Jewish World Review Sept. 24, 2004 / 9 Tishrei, 5765
Lewis A. Fein
Surf's Up: Idiocy at the Malibu Film Festival
I recently attended the Malibu film festival, where I watched a "documentary" of such overbearing, propagandist (in my opinion), inflammatory intensity that - notwithstanding the cool Pacific breeze and soothing vistas nearby - would have required a doctor's attention for my subsequent headache. This low-budget entry, which cheapens the artistic value of the other films under consideration, is about as subtle as Leni Riefenstahl's oblique filmmaking skills, minus the lunatic dictator and hypnotized ensemble of screaming killers -- lights, camera, action! The documentary in question is a thirty-minute hit piece by Tim and Hayden Riley, two so-called "consumer advocates" who vehemently oppose the use of an energy source like liquefied natural gas (LNG). Needless to say, and without further insulting the history and purpose of film, I think Mr. and Mrs. Riley should seek stardom elsewhere. For "The Risks and Danger of LNG" lacks even the pretense of balance or objectivity, using some of the most blatant (and thus incredible) pieces of selective argumentation this writer can imagine.
This doom-and-gloom scenario, whereby Mr. Riley intones seriously about an unprecedented catastrophe caused by an LNG explosion, is overtly political and simply unrealistic for several reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, this nation must find alternative energy sources (LNG included) that diminish our dependence upon foreign oil. The overriding goal of this country - scarred by terror and tested by war - is the exploration for and use of all forms of fuel that will lessen our need for outside assistance. There is no substitute for this reality, regardless of Mr. Riley's dogmatic insistence concerning (and echoed by Mrs. Riley's foolish parroting of) impending disaster. All of which demands a rebuttal about the purpose of persuasive communication.
Film is a powerful medium, to be sure. But film is also a dangerous tool, a vehicle for emotional hysteria and irrational hatred. And the rules of principled reporting, which exist precisely because people have biases, require that opinions (of which Mr. Riley has many) meet the tempered scale of contrary proof. Translation: LNG has its numerous merits, none of which - not even by an obligatory sense of fair play, or from a begrudging acknowledgment of counterfactual evidence - makes the final cut of Mr. Riley's cinematic tirade. Instead, the viewer must withstand poor picture quality, cheesy graphics, melodramatic narration, pointless direction and atrocious writing.
Indeed, Mr. Riley's tactics are quite obvious: stigmatize, delegitimize and propagandize. Anything else - including a sober discussion of LNG's benefits, its strategic necessity and economic importance - does not enter his narrow outlook. Instead, he browbeats the viewer with an impassioned delivery that smacks more of public access television than the highfalutin tastes of the Malibu glitterati. The question on people's minds is, therefore, a simple one -- Who the heck nominated this monstrosity for any type of positive recognition?
The power of film, combined with the iconography that is Hollywood, makes the entertainment industry a vital natural resource. Its abuse, whether intentional or not, is an act that no one - not even the most casual theatergoer among us - should tolerate. My exposure to the crude narrative techniques of Tim and Hayden Riley is perhaps beyond the strength of even the most avid film buff. Where evenhandedness is essential there is only partisanship. Where dissent is vital there is nothimg more than political zeal. Where artistry is helpful there is perpetual mediocrity.
In a way, we all should thank the Malibu film festival. By airing this ideological work, the public may now critique this inane production. To Mr. and Mrs. Riley, I offer some heartfelt advice: market your documentary as a comedy, then the audience may laugh with you and not at you.
JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.
© 2004, Lewis A. Fein