I’ll put some of my cards on the table regarding Expelled, the conservative documentary that slams Darwinism and pushes for the Intelligent Design theory of how we all got to be such an evolved, intelligent (please note sarcasm) species. I wrote about it briefly last week, and have appreciated the ensuing dialogue. Now, it looks like the movie won’t make it higher than the #12 spot on the documentary box office list, having made $7.3 million, and now clocking about $80/per screen averages on 400 screens. Wait, did I just say $80/per screen averages? Please, someone do more investigating into these theaters that are willing to keep a film going that is clearly not making them more money than what an old reel of Eraserhead or Lair of the White Worm would bring them. (If you don’t, I may have to.)

Still, I found Expelled one of the most fascinating documentary filmgoing experiences I’ve ever had. Largely, because I totally don’t buy any of the film’s “arguments” and shuddered at its manipulations. The central premise of the film is that there is a vanguard of revolutionary scientists who are being denied the right to explore or express their theories of Intelligent Design, but wait — 1) we’re talking about something like six individuals, which is hardly the pogrom the film makes it out to be; 2) they weren’t really “expelled,” according to various reports; and 3) these aren’t really scientists. (It’s like saying the Vatican should be censured if it doesn’t allow atheists to become priests. Sorry, faith is a prerequisite to getting anywhere in the priesthood, just like having academic and scientific credibility is mandatory to being considered a “scientist.”) For a sound debunking of the facts of the film, check out Expelled Exposed. For a defense of the film’s beliefs, there’s the film’s website.

But rather than dismiss the film for its lack of intellectual rigor in the same way that credible scientists, and most of my peers in the doc-media world, have done, I am in awe of its bold — and often competent — appropriation of all the most wonderful filmmaking tools now available. (My jaw dropped when the film credits were stylishly grafted onto Cold War archival footage, using the same technology so impressively deployed in the recent Operation Homecoming.)

I see in this as a new front in the Culture Wars that got so much play in the early 90s. It’s moved from books to documentaries, and I think everyone in the doc world should take note.

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Tom Roston
Tom Roston is a guest columnist for POV's documentary blog. He is a former Premiere magazine senior editor, who graduated from Brown University and started his career in journalism at The Nation and then Vanity Fair. Tom's freelance work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Los Angeles Times, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications. He has written several Kindle Singles, including the bestselling Kindle Singles Interview: Ken Burns. Tom's current list of favorite documentaries are: 1. Koyanisqaatsi by Godfrey Reggio; 2. Hoop Dreams by Steve James; 3.Stories We Tell by Sarah Polley; 4.Crumb by Terry Zwigoff; 5. Montage of Heck by Brett Morgen