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Politics invade the cinema

The unprecedented deluge of politically charged films raises ire this election year. But will the movies actually sway any voters?

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Never in American movie history has politics - and partisan rivalry - invaded the local cineplex as dramatically and contentiously as in Election 2004. Call it the silver screen's version of "reality" TV.

Politically charged documentaries have drawn unusually large audiences to movie theaters this year, led of course by Michael Moore's award-winning, President Bush-bashing, and surprise box-office hit "Fahrenheit 9/11." Most have been left-leaning films critical of George W. Bush and the policies that have led to a war in Iraq.

But now add to these Carlton Sherwood's "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," an unflattering documentary about John Kerry's Vietnam War protests, excerpts of which are scheduled to air in prime time on a host of television stations across the United States - less than two weeks before the election. This programming directive by the openly conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 62 stations in 20 states and can reach more than one-quarter of US viewers, has set off an uproar among Democrats, who object to its classification as a "news program" and Sinclair's bid to use public airwaves to sway voters.

Whether these political films affect how people vote is debatable, though many media experts say their influence cannot be discounted in such a close election. Beyond the partisan bickering and charges that these films are merely political propaganda or media manipulation, some observers even see them signaling a new era in the way Americans choose to be politically informed. Such films, they suggest, may represent a seismic shift in American journalism.

Though it's doubtful these films can convince a significant number of voters to support a particular candidate, their influence may be felt in subtle ways, observers say. With the country so evenly divided for four years, a slight effect on a tiny number of voters could impact the election result.


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