The left takes its turn scru­ti­niz­ing Obama

The Washington Post Sunday - - SUNDAY STYLE -

PARK CITY, Utah Last month, as much of the coun­try cel­e­brated Pres­i­dent Obama’s sec­ond in­au­gu­ra­tion, the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val was pre­sent­ing a very dif­fer­ent view of the com­man­der in chief. Two films, Jeremy Sc­ahill and Rick Row­ley’s “Dirty Wars” and Alex Gib­ney’s “We Steal Se­crets: The Story of Wik­iLeaks,” both take un­for­giv­ing looks at the pres­i­dent.

It’s not hard to find Obama-bash­ing non­fic­tion th­ese days — see last year’s right-wing hit “2016: Obama’s Amer­ica,” for in­stance — but it was at least mildly sur­pris­ing to see two such films at Sun­dance, gen­er­ally a bas­tion of lib­er­al­ism, founded by fa­mous lefty Robert Red­ford. Sun­dance hosted the pre­miere of the Al Gore doc­u­men­tary “An In­con­ve­nient Truth” in 2006. This year, as the fes­ti­val was get­ting un­der­way, the Huff­in­g­ton Post con­firmed the fes­ti­val’s bleed­ing-heart rep­u­ta­tion with an ar­ti­cle ti­tled “Lib­eral Doc­u­men­taries Light Up Sun­dance.”

Of course, the two films are, in fact, made by lib­er­als. Jeremy Sc­ahill is a con­trib­u­tor to the Na­tion, Row­ley made the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion protest doc “This Is What Democ­racy Looks Like,” and Alex Gib­ney won an Os­car for his U.S. tor­ture ex­posé “Taxi to the Dark Side.” What they’ve done, and what film­mak­ers have seemed re­luc­tant to do over the past four years, is at­tack Obama from the left.

“Dirty Wars,” in par­tic­u­lar, comes down hard on the ad­min­is­tra­tion and its ex­panded use of drone at­tacks to wage war overseas. In one scene, Sc­ahill speaks, in hushed somber nar­ra­tion, about what goes on “in the shad­ows” — and the film cuts to an omi­nous lowan­gle black-and-white por­trait of Obama, mak­ing him out to be an arch-vil­lain. In­deed, much of the film por­trays Obama’s in­ter­na­tional se­cu­rity ef­forts as noth­ing less than bar­baric, lead­ing to the deaths of women and chil­dren in Afghanistan and Ye­men, the arm­ing of So­mali war­lords and the per­pet­u­a­tion of global ter­ror­ism, rather than its ces­sa­tion.

By com­par­i­son, Gib­ney’s jibes against Obama are far less barbed. But even though “We Steal Se­crets” fo­cuses, as its ti­tle sug­gests, on Wik­iLeaks and its founder Ju­lian As­sange, the film in­cludes a few sting­ing at­tacks against the coun­try’s ex­ec­u­tive branch. Most notably, Gib­ney in­cludes a fa­mous clip from a White House news con­fer­ence in which ABC News’s Jake Tap­per presses Obama about the treat­ment of al­leged Wik­iLeaks col­lab­o­ra­tor Bradley Man­ning. The film makes it pow­er­fully ev­i­dent that Man­ning was, in fact, un­fairly abused, stripped and held in soli­tary con­fine­ment, which makes Obama’s re­sponse seem all the more cal­lous and out of touch. “I’ve ac­tu­ally asked the Pen­tagon whether or not the pro­ce­dures that have been taken in terms of [Man­ning’s] con­fine­ment are ap­pro­pri­ate and are meet­ing our ba­sic stan­dards,” the pres­i­dent says. “They as­sured me that they are.”

Back in 2009, Michael Moore said it was still “too early” to judge the pres­i­dent. “I’m will­ing to give the man a

The hon­ey­moon is over:

Staunchly lib­eral Sun­dance fes­ti­val screens films that are crit­i­cal

of the pres­i­dent

bit of a chance,” he ex­plained at the pre­miere of “Cap­i­tal­ism: A Love Story.” “But a year from now,” he added, “the next movie may be about him.” More than three years later, Moore hasn’t made a movie about Obama, and some of his fans seem to be im­plor­ing him to do so. On Twit­ter, some­one re­cently asked Moore: “Will you be do­ing a movie on drone use? Or that Obama has de­clared the ex­e­cu­tion of US ci­ti­zens per­fectly le­git?” Even if Moore doesn’t, it looks like other left-lean­ing film­mak­ers are tak­ing up the charge.



PROB­ING: “We Steal Se­crets: The Story of Wik­iLeaks,” top, and “Dirty Wars” were both made by lib­er­als. The doc­u­men­taries screened in Jan­uary dur­ing the Sun­dance Film Fes­ti­val, which was founded by left-lean­ing Robert Red­ford.

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