Those moviegoers waiting in line for hours at a Santa Monica theater Tuesday night weren't queuing up for the final installment of the "Matrix" trilogy. They couldn't wait to get into the screening of "Uncovered: The Whole Truth About the Iraq War," filmmaker Robert Greenwald's new documentary.
Unlike the glitzy premieres last week in Washington, D.C., and New York, which drew luminaries from Hillary Clinton to Moby, here Greenwald invited longtime local activists, including some who got their start nearly four decades ago protesting the Vietnam War. Among the sponsors: Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, radio station KPFK, Code Pink, Physicians for Social Responsibility and Global Women's Strike.
These fifty-somethings ("Don't put my age in the paper!"), with their bald heads and bifocals, packed the theater, squabbling over seats, sitting on the floor and standing against the walls for an hourlong film that is not in general release, though available on DVD via liberal Web sites like moveon.org, buzzflash.com and thenation.com.
"We've sold 30,000 copies and raised $850,000 for MoveOn since the movie became available a week ago," Greenwald said at the screening. He chose not to distribute the film through theaters, he said, "to avoid the gatekeepers" and to get the movie out as quickly and as widely as possible.
He made the film after listening to the Bush Administration's justification for war evolve from Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, including the threat of a mushroom cloud, to the subsequent explanation of evidence of a program to create those weapons.
"We went to war over a program," Greenwald said.
But he doesn't use his own voice to make his argument in the film.
Using interviews and news footage from the major networks, CNN and C-Span (only Fox refused to provide clips), the film quotes old CIA spooks, diplomats and weapons inspectors -- national security types who are typically loyal to the president -- explaining why they believed the White House knew or should have known that no such weapons existed before the first soldier was sent to Iraq. Their comments are juxtaposed with those of the administration all-stars: President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Secretary of State Colin Powell, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice.
This Veteran Day's audience was not their kind of crowd.
They laughed and hissed at the president and his aides. They cheered Rep. Henry Waxman (D-L.A.), a strong critic of the war. They whooped for John Dean -- yes, that John Dean, the former counsel to President Nixon who went to prison for his part in the Watergate cover-up -- as he explained how lying to Congress is a felony. They applauded former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, who at the CIA' s request investigated and debunked reports that Niger was selling yellowcake uranium, a key component of nuclear weapons, to Iraq. They clapped again when Wilson accused a "vengeful" White House of "outing" his wife, a CIA operative involved in the weapons inspection program.
At the conclusion of the film, they gave Greenwald a standing ovation with shouts of "Thank you! Thank you!"
That mood quieted, however, when Jane Bright, a mother from the San Fernando Valley, told of burying her oldest son, a soldier killed in Iraq, in July.
"I'm here not just because of my son," she said. "I'm here because of the tens of thousands sons and daughters who are still in Iraq."
After she spoke, Bright, a member of Military Families Against the War, met actor Mike Farrell, a founder with Greenwald of Artists United to Win Without War.
"I watched you on television," she said to Farrell, who played Captain B.J. Hunnicutt on the television series "M*A*S*H," a protest of sorts against the Vietnam War, set during the Korean War.
"I won't hold that against you," Farrell said, before offering, "If there is anything I can do to help you...."
Bright continued, "There are families in the Texas area [against the war] ....They're very active. It's good to see that people in Bush's own state are so active. They really need to have the courage to come out.
"I hesitated because of my daughter-in-law. I thought she might lose widow's benefits," she said.
"How did you get over that?" Greenwald asked.
She explained that she and her son, Army Sgt. Evan Ashcraft, did not have same last name.
"He's with me now, saying, 'You go, Mom,' " she added.
"Uncovered" is the latest of several pointedly political films by Greenwald, including "Unprecedented," about the "stealing of the 2000 presidential election"; "The Crooked E," a CBS movie based on the Enron collapse; and "Steal This Movie," a biopic on '60s radical Abbie Hoffman.
Additional screenings of "Uncovered" are scheduled in San Francisco, Seattle and perhaps, Greenwald said, before the U.S. House of Representatives.