Monday, March 06, 2006

Movie Review: This Divided State

U.S. Release Date: 8/05
Running Time: 1:28
Rated: NR (Profanity, adult themes)
Cast: Michael Moore, Sean Hannity, Kay Anderson, Jim Bassi, Joe Vogel

Director: Steven Greenstreet
Producers: Phil Gordon, Steven Greenstreet, Kristi Haycock
Studio: Minority Films, LLC


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This Divided State opens with a quote from Joseph Smith, Jr. (the founder of Mormonism) that reads, “Political views and party distinctions should never disturb the harmony of society.” In the subsequent 88 minutes, Smith’s wish is perceptibly ignored, as director Steven Greenstreet captures the barking dogs from both sides of the political spectrum. Liberals and conservatives square off in this intriguing and intelligent documentary that does more informing than offending—no matter your political affiliation.

The basis for the film is grounded in the controversy of having liberal documentary filmmaker, Michael Moore speak to the students of Utah Valley State College (UVSC) and its surrounding community for a $40,000 fee. Considering UVSC is located in Orem City, Utah (a.k.a. Family City, U.S.A.), where the Republican to Democrat ratio is 12 to 1 and where 75% of the population is Mormon, Moore’s anti-Bush and “un-American” ideology is obviously not part of the majority’s mindset. Yet, as one college official states, “Colleges and Universities are supposed to be free markets of ideas...all ideas, all perspectives, and all point-of-views—including and especially those that we disagree with strongly.”

Once the announcement is made that Michael Moore will speak on UVSC’s campus, the tornado officially begins to churn. President of the student body, Jim Bassi, and Vice President, Joe Vogel, are barraged with hateful remarks and death threats. Students are encouraged to sign petitions, and community activist, Kay Anderson, is determined to cancel the event. Anderson campaigns to remove Bassi and Vogel from office, offers the school $25,000 to cancel the event, and even files a lawsuit.

To settle the conservative crowd, UVSC hires Fox News’ Sean Hannity (a self-proclaimed right-winger) to speak one week before Moore. However, the hiring of another voice only worsens the situation, as the townspeople discover that Hannity was paid $50,000 for his transportation—after he waived his usual speaking charge.

By not projecting his own politics into the film, director/producer/editor Steven Greenstreet greatly exceeds expectations. Unlike Michael Moore, who possesses no shame in voicing his own opinions, Greenstreet merely presents the claim and counterclaim of the status quo and then allows the audience to side with whom they please (or even end up somewhere in the middle). Moreover, both Greenstreet’s ability to condense 76 hours of raw footage into a terse and evenly-paced 88 minutes showcases his talent, while his choice to exploit the simplicity of “Pachelbel’s Canon” (at the opening and closing) to counter the complexity of the situation displays his taste.

Additionally, the film offers insightful opinions from the land of academia. When the animated UVSC Professor of Humanities, Alex Caldiero, says, “There is no such thing as an objective viewpoint,” and, “We all see things through filters...filters,” we listen. When one student exclaims, “You don’t stop the [ominous] messenger; you evaluate his message,” we are inspired. And, when a foreign exchange student speaks on the worth of the First Amendment, we are humbled.

At the end of the day, Greenstreet’s pre-2004 election memoir of the failure of civil discourse in America is both entertaining and effective. Its liberating effects of convincing the audience not to jump to uneducated conclusions, while still finding a common ground in conservative morals, are striking and influential. After all, the main aim of the feature is to unite our nation – be it liberal, conservative, Republican, or Democrat – under one roof and paint the house neither blue nor red, but rather one congruous color. (*** out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2006