Tom RostonIndependent journalist Tom Roston checks in and writes about the world of documentaries in his column, Doc Soup.

You can follow Tom on Twitter @DocSoupMan.

Doc Soup: What Did You Think of ‘Expelled’?

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Finally caught up with Expelled, the documentary that makes the argument for Intelligent Design, that was released on April 18. The movie stars columnist-humorist Ben Stein, who interviews scientists and other folks in his inquiry to understand if Intelligent Design is a valid intellectual theory and whether those who believe in it have been persecuted. As of my writing this, Expelled had made $6.75 million at the box office, landing it at the number 12 spot in all-time box office for documentary films. That places it, perhaps a little awkwardly, on the list between Tupac: Resurrection and Roger & Me. And it’s only going up.

So, folks, let’s face it. This is the moment everyone in the doc community was dreading or pretending would never come. The moment when the great advance in the popularity of documentary film also opens the doors to a non-fiction film that, well, does not sit comfortably between a thug rapper and Michael Moore.

At this point, I’d rather not influence the discussion, so I’ll just ask: Have any POV site visitors seen the film? Would anyone care to comment? Anyone?

Tom Roston
Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He comes to us as a ten-year veteran of Premiere magazine, where he was a Senior Editor, and where he wrote the column, Notes from the Dream Factory. Tom was born and raised in New York City. He graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom has also written for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, GQ, New York, Elle and other publications. Tom's favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi - Godfrey Reggio 2. Hoop Dreams - Steve James 3. The Up series - Michael Apted 4. Crumb - Terry Zwigoff 5. Capturing the Friedmans - Andrew Jarecki
  • Samuel Horowitz

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    Putting aside the topic II thought it was a decent film. Shot well and the editing was not bad. I have seen lauded films with “liberal” topics that were worse.

  • Brent

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    I think the film fits fine on the same list with a film by Michael Moore. Why shouldn’t it? Like Expelled, his films are done in an attempt to prove a point and usher in change. Whether we agree or not has nothing to do with it’s “worthiness” of being on the same list.
    And I agree with Samuel, I’ve seen plenty of “liberal” films that weren’t as well-made as Expelled.

  • Tom

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    FOREIGNPARENTID:
    You both bring up a good point–does the filmmaking or the general “worthiness” of a film diminish if it serves a political agenda you disagree with? It’s a question that has also been applied to the work of D.W. Griffith, whose Birth of a Nation celebrated white supremacy and the Ku Klux Klan. Or, more relevantly, the work of Leni Riefenstahl, whose Triumph of the Will is a fantastic advance in documentary film aesthetics, marred by the fact that it’s a celebration of Nazism.
    I agree with both of you in the point that Expelled looks better (production value, editing, music and cinematography) than most theatrically released docs. Brent and Samuel: were you ever offended by the poltical agenda of Expelled–more or less so than, say, one of Michael Moore’s films?

  • samuel horowitz

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    Offended, of course not. Its a political point of view that I don’t really agree with, but I don’t think there is anything really to be offended by. It’s simply a political point of view They certainly made some specious connections, but then so does Michael Moore, who I enjoy, but he has some times engaged in out right fabrications.
    Although I found the vitriolic attack of the film from our community so bizarre. We are supposed to be for the free exchange of ideas and that the comments made by a lot of people almost seemed like they were offended that someone would have a point of view that is different from their own.
    I would love to see some good quality sparring of ideas through the documentary medium by both right and left.

  • Tom

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    What if, during the release of An Inconvenient Truth, the global-warming deniers were able to produce their own polished documentary. . .starring Dick Cheney? I guess the right has a smaller pool of documentary talent to glean from, however. But there must be some out-of-work Fox News producers with theatrical aspirations. I wonder where Fox News producers go, anyway, when they’re not working for Rupert Murdoch.

  • Anonymous for now

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    You may use HTML tags for style and links.

  • anonymous for now

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    I am one of those “right wing” filmmakers you guys are talking about. I am curious to know if you would watch a film that is a big budget, first person, sardonic film with one of the best editors (Fog of War, Manda Bala) and cinematographers (Inconvenient Truth, My Architect) working today, that takes on some major foreign policy questions (Human Rights, Terrorism, Nuclear Proliferation).
    I am sort of putting myself out there, so I expect more responses then just Samuel, Tom and Brent. That means you Roston.

  • Brent

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    I agree with Samuel again. I was actually less offended by Expelled than parts of Fahrenheit 911 when Michael Moore blatantly fabricated sequences/information to prove a point. A viewpoint that stretches my own opinion is a great thing in a film, I just don’t want to feel manipulated through fabrication. I didn’t feel that way in Expelled. Granted, a sequence towards the end of the film was perhaps a bit long or maybe forced, but that was their opinion and the point they wanted to make.

  • Doc Soup Man

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    Hi “Anonymous for Now”,
    This is Roston. I am also “Tom” but I’ll identify myself from now on as “Doc Soup Man” to avoid confusion. To answer your question: yes. I’d like to watch the movie you mention. Did you direct it? And please tell more: Is it coming out soon? Where’s the financing coming from? Did you think of approaching POV for TV distribution?

  • anonymous for now

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    Tom,
    I should have made that connection. If you email me your contact info at ami@disruptivepictures.com, I would be happy to tell you more about it, as long as its all off the record for now.

  • http://chutry.wordherders.net/wp/ Chuck

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    It’s hard to deny that Expelled was professionally made, but as I argue in my review, the arguments have consequences that I believe are incredibly harmful when it comes to scientific education in this country. The pro-intelligent design argument here essentially relies upon some of the cultural relativism arguments that the Christian community would have reviled only a few years ago. Essentially the film implies that there is a serious debate about the merits of evolutionary theory when there really isn’t. And it uses incredible scare tactics to do so. Identifying evolutionary biologists with Nazis and communists is the height of manipulation. I’d have felt like I was being manipulated if I didn’t find some of the techniques so incredibly over the top.
    I’m all for opening up documentary to a diversity of voices, so I’m glad the film is receiving a wide audience, but I also reserve the right to criticize those documentaries that use faulty argumentation, and I’ll continue to criticize Expelled for engaging in some serious misrepresentations.

  • http://steadydietoffilm.typepad.com/ Erin

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    I have no interest in seeing Expelled but I’m thrilled when any documentary expands the viewership of people who will pay to see them in the theater, on dvd, ancillary, etc.

  • Doc Soup Man

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    I hear that, Chuck. Everyone should check out Chuck’s blog for lively, smart chatter on docs. But I’m curious, Chuck (and Erin), if you guys think that your passion for expanding the doc viewership would be tempered if, a few years from now, you noticed that for every doc you felt better reflected your world view, there was also one that didn’t. Would it bother you that, say, An Inconvenient Truth’s box office gets surpassed by a documentary that denies the earth is suffering from global warming, starring Alexander Cockburn, the one-time lefty writer who wrote a column reflecting that opinion?

  • http://chutry.wordherders.net/wp/ Chuck

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    Doc Soup Man, I just noticed your comment, and that’s a good question. I realized when I said it that some awful documentaries masquerading as truth (Falwell’s hit piece on the Clinton’s, for example) could break through. I guess I’m placing a bit too much faith in the idea that a reading, writing, and viewing public would challenge the claims of movies such as “Expelled,” but that’s probably a little too optimistic on my part.