MoveOn.org is organizing house parties on Monday night to mark the release of Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11. It’s similar to their house party screenings of Robert Greenwald’s Uncovered, although Moore’s film won’t be screened at the party itself. I’ll be attending one of the “house parties” (actually in a coffeehouse) here in Decatur.
The “Fahrenheit” house parties will feature an online, interactive chat with Michael Moore, and MoveOn is encoraging groups to discuss plans to defeat George Bush in the 2004 election. I’m still intrigued by the way in which these house parties can frame an interpretation of a film, in both cases by translating viewing and discussing the film into a certain type of action (voter registration drives, campaigning for Kerry, both things I like), but I’m a little suspicious about how these house parties might actually inhibit a critical engagement with Moore’s film.
In my initial reading of this practice, I tended to read the “Uncovered” house parties realtively uncritically, perhaps in part because my appreciation of grassroots political movements and my opposition to George W. Bush prevented me from seeing how such an approach might actually limit the possibility of thinking critically about Uncovered itself as a film. As a result, I wasn’t very satisfied with that paper. Now, I’m as critical of Dubya (and the war in Iraq) as anyone, but I’m not sure how beneficial it will be to attend the film with an interpretation (translating information into action) in mind.
Perhaps this is my real problem with the house party concept. It seems that MoveOn is treating the documentary film (whether Moore’s or Greenwald’s) as mere information. As many great critical essays on documentary filmmaking suggest, documentaries are much more than mere information; they are narratives that organize “information” in highly specific, ideological ways. Again, I know that my politics roughly coincide with Moore’s, but I think that watching the film with a specific interpretation in mind (how can I use this information to convince people that Bush should not be re-elected?) seems like it might actually prevent genuine conversation about the film rather than provoking it.
Update 6/30: Here’s a New York Times article covering several of the New York house parties. It also mentions the release of a Disney documentary called America’s Heart and Soul, which purports to describe the American Dream through (very carefully selected) interviews with a diverse group of Americans. At some point, I’d be curious to see the film simply as a cultural artifact (it sounds a lot like the Frank Capra and John Ford WWII-era films), but for now, I’d rather enjoy this review in The Onion.