Political Film Society - Newsletter #32 - January 1, 1999

January 1, 1999


Nominations for the best political films of 1998 closed on December 31. Fifteen films have been nominated, a record in the twelve-year history of the Political Film Society. According to the rules governing awards, film directors have been sent notifications that their films have been nominated. Since there is a limit of five nominees for any of the four award categories, ballots will be sent to Political Film Society members on 15 January to narrow the nominees in the category of PEACE, where seven films have been nominated.

Thanks to the diligent work of David Oshima of Pipeline Graphics, the Political Film Society now has a website, where members and nonmembers can peruse all elements of the work of the Society. Included are Political Film Society reviews of all films nominated for 1998, with links to other review sources. The address is http://www.oocities.org/~polfilms/ Now that the Political Film Society is entirely available in cyberspace, this is the last newsletter to be faxed gratis to its members. Starting 1999, all members will receive email newsletters and can go to the Political Film Society website free of charge. Those requiring faxed or mailed newsletters will remain members, but will receive newsletters at a cost of $5.00 annually.

Based on James Jones’s autobiographical novel of the same title that was unsuccessfully made into a film in 1964, The Thin Red Line has been nominated for an award as this year’s best film in raising the consciousness of filmviewers on the advantages of peaceful methods for resolving conflicts. Filmed in the Solomon Islands, where Jones participated in the Battle of Guadalcanal, the film exposes the innermost thoughts of battle participants, one of whom tells us that war turns humans into dogs. The film has received rave reviews for creating a kind of French impressionist canvass with its combination of poetic voice-overs, brutal action scenes, breathtaking cinematography of flora and fauna of Guadalcanal, everyday peaceful lives of Solomon Islanders, and pensive music. Thanks to director Terrence Malick, who may well have upstaged Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan, we leave the theater no longer naïve about the consequences of committing troops, however noble the cause.

A Civil Action, in contrast, follows a well-established formula in presenting a true story based on a well-researched book by journalist Jonathan Harr: Big business (Beatrice Foods and W. R. Grace) has harmed humble individuals, causing death and disease, by dumping toxic waste into the drinking water of Woburn, Massachusetts. Jan Schlichtmann, a lawyer who at first was reluctant to accept the case, goes through a personal transformation as he decides to go for broke to aid the families. Indeed, he becomes broke while clever lawyers representing the corporations maneuver an acquittal. In desperation, Schlichtmann sends the documents to the Environmental Protection Agency, which finds another basis to sue the two errant corporations, which have to pay an enormous fine, the largest amount ever assessed for environmental damage in New England. As the film ends, we are told that Schlichtmann is currently representing New Jersey plaintiffs in a similar suit. During the film we hear explanations about the legal process—opposing lawyers settle most such suits out of court, judges make arbitrary rulings in order to shorten the proceedings, juries decide cases based on personalities of the lawyers, and similar points are made to show that money rather than human rights is paramount in most litigation of this sort. The film, directed by Steven Zaillian, has been nominated both as an EXPOSE, bringing the facts about the case and the legal process to the attention of filmviewers, and for promoting consciousness of HUMAN RIGHTS.

DEMOCRACY: Enemy of the State, Four Days in September, Primary Colors, The Siege, The Truman Show, Wag the Dog
EXPOSÉ: Bulworth, A Civil Action, Four Days in September, Regeneration
HUMAN RIGHTS: A Civil Action, Enemy of the State, The Siege, Wilde
PEACE: American History X, The Boxer, Men with Guns, Regeneration, Saving Private Ryan, Savior,
The Thin Red Line