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Hearts and Minds 

Why Michael Moore's Academy Awards rant shouldn't have surprised anyone

Wednesday, Apr 2 2003
No matter how it looked on television, Michael Moore's Academy Award denunciation of Bush and the war didn't surprise the fellow documentary nominees who joined him onstage. "He had delivered the same message at the Independent Spirit Awards and at an International Documentary Association event and in a letter he circulated," notes local filmmaker Vicente Franco. "Anyone who agreed to stand up knew with whom they were standing."

Franco and Gail Dolgin (Daughter From Danang) were seated in front of Moore during the ceremony, and, Dolgin says, "There are a lot of commercial breaks, so we had a lot of time to talk." Before his category was announced, Moore said, "If I win, I'd like to invite all the documentary filmmakers who are nominated to join me onstage." "We invited him back," Franco relates. "'If we win, please come with us.' He said, 'It's all right. I've already had my time in the spotlight.'" Apparently Moore can keep his egocentricity in check. "We never experienced him as anything but extraordinarily genuine and generous," Dolgin says. "It was a great gesture on his part. We could have thought it up, but didn't."

Onstage, Franco says, "I felt really proud to be expressing solidarity with his message. We realized there was disagreement in the room -- there was booing and clapping -- and we started clapping along to solidify that we were in agreement with what he was saying, and that we were not extras or puppets of Michael Moore. He knew he was going to cause a commotion, and he was very precise, actually, asking people [who were onstage with him] afterward to make sure that they were feeling OK with it." He adds, "Of course, our message would have been delivered in a different way." In fact, the duo put "Another Nominee for Peace" signs on their limo, which passed demonstrators lined up along the route. "That felt like an important little addition on our part," Dolgin says, "to bring the reality of the war into what was in every other way a surreal experience." Daughter From Danang airs Monday, April 7, at 9 p.m. as part of PBS's "American Experience" series.

The Great Northfield, Minnesota Raid "When I direct," said Robert Duvall during a trip through town last week, "I always say [to the actors], 'We start from zero, and we don't have to get anywhere. There's no burden. Let the process bring you to a result.'" His second outing as writer/director/actor, Assassination Tango, is a leisurely shaggy dog tale about a New York hit man working a job in Buenos Aires, who fills his free hours admiring dancers -- in particular a coy, leggy beauty played by Luciana Pedraza, Duvall's paramour of seven years, making her debut here. Their unhurried, unscripted, getting-to-know-you chat in a cafe is the film's best scene.

"I wanted to do a pure improvisation," Duvall explained. But while the actors' challenge in most movies is to convincingly portray a fictional relationship, here Duvall and Pedraza had to act as if they didn't know each other. "She distanced herself from me that whole day, and thought of things [for her character] to ask me," Duvall recalled. "We set up two cameras, improvised two magazines of film, and that was it for the day." During this stretch of the picture, the hit-man element recedes deep into the background. Said Duvall, "In Apocalypse Now, I'm a good soldier, but I'm a surfer, too. You get away, and then you get back to the plot." Assassination Tango opens Friday, April 4, at the Lumiere.

The Spiral Staircase More than 2,000 German film professionals immigrated to Hollywood in the early 1930s, among them directors Fritz Lang and Robert Siodmak and actors Peter Lorre and Conrad Veidt. Of course, plenty of talented "below the line" crew members also left their mark on American movies. "They were influential in production design, cinematography, music, etc.," says UC Berkeley associate professor Deniz Göktürk, one of the three editors who compiled The German Cinema Book (out recently from University of California Press). "Film noir is generally remembered as the paradigmatic genre of exiles," he explains, "but émigrés were active in a variety of genres and professions across the industry." Unfortunately, they also paved the way for Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) and Wolfgang Petersen (Air Force One).

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Michael Fox


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