Woe when the tables are turned. "Manufacturing Dissent" drops in on filmmaker Michael Moore as he's known to do on his own subjects, and it doesn't look as if he appreciates it. Though the title sounds like a right-wing broadside against the documentarian -- whose new film, "Sicko," hits video stores this month "Dissent," made by Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine, is a measured review of Moore's background, his rise as a filmmaker and his methods, along with a balanced critique of same.
Melnyk follows Moore around much as Moore did Roger Smith in "Roger and Me," his breakthrough hit in the '80s. Though she admits frequently that she's a big fan of Moore's filmmaking and activism, Melnyk wants to get underneath the persona in order to show the real person and his motives. It's surprising to hear what some people have to say about him, including his friends and former fans. (The most Melnyk and Caine offer from the Republican camp are some uninformed rants from protesters, but they're no help. A young anti-Moore female tells the crew, "[We're] safer now that Saddam is gone and Osama is ousted from power.") In this movie, it's most often Moore's own supporters, including noted indie producer John Pierson, who waffle between criticism and praise.
Some criticisms, such as the accusation that Moore manipulates facts to emphasize or make points, are familiar and not very damning. Others are much tougher to brush off. (Though some others, admittedly, range from unfair to borderline crackpot.) "Dissent" criticizes Moore, but does not seem to be made by "crazy right-wingers," as Moore refers to Melnyk during one of her attempts to interview him. Then again, Melnyk's film has its problems too. A careful viewing is more likely to sow doubt than to convince, but Moore has reigned too long as a media darling and had too free a hand in his own myth-making, to deserve anything less than a serious re-evaluation, which "Dissent" tries to be. 96 min.