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May a Thousand Michael Moores Bloom

Part of: Hollywood , LA


Breakfast: 2 poached eggs on a bagel, orange juice and coffee

Whether you agree with most along Pacific Coast Highway that Michael Moore is a great defender of freedom or with our Red State neighbors that find him to be, as Senator John McCain said, "a disingenuous filmmaker," there is no debating that the documentary producer weighed heavily on the Malibu Film Festival this past weekend.

In the post-Farenheit 9/11 world, anybody armed with a camcorder and willing accomplices think that they can peddle their politics, just like Moore. The selection of "documentaries" at the Malibu Film Festival read like a cattle call of aspirants to Michael Moore's throne—some try to live up to the ideal of presenting non-fiction, others aim for the title assigned to him by the Arizona Senator. While Michael Moore may have taken the Documentary genre to a new level of profitability, the spawn of Michael Moore are taking the genre to new lows.

Exemplifying the new breed of documentarians is Tim Riley. The Oxnard attorney mixes Michael Moore's love for his own voice with Dan Rather's journalistic integrity in the 30-minute documentary, The Risks and Dangers of LNG. The festival’s synopsis reads, “Malibu and other coastal communities throughout America are being targeted by the energy industry for building large, vulnerable and dangerous Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) facilities - attempting to industrialize our precious coastline and beaches.”

The cast of Riley's film includes Oxnard Mayor Dr. Manuel Lopez, Tim, and his wife, Hayden. The premise of the film—that proposed facilities for the importation of clean-burning natural gas—is based on the only LNG disaster in North America, from six decades ago and flimsy references to a terrorist threat. Yes, let’s use more fear and guide the terrorists to our cause du jour! Real environmentalists would eat the Riley’s for breakfast.

For a couple that states that the claims by those whom they attack "leave them speechless," Tim and Hayden Riley sure like the sound of their own voices. At times, viewers would simply hope that the couple would get off their couch and do something other than read old newspaper articles. Perhaps they could have interviewed some of the working class people in their own community. Oh, but “Tim Riley and Hayden Riley, consumer protection advocates from Oxnard Shores, California” don’t live in “Oxnard” they live in “Oxnard Shores”—obviously the chi-chi area of the working class community. Instead, they come off as bored rich people who have come up with a vanity project. Before the film festival screening began, the Riley’s filmed themselves outside of the Malibu Library and alongside their Porsche for at least 45 minutes. That’s right, they filmed themselves.

In the film, Hayden, wears a revealing off the shoulder blouse more appropriate for a romantic dinner in Santa Barbara with her perfect husband, Tim, than a serious environmental documentary. Her blond bob swings right and left as she punctuates each point. She takes her reading glasses on and off, nods, and intermittedly looks at her husband while he’s reading. Who is she and why should we care? At least she doesn’t do the sleazy lawyer thing and flat out lies. When Tim Riley was asked during a brief Q and A after the film if he was representing any special interest groups, he said, no, that he was just a consumer advocate.

Well, Riley's own website states that he’s a "Consumer Protection Attorney". And it gets better—at the beginning and end of the film, the couples’ top priority was that the 18 festival attendees (at least 80% their friends) understood how to fill out the festival score cards where you could only circle average, good, or excellent. Perhaps they should worry less about vanity and more about substance, but then they wouldn’t have made a nonsense documentary.

With the prices of digital camcorders falling as fast as the standards for what counts as a documentary, here's hoping that film's like Riley's fall into the dustbin of the Malibu Film Festival as a reminder of what directions the industry should avoid.

Robofrost writes:

I really enjoyed your write-up of The Risks and Dangers of LNG, Tiffany. I know you lean to the left politically (albeit with a Libertarian streak), but it's refreshing that viewers like you don't lose their skepticism or critical eye just because a film may be cheering a position they ultimately support. Audiences from the opposing aisle can even appreciate good political/issue documentary films that don't necessarily align with their views. I came away from Blue Vinyl, an extremely hilarious but heartfelt personal investigation of the environmental and health effects of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) manufacturing, feeling just that way. It's discouraging when utter garbage documentaries get fantastic reviews seemingly for the political position they take. Two recent examples are Bush's Brain, an embarrassingly bad film that unashamedly employs sleazy underhanded manipulation of the highest order, and, to a lesser extent, Ron Mann's environmentally-themed Woody Harrelson documentary Go Further, which is more painfully boring than anything. These are examples of liberal docs that fail in the filmmaking department, but I'm sure there are right-leaning docs that are just as problematic (the lack right-leaning films in the political doc genre is another interesting issue). Your review offers convincing observations that The Risks and Dangers of LNG is yet another example of an agenda-driven documentary that takes a questionable or lazy approach while not even being very entertaining as a film (for all of Michael Moore's fault's, at least his personal style and sense of humor can be amusing). Thanks for taking the time to write your review, and hope we can see more entries like this on occasion.

Greg Dewar writes:

I liked your posting re: the Malibu Film Festival. While it is indeed a blessing that the cost of high quality equipment and editing technology has gone way way down thanks to DV cameras and Final Cut Pro and the iMac, it's had the effect of not only empowering those who have a creative or documentary vision that's unique, intelligent, and useful,but also those who simply THINK they do. Ironically it's going to make it that much harder for future "good" independent filmmakers to rise above the milleu of crap in the future, since there is already a tidal wave of really bad movies being made,for every good one. Trying to make the next "Pulp Fiction" or whatever is going to be that much harder - ironically because they've democratized technology....Eventually it will sort itself out, but for now, those who consider themselves smart folks need to call bad indie films for what they are-and that's just what you did. Right on.


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