Sunday, 17 January 2010

Moviegate: Investigative journalism on the big screen

Many years ago my imagination was fired by All The President's Men. Director Alan J. Pakula's 1976 film remains the 'daddy' of all of the movies that feature investigative journalists.
      Starring Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, Pakula's film tells the true story of how the Watergate break-in triggered a persistent investigation of the Campaign to Re-elect the President by Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. 'Woodstein', as their editor Ben Bradlee called the pair, unearthed a massive political scandal at the heart of American democracy that led to the resignation of President Nixon. 
      'Woodstein's' investigation, their later book and Pakula's film has led to the 'gate' label being tagged to virtually every major scandal since Woodward and Bernstein first broke the Watergate story in 1972.
    Sadly, compared to other film genres - such as science fiction, war or romantic comedies - films about investigative journalism are rare. Dismal media analysts and ivory tower academics tout a theory that that investigative journalism is a dying art partly, they claim, because young people won't choose journalism as a career if Hollywood, Bollywood or Pinewood aren't making blockbusters about investigative journalism. Personally, I don't think this viewpoint holds up but their contention will be contested in a later posting.
      For the moment, this occasional series will highlight the intriguing ways these films portray investigative journalism's nuts and bolts, its tricks of the trade and its impact and importance. It'd help too if you can suggest movies and TV shows that you think might fit this sub-genre. Please feel free to post a comment at the bottom of this post about the investigative journalism film or show of your choice and what you think about it.
      The series will kick off with Defence of the Realm, a fictional story born out of real genuine public anxieties about war and peace, secrets and lies. Look out for that posting, coming to a screen near you.

Paul Coleman, London, January 2010.

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