6.3/10
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13 user 7 critic

PoliWood (2009)

An in-depth look at the Democratic and Republican national conventions held during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election year.

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An in-depth look at the Democratic and Republican national conventions held during the 2008 U.S. Presidential election year.

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1 May 2009 (USA)  »

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User Reviews

Politics After Television.
28 August 2011 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

Poliwood is an interesting documentary by renown filmmaker Barry Levinson (Rain Man, Wag The Dog, Sleepers). In this film he has set out with a number of celebrities, interviewing them about their political affiliations and activities, with hopes of scratching the surface to reveal the ever-blurring boundaries between Celebrity (Hollywood) and Politics. It is essentially looking at how Celebrity influences Politics in a number of ways: from Actors becoming Politicians (Reagan) and vice versa (Gore); to how PR Firms/Mainstream Media Outlets promote and cover Politicians the same way they do celebrities ("they don't sell you the product, they sell you the lifestyle you will inherit"-Sarandon); to how politicians align themselves with Celebrities in order to gain an advantage over their competitors (Obama); and, of course, how all of this affects the decisions of voters.

The film particularly focuses on a group of Hollywood "Elites" that have aligned themselves with a "non-partisan" (clearly liberal leaning) organization called the Creative Coalition, where they work together in order to influence politicians on a variety of issues and promote social programs in the realm of the arts, music, and physical education. The group was founded by Ron Silver in 1989. Some members highlighted in this film include Spike Lee, Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway, Ellen Burstyn, Rachael Leigh Cook...and don't worry, there are some Conservatives in there too... like crazy Christian Stephen Baldwin.

The first important revelation comes when Levinson is talking to Susan Sarandon and Ellen Burstyn about an interesting article written by JFK, published in TV Guide in 1959, prior to his running for the Presidency. Now Narrating, Levinson discusses how JFK used this article to outline how the growing influence of Television- and the Hollywood style PR that came with it- was starting to drastically affect America's political culture. Sometimes for good, sometimes for greed.

He compliments this by noting how it was a television speech that Reagan made as an actor in support of Goldwater's presidential bid that led him to politics ; and how TV News, which had been previously operated as a social service, became watered down when it started to require ratings and sell advertising...He even gets an MSNBC anchor to admit that he and everyone but Jim Lehrer are pandering for ratings.

After putting forth his argument and interviewing a bunch of CC members from both ends of the spectrum, Levinson follows the group to both the Democratic and Republican Conventions, where they seek to garner support for their causes while educating themselves about what their opponents are thinking, and why. They are particularly surprised by the Republican Convention where everything is like it is on TV: the politicians fake; the speeches scripted; and the audience there as props to cheer when required. Though, keep in mind, the majority of the group's members allowed themselves to be used as promotional props for Obama's campaign. To be fair, Levinson and the members of the group do acknowledge that, "everything is orchestrated on both sides", as one person states.

I personally found the segments near the end, where the CC sat down with the talking group of Republicans for a "dialogue", and the interview with that bow-tie wearing douche from CNN, to be particularly interesting. The accusations and assumptions made by the group toward the CC members: that because they were actors they had no political knowledge and thus had no right to promote a political agenda, were not only hypocritical (in that they felt that way only because the CC members didn't agree with them), but were actually more applicable to the Conservative minded celebrities, as opposed to the more liberal-minded ones they were degrading in the meeting. You've got to respect the CC members' attempt to dialogue with their ideological enemies, at the very least.

Shot and edited like a homemade documentary, the film offers us a glimpse into what it's like to be a liberal leaning celebrity with a political opinion, as seen through the eyes of Barry Levinson, a liberal leaning celebrity with a political opinion. It must be noted that the film was edited in a way as to ensure that the film's focus would not be on the actual opinions of the Celebrities, but rather on their role as a mechanism of influence. Unlike the organization's non-partisanship, the film does take a partisan stance...but that does not detract from it's value. I quite like the argument that Levinson develops in regards to the technological introduction of Television and how it got us into this mess; in fact, i think it's rather un-debatable. But at the same time, I left feeling that this film was an attempt to vindicate the Celebrities for promoting Obama as the lesser of two evils...despite the fact that they realized both sides are just as fake as Hollywood.

In conclusion, I'll leave you with this quote from Levinson, which pretty much sums everything up: "If they are not Telegenic then they cannot become President of the United States. We are about this far (*shows an inch between his fingers*) from the political version of Miss America." Interesting watch, worth checking out. 6.5 out of 10.


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