Tonight, Poliwood, a documentary essay about the intersection of politics and celebrity, premieres on Showtime. Tomorrow night, By The People: The Election of Barack Obama, a celebratory look at Obama’s campaign, premieres on HBO. Together, they provide a look at the buoyant optimism that swept Obama into the White House, while making you wonder about the effect of TV on the political process.
It takes a director as smart as Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Diner) to make so bold a documentary about Hollywood and politics as Poliwood. Levinson puts himself on camera frequently, calling TV coverage “the most disastrous invention in the history of mankind” for stifling political discourse. Levinson also interviews an array of left- and right-wing activist-celebs.
Poliwood follows a group of well-known faces associated with the Creative Coalition, a bipartisan group of celebrities who are shown making an earnest effort to learn more about the issues and to grapple with how to use their celebrity to “make a difference” without coming off as arrogant.
In one segment, famous folk including Tim Daly and Anne Hathaway meet with a group of citizens, and are told bluntly that “ordinary” people resent the camera-time celebrities receive to air their political beliefs. “You guys think that you speak for us?” says one woman to an array of movie and TV stars. “You do not!”:
By The People spends a lot of time in Iowa in 2007, showing us how Barack Obama’s past as a community organizer helped focus and fortify all of his campaigns. There’s one striking moment when a young boy is shown making cold-calls to voters to solicit votes:
This is exactly the kind of footage that makes anti-Obama folks such as Glenn Beck yelp about “indoctrination.” There’s also a lot of sweet footage of the Obama family. I know the common refrain is that “the kids are off-limits” when it comes to campaigning, but now that the election is over, it’s interesting to see the now-President’s daughters interacting with their parents.
By The People and Poliwood, each in different ways, don’t for a second try to be objective, but it’s during their most subjective moments that they’re most interesting.
Think you’ll watch?