When Utah Valley State College invited Michael Moore to come speak on campus in the weeks before the 2004 Bush-Kerry election, things got ugly. Very ugly. The ensuing uproar prompted a budding filmmaker to drop out of Brigham Young University to document the chaos and carnage. The result is This Divided State, a riveting metaphor for our violently divided country, a documentary filled with fascinating real-life characters displaying all the venom and vehemence found in meetings of American conservatives and liberals these days (you know, screaming, hissing, sign-toting, aka civil discourse, American style).
Newbie filmmaker Steven Greenstreet takes us into the deceptively tranquil white wonderland of Family City, U.S.A., otherwise known as Orem, Utah, deep in the heart of Mormon country, a place where Bush and Republicanism reign supreme. In Orem, despite the presence of a 25,000-student college, liberals are generally considered evil, anti-American and amoral. A couple of the characters go so far as to say, in short: We dont want the world to come to Orem. We like it the way it is here. Weve seen the world. And believe us, its bad.
When UVSC invites Moore to speak, the college has a bloody battle on its hands. Moore, the Oscar-winning maker of Fahrenheit 9/11, spoke to dozens of colleges nationwide in the months before the election in an effort to drum up support for Kerry.
As word spread of Moores impending arrival, the people of Orem and much of the rest of Utah erupted in outrage. Petition drives and confrontational debates overtook the campus. Students walked around with signs and buttons. College donors threatened to pull funding if the engagement wasnt canceled; threats were lobbed against the student body president and vice president, who planned the engagement. The media fueled the debate.
Greenstreet saw the film fodder and went for it. What he ended up with is a surreal cast of characters enacting a classic American civic-studies case. Theres a raging wealthy Mormon moralist with sometimes devilish eyes, bent on stopping Moores visit for fear hell debauch students and bring amoralism to town; a jolly Republican student who looks just like Moore and works hard to maintain the appearance; a savage Fox radio show host, Sean Hannity, invited to speak at the school to balance the debate; two best friends who stand up bravely for free speech but face dark consequences from the struggle; and so on.
The film drags on a bit, and is short on reflection and explanation of the aftermath. Yet Greenstreet aptly provides a frightening and fascinating allegory for the hatred between the two sides of our divided nation, and a strong warning to liberals: Dont move to Utah. Dont even visit.
Showing at the Roseville Theatre (28325 Utica Rd., Roseville; 586-445-7810).
Lisa M. Collins writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].