The left-wing sectarian debates fuming over Alex Gibney’s “We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks,” well-assembled and dissected by Andrew O’Hehir at Salon.com, is also taking place around “Pandora’s Promise,” Robert Stone’s equally controversial and reasonably argued film about the benefits of nuclear power. Jeremy Scahill has also said he’s receiving more hate-mail from liberals because of his criticisms of Obama in “Dirty Wars.” Why so little love?
Coming into both Gibney and Stone’s subjects with little outside expert knowledge, I found both films to be engaging and well-researched accounts of their respective material. Even as a die-hard lefty, I bought all of these movies, despite the fact that some of their positions run counter to traditional liberal views. (After Sundance, I wrote a piece for Slate called “Will the Next Wave of Anti-Obama Movies Be Made by Liberals?” which also speaks to some of these issues.)
I think one of the reasons I like these films is that they are complex in their approaches. The fact that they are not preaching to the converted is one of the best things about them. In my Docutopia column this week, I single out “Pandora’s Promise” for eschewing heave-handed
agitprop to explore an issue with ambiguity. We should applaud these nuanced approaches, whether it’s Gibney taking to task both the U.S. government and Julian Assange for the secrets they keep, Scahill calling out both the Bush and Obama administrations, or Stone suggesting that nuclear power, however dangerous it may have been, has also been unfairly demonized on several accounts. If you want good guys vs. bad guys, go see “Man of Steel.” But strong documentaries should present ambivalence and moral complexity and wrongdoing on all sides of the political divide.
While the attacks against Gibney and his film have been well-documented, by O’Hehir and others (and I can certainly confirm them, as even I was blasted on Twitter for my favorable piece on “We Steal Secrets”), the backlash against “Pandora’s Promise” is just beginning.
In one such paper titled “Pandora’s False Promise,” published for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, executive director Kennette Benedict writes, “A more powerful approach to this complex threat to humanity would be to
film a fact-based, passionate debate that explored the alternatives,
trade-offs, and consequences of various energy options. Such an
exploration might move us from the usual politics of zealotry to new
habits of thought, and perhaps to new forms of action based on all the
But what’s funny to me is that this is exactly what I found “Pandora’s Promise” to be.