This Divided State

2005, Movie, NR, 88 mins


If you thought the ugly, partisan battle that led up to the 2004 presidential election was the most depressing thing since the Civil War, Steven Greenstreet's excellent documentary about the grand mal kerfuffle that ensued when members of the Utah Valley State College student council invited filmmaker Michael Moore to speak at their school will offer little comfort. Home to a whopping 25,000 students, UVSC is located in Orem, Utah, a town that has dubbed itself, "Family City, USA." Like most places in Utah, Orem and UVSC are overwhelmingly Mormon and, by extension, politically and socially conservative. When word got out that the student council was going to be spending $40,000 to bring Moore, a man who prides himself on being a liberal gadfly, to this picturesque corner of Bush country (Orem boasts a 12-to-1 Republican to Democrat ratio), you'd think Hitler was on his way. Angry phone calls and angrier mail and e-mail started pouring in, mostly from concerned citizens who hated everything they thought the outspoken Moore represented — namely, anti-Americanism. Chief among them was the eminently quotable Mormon millionaire Kay Anderson, who loudly declared that denying Moore a forum wasn't really a threat to the Bill of Rights, arguing, "Free speech works because most of us know when to keep our mouths shut." Anderson first offered to buy back all the tickets with a $25,000 check if the school would only rescind Moore's invitation. When the administration politely declined the bribe, Anderson took the absurd measure of filing a civil suit against the two students who invited Moore to speak in the first place — Student Body President Jim Bassi and VP of Academics Joe Vogel — in district court. To their eternal credit, Bassi and Vogel refused to back down. Meanwhile on campus, the split between the UVSC students screaming for Bassi's and Vogel's heads and those who came to college thinking that debate and the free exchange of divergent ideas were key to any education was getting just as heated. As a sop to the conservative majority, the school invited Fox News commentator and conservative radio-host Sean Hannity, who magnanimously offered to waive his usual $100,000 speaking fee. The university, however, would have to cover his traveling expenses, and a media star like Hannity does not fly coach. Hannity insisted that the same taxpayers who were outraged that their hard-earned dollars were going to the likes of Michael Moore should foot the bill for Hannity's private jet and luxury accommodations. It's a fascinating, infuriating story, and despite the fact that Greenstreet occasionally wanders off subject — do we really need to know what the owners of the unfortunately named Moore's Pizza have to say about all this? — it's a brave (Greenstreet is also Mormon) and highly commendable effort that's chock-full of chilling moments. Not surprisingly, the scariest comes from Kay Anderson, who, after voicing his uncritical support for the Bush administration, admits that his views have nothing to do with the real world and he's just fine with that. "We don't want Utah County to become like the rest of the world," declares Anderson, whose soft voice is at odds with his permanent glower. "And we don't want the world in Utah County." Frightening. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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