This Land Is Your Land
2004, NR, 82 min. Directed by Lori Cheatle, Daisy Wright.
REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Feb. 3, 2006
It feels like a low blow to point out that this muckraking populist grab bag of a film isn't so much a documentary as it is a harried piece of agitprop, but low or not that's the case. Not that there's anything wrong with that (agitprop is, first and foremost, meant to agitate), but ever since Michael Moore elevated the form to a whole new level of accessibility with Roger & Me and its successors — and since Hubert Sauper even more recently restored a sparkling patina of genuine art with a capital 'A' to the form via Darwin's Nightmare — grassroots documentaries like This Land Is Your Land pale in comparison. Sure, the many personal revelations of corporate malfeasance that have been woven together to make up the tapestry of outrage that is Cheatle and Wright's film are bound to inspire annoyance in the little guy, but it's unlikely This Land Is Your Land is going to ignite a firestorm of popular revolt in Middle America (far more likely to achieve that is the upcoming dystopian fantasy V for Vendetta, which may well galvanize America's disaffected comic-nerd contingent in ways no one can yet foresee) despite its too-lengthy litany of Mother Jones-ian woes. On the one hand is straight-shootin' purebred populist Texan Jim Hightower lamenting the rise of corporate culture while adding that "thousands of little prairie fires are being lit" via grassroots organizing such as this film. On the other are people like Father Tryphon, the abbot of a Washington-based Russian Orthodox monastery who found himself being sued for trademark infringement by no less an example of capitalism run amok than Starbucks, when his handful of monks dared to christen their special holiday beans the "Christmas Blend," a term already employed by the clearly overcaffeinated superchain. The good news is the monks won out in the end, but really, how much hubris does it take to put a trademark symbol on Christmas? (Either way, it's a gas to hear the bearded Tryphon proclaim, "My first duty as abbot is to start the coffee pot.") This Land Is Your Land is meant to be inspirational — like a good cup of home-brewed coffee — but there's so much information crammed into its brief running time that you begin to suffer from corporate bad-guy overload by film's end. This is simply too much of a good thing too haphazardly strung together. It could almost certainly use some, you'll pardon the pun, conservative trimming. For more on the film when it screened at SXSW see www.austinchronicle.com/issues/dispatch/2004-03-19/screens_roundup12.html.