Center for the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University.

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Table of Contents

1 Lenses with attitude 1
2 Reel history and the politics of deception 21
3 Slouching toward Armageddon 41
4 Barbara Kopple : intrepid pioneer on the front lines 63
5 Michael Moore : ambush artist 79
6 Errol Morris : the politics of personality 101
7 Robert Greenwald : godfather of "un"believability 119
8 Political theater : the 2004 documentary campaign 135
9 Alternative realities 155
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