More from the Hot Doc Documentary Film Festival

May 7th, 2006

AN UNREASONABLE MAN, a documentary about Ralph Nader.

Things I did not know are he is largely responsible for getting seat belts in cars, air bags, product labeling, that he is not married, and that he believes he did not steal votes from Al Gore but in fact Gore stole votes from him.

While filled with talking heads, I found this film fascinating and to have a decent narrative thread. During filming, Nader was the last to be interviewed and apparently his only guidance to the film crew was to make sure they also spoke with those in opposition to Nader’s crusade. Some of those people, Hollywood stars, musicians, and once staunch ‘Nader’s Raiders,’ were quite vehement in their criticism of Nader’s presidential campaigns.

Also interviewed was Pat Buchanan, one of the presidential hopefuls, who was asked if he’d ever consider running again (like Nader did in 2004). His response, “No….it’s millions of your own money…our democracy is a fraud.”

There is footage of Nader clarifying with a state trooper that he, as a citizen running for president, with a valid ticket to a satellite facility showing a closed circuit broadcast of the Gore/Bush debate, and an invitation by FOX(?) to do an interview on-site in their trailer, he is being threatened with arrest if does not leave the grounds occupied by the presidential debate committee during the debates. Even as a member of the film’s audience, it’s frustrating to see.

And yet, investigative journalist James Ridgeway commented that “Ralph believes in the American myth, Ralph believes in our democracy.”

An egomaniac to some, sanctimonious to others, and a pain in the ass to many, in this film Nader appears as the tireless crusader for a better America. Even as he beats his head against the brick wall of public opinion and Washington spin, he can say with the shrug of the resolute, “I believe we just need to work harder to make the democracy better.”

A bunch of taking heads and some amazing (though oft-repeated) historic footage, this film is apocalyptic in its presentation of the world’s oil dependency. Fact filled, but not very entertaining, Oilcrash essentially states the world is at the peak of oil production with no indication of a decrease in demand. It states the U.S., which consumes a quarter of the oil produced, relies on its faith in technology and the ‘can-do’ attitude of American ingenuity. However, the alternative energies we currently possess can, in no way, support the current consumption rate. Even nuclear power, the film’s producers state, can only last a few decades before the world’s supply of Uranium 235 is consumed while trying to match the energy production fossil fuels meet today.

Lifestyle changes are requisite if we are to avoid the film’s doomsday prediction. Oil has supported a population boom from 2 billion to 6.4 billion people and the film asks, with a crash inevitable, will the world’s population return to pre-oil levels? With developing nations industrializing in the same fashion as today’s world leaders, pressure on petroleum resources is increasing and–if we’re not at war for oil already–we soon will be.

Ironically, as reported by the New York Times Cheney just visited Kazakhstan for some closed-door sessions to discuss oil and natural gas exports that bypass Russian soil and our old Cold War rival’s control. Deemed the new “Great Game,” the US is cozying up to a country with a limited democracy and a poor human rights record in an effort to gain access to oil and gas resources via pipelines which could run through Russia, Turkey, Iran, China, Pakistan, or even…Afghanistan.

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