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Sundance panel on documentaries, blogs and the changing politics of america

This year Sundance has made a real effort to foster a discussion around how the internet is transforming the industry in many ways from the way the business is changing to the way films are being distributed.

We dropped in to listen to one of the first panel discussions: Docs, Blogs and The Changing Politics of America.

Some irony that anyone familiar with Sundance will understand is that for all the high-tech hype at the conference, the website leaves much to be desired. For example, while the description of the panel discussion was fascinating, there was no list of participants. We were unable to catch all the names, but here, mostly, is who showed up:

Aaron Raskin of Harbinger Productions and producer of Dreams of Sparrows
Robert Greenwald, director of Outfoxed.
Alex Gibney, director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room & The Trials of Henry Kissenger.
Heather Rae, director of Trudell.
Jason Calacanis, co-founder of Weblogs, Inc.
Some woman from
The panel was moderated by moderated by Andy Bowers of National Public Radio and

The discussion started out on an interesting note but had difficulty staying on topic and at one point began to devolve into something akin to a Crossfire match. We don’t think that was entirely the fault of the moderator or guests. Instead, there seemed to be an assumption that documentaries and blogs were in some way similar, and it was just a matter of what media could change politics more.

This made little sense to us. While both docs and blogs are playing some role in filling the void in public discourse left by a less than vigilant media, blogs are about perspectives and conversations. Documentaries are a one-way presentation of the facts. They are two different forms of media not exclusive of each other.

The discussion might have been more productive if it had been called: How can docs and blogs be used together to change American politics?

To that point, the woman from briefly suggested that there could be a real potential synthesis between the two media forms. MoveOn promoted some political documentaries heavily throughout the 2004 campaign. Their knack at soliciting money and feedback from people in order to create a strategic political ads is something independent journalists on the web could learn from.

"None of this would be necessary if the media were doing its job.”
- panel participant

Greenwald had some great stories about producing Outfoxed and going up against the Fox corporation: “If you’re sensitive, this might not be the business for you.” He noted that his documentary gave other news outlets an excuse to report about Fox News’ reporting bias without being criticized, which, in turn, created more publicity for Outfoxed.

But did his documentary or Michael Moore’s do anything to affect the outcome of the 2004 Presidential Election? The consensus was probably not much. Most people, the panel felt, were attracted to a documentary that supported their point of view. Reason, it was suggested, played little role in people’s vote at the end of the day.

One clip that seemed to have the room riveted was from Heather Rae’s documentary about Native American poet and activist John Trudell. After 10 year of work ("it’s embarrassing it took that long,” she said), it will be debuted at Sundance.

Trudell, an eloquent and powerful speaker, says something chilling at one point: “All I did was talk and they cracked down hard for that.”

The spectre of more Big Brother moves by the government sparked a heated exchange between Raskin and Calacanis. While the there may be no explicit limits on our freedom of speech, there are plenty of ways to be censored. Corporations and governments do this to individuals all the time.

At the question period, an audience member raised an interesting observation: If we believe blogs are really becoming influential, why are so few ideas getting to the media?

We’re not there, yet, are we?

Posted on Jan 23, 2005 | 11:22 pm EST

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Don’t forget about Soccergirl! She was the best part of all of the panels at Sundance. I went to each and her’s was the only voice that really seemed to capture what Sundance is about. She was incredibly articulate and passionate and got the crowd riled. Great stuff!

Posted by: Alison on Jan 25, 06 | 4:08 pm EST


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