The Oscars this year have given a nod to three high-quality political documentaries.

"Dirty Wars," directed by Richard Rowley and written by Jeremy Scahill, focuses on the shadow warfare that the United States has waged since 9/11.

"I called it 'Dirty Wars' because in the Obama Administration a lot of people are being led to believe that there is such a thing as a clean war, and that the drone and what's called targeted killing are anything but targeted," Scahill told Amy Goodman. "So, I called it 'Dirty Wars' because there is no such thing as a clean war, and drone warfare is not clean, but also as a sort of allusion to how we've returned to the kind of 1980s way of waging war, where the U.S. was involved in all these dirty wars in Central and Latin America, in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and beyond."

Scahill is a superb journalist whose articles (including in The Progressive) and books (like the eponymous work on which the documentary is based) have chronicled the seamier side of U.S. foreign policy. "Dirty Wars" is his first foray into the film world. So, it's very impressive that the movie, with its hard-hitting critique of U.S. conduct abroad, has been so honored by the Academy.

"The Act of Killing" is perhaps the most mindboggling of the three. It deals with the mid-1960s mass killings in Indonesia in which the army slaughtered hundreds of thousands of alleged communists and progressives. Director Joshua Oppenheimer actually got a few of these murderers to reenact these killings, in full dramatic style!

"I lingered on this one main character, Anwar Congo," Oppenheimer said in an interview. "He started to propose these more and more complicated reenactments that were inspired by the genres of his favorite movies, Hollywood movies from the '50s and '60s."

The result is a film that critics are calling a must-see. The United States was actively complicit in the killings.

"The U.S. was very much involved with supporting and encouraging the genocide," Oppenheimer said. "The U.S. provided money. It provided some weapons. It provided radios so that the army could coordinate the killings across this vast archipelago that is Indonesia. They also provided death lists, lists of thousands of names of fairly prominent public figures, leftists, leaders of unions, intellectuals."

Jehane Noujaim's "The Square" engages with perhaps the most consequential political occurrence of recent years: the Arab Spring. (The title is, of course, a reference to Tahrir Square in Cairo.) She centers in on the lives and fates of three Egyptian protesters from 2011 to 2013. From this emerges a movie critics have raved about.

"Noujaim's film is less a final reckoning than an exciting bulletin from the front lines of an unfinished revolution," NPR's John Powers said. "I rarely say this about a movie, but I can't wait to see the sequel."

With these three nominations, the Academy is providing much-needed encouragement to political filmmakers.

Photo: Joe Seer /


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Trump's politics are not the problem.

The fiery Milwaukee Sheriff is on the shortlist to head the Department of Homeland Security.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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