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"A little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical." Thomas Jefferson, letter to James Madison, January 30, 1787 One documentary film serves to highlight Tinsel town's liberal artists and celebrities as they exercise their political voice and power. Poliwood, directed by Barry Levinson and co-produced by actor Tim Daly, of the progressive Creative Coalition, criss-crosses America during the 2008 presidential campaign. Interviewing Hollywood liberals and mainstream media moguls, Daly hopes the production will underscore the main goal of the Coalition, "bringing issues to the table for national discussion".
Levinson's Poliwood ambitiously interweaves several issues that that he sees as important in Hollywood: How television has changed the nature of politics, the development of politicians as "actors" in shaping public opinion, and the increasing political polarization of America.
Instead, Poliwood serves to expose the hypersensitivity of today's liberal Hollywood creative community – which is understandable - given their experiences at the hands of conservative Hollywood during the Communist Inquistion of the 1950s. If the shift sometimes appears unfair, it may depend on who's looking through the lens of history.
It probably comes as no shock that most artists are a pretty unconventional crew. This is due in part to their creative nature and because the very act of creating art itself needs a rather imaginative soil to grow and thrive. So, it's a safe bet that most Hollywood artists are liberal in their thinking and hence, in their politics.
Levinson chose the 1959 Kennedy-Nixon presidential campaign to make his point that: "Television is a medium that lends itself to manipulation, exploitation, and gimmicks. Political campaigns can actually be taken over by the public relation experts who tell the candidate not only how to use television, but what to say, what to stand for, and what kind of person to be." The movie focuses on some of the Creative Coalition's more visible members – Tim Daly, Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway – as they attend both the Democratic and Republican Conventions during the summer of 2008. Levinison's camera catches their roller-coaster emotions, from breathless and teary-eyed enthusiasm during the DNC's homage to candidate Barrack Obama, to their petulant "do-we-have-to-go?" resignation at the RNC.
One revealing scene occurs during an "open dialog session", facilitated by conservative pollster and communications consultant, Frank Luntz, during the Republican National Convention. He was asked (presumably by the CC) to moderate a discussion between Creative Coalition members and RNC campaigners. Levinson's camera pans the CC membership, all well-known actors, as the conservative campaigners voiced their concerns on the negative stereotyping that liberal Hollywood practices. Many in the CC entourage became visibly angry, defensive, and hostile. It was left to the more seasoned veteran liberals – Susan Sarandon, Tim Daly, and Ellyn Burstyn – to paint a pretty picture and sooth the hurt feelings all around.
Even the founder of the Coalition, the late Ron Silver, laments before the camera about the current polarization of the country, which is now coming from the left-wing faction. He saw a real danger in the "intolerance on the left", because they "are unwilling to hear arguments they don't agree with." Along the way, Poliwood is successful in interweaving television's complicity as a propaganda tool with the political processes of Washington. However, the scenes of Hollywood activists displaying their different shades of bias – however humanitarian - make a stronger statement about history repeating itself.
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