As a strategy for building troop morale in World War II, General Dwight Eisenhower advised, "What the boys need most are movies and more movies." In the twilight of his presidency two decades later, he told the nation to "guard against unwarranted influence by the military-industrial complex." Eugene Jarecki uses Ike's latter comments as the touchstone of Why We Fight, opening this weekend at the Roxy in Burlington. The Mad River Valley filmmaker would surely agree that everyone needs movies, particularly those with provocative ideas and riveting images.
The title of his 90-minute documentary is borrowed from a series of patriotic films created by Hollywood legend Frank Capra for the Army; each one explained a different aspect of America's participation in the global hostilities.
In terms of its sensibility, Jarecki's Why We Fight also has much in common with The Battle of San Pietro by John Huston. The gritty 1944 combat doc was shot at the behest of the Pentagon, which then banned the finished film for conveying an antiwar message. The maverick director's response: "Whenever I make a picture that's for war, I hope you take me out and shoot me."
Jarecki, 36, examines the legacy of "politics with bloodshed," as warfare has often been described. "Frank Capra lived in a time of real idealism," he says, during a 2005 interview. "But America as a beacon may have been eclipsed by our role as an empire. Capra would be concerned."
In addition to archival footage, Jarecki employs talking heads to reflect a range of viewpoints, from neocon hawk Richard Perle to peacenik author Gore Vidal - who notes that the country has become "the United States of Amnesia." Members of the Eisenhower family weigh in against runaway militarism.
The emotional core of Why We Fight concerns Wilton Sekzer, whose son Jason was killed in the World Trade Center on 9/11. After Bush linked Saddam to the attacks, this Vietnam vet and former NYPD cop arranged for Jason's name to be inscribed on one of the bombs raining down on Baghdad.
But Sekzer later acknowledges feeling betrayed when the White House began distancing itself from the spurious suggestion of Iraqi involvement. This proves to be a fortuitous development for a film about jingoism. "I didn't know where it would go when I began the interview with him," says Jarecki, who will answer audience questions at Roxy screenings on Friday and Saturday nights.
He's likely to offer an unflinching assessment. "The arms industry corrupts the democratic process," Jarecki contends. "Ike sensed a danger to the Republic itself. If we continue to concentrate power in the corporate sector, we'll have one senseless war after another."
Burlington may seem like more of a pacifist Mecca than ever this weekend. After the Fog, another consideration of U.S. conflicts, unspools at City Hall Auditorium for two shows each on Friday and Saturday. Jay Craven's documentary focuses on the experiences of vets, most of them from Vermont. The Peacham filmmaker will be on hand for post-film discussions.
Craven says his latest feature, Disappearances, will play the South by Southwest festival next month in Austin, Texas. The theatrical world premiere is on April 7 at the Essex Cinemas, where the gala crowd will include lead actor Kris Kristofferson. He portrays a down- at-the-heels Northeast Kingdom farmer smuggling whiskey across the Canadian border during Prohibition. For information, visit http://www.disappearancesmovie.com or call 592-3190.
In his native Kenya, Alexander Hopcraft once raised an orphaned cheetah cub named Duma - the Swahili word for that species. At the age of 12, he wrote a children's book with his mother about the experience, How It Was with Dooms: A True Story from Africa, that has been adapted for a movie directed by Carroll Ballard (The Black Stallion). Duma will screen for free Thursday at 7 p.m. in Dana Auditorium. It's also on the schedule of the Green Mountain Film Festival in Montpelier, from March 17 through 26.
Hopcraft is now a 21-year-old Middlebury College senior majoring in environmental policy. He had never even heard of the place until he visited the U.S. to check out potential schools. "The fact that it was relatively remote and removed from the outside world appealed to me since I was used to living out in rural areas," he recalls.
Indeed. Hopcraft, who was home-schooled until seventh grade, grew up on the 20,000-acre Kenyan game ranch that's been in his family for three generations - where the wild things are.