Films no longer wait for history

Roundup: Pop Culture & the Arts ... Movies, Documentaries and Museum Exhibits

Phil Donahue is getting in the last word. One of the first television personalities to speak out against America's hapless adventure in Iraq, Donahue was also among the war's earliest media casualties. He lost his MSNBC talk show back in 2003 when, according to an internal memo, his bosses had begun worrying that he would turn his show into "a home for the liberal anti-war agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."

Donahue, for all appearances, vanished from view. But not for long. Last month, he showed up at the Toronto International Film Festival with a new documentary, Body of War, a searing chronicle of a U.S. soldier gravely wounded in Baghdad, and his tortured physical and emotional struggle to find a place of comfort back home.

Whether a testament to the former TV host's popularity, or simply the potency of his subject matter, Donahue's film (which he co-directed with veteran documentarist Ellen Spiro) clearly struck a nerve with the Canadian audience. It received a 10-minute standing ovation after its debut screening and was named a runner-up for the festival's People's Choice Award — out of more than 300 films.

Body of War's reception in Toronto was all the more remarkable because of the company the film kept there. Also on the festival bill were Battle for Haditha, a docudrama about the shocking 2005 civilian massacre in western Iraq, and a trio of ripped-from-the-headlines Hollywood films: Redacted, Brian De Palma's war-vs.-media fever dream; In the Valley of Elah, starring Tommy Lee Jones as the father of a slain U.S. Army specialist; and Meryl Streep's torture drama Rendition.

With this kind of lineup, who needs to read the morning paper?

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