The debate going on in the left film circles is whether or not “Avatar” should be considered a “progressive” film. The mega million dollar blockbuster sci-fi Oscar nominee seems correctly identified as an “anti-colonialist” film, with it’s bold depiction of the brutal military takeover of the Na’Vi community. But is it any more than that? Anti-imperialist? Anti-American-imperialist? Certainly most activists can see the parallel between the Blue People and Iraq or Afghanistan, Vietnam, Serbia, and on and on. Despite the clear antiwar message, some critics claim the film is typical pop fare for Cameron and even racist and stereotyped, with the white man hero once again saving the people of color, this time the color being “blue.”
And then, of course, it also depends on the critics definition of “progressive,” and where they stand in the political spectrum. Most people accept the term as meaning at least beyond the Democrat/Republican option, while others prefer to define it as any left alternative to capitalism.
Despite differences among the left, the newly formed James Agee Cinema Circle (JACC), a group of film writers, scholars, critics and historians, released their list of Progie Award winners, and named “Avatar” the winner of three awards, Best Progressive Picture, Best Antiwar Film, and Best Depiction of a Mass Popular Uprising or Revolutionary Transformation. Now, there’s a category for you!
The Progie Awards are given to the best in progressive cinema, and are the creation of Ed Rampell, film critic and author of Progressive Hollywood. The significantly titled awards honor prominent names in progressive film history. They include for example, the (Jean) Renoir for Best Antiwar film, the (Dalton) Trumbo for Best Picture, and the Gillo (Pontecorvo) for the Best Foreign Film. The total of 14 awards that are presented to films and artists, not only parallel some of the Hollywood Oscar categories but occasionally the similar recipients. The Progies give recognition to films that might otherwise be overlooked or not known as having progressive content. Other than “Avatar,” the Progie winners matched some of this year’s Oscar nominees. “Precious” as Best Picture, “White Ribbon” as Best Anti-Fascist Film, Colin Firth in “A Single Man” as Best Actor and Gabourey Sidibe in “Precious” as Best Actress. Four of the Best Documentary choices are also Oscar nominations, “The Most Dangerous Man in America,” “Burma VJ,” “Food, Inc.,” and “The Cove,” which ended up winning the Progie award.
Progie winners that were ignored by the Oscars this year include Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story,” that tied with “Amreeka” and “Sunshine Cleaning” for the Most Positive and Inspiring Working Class Screen Image award. The “Baader-Meinhoff Complex,” a dramatic examination of the history of the Red Army Faction in 60s and 70s Germany, won the Best Progressive Foreign Film Award. “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” a daring and biting satire of the American war machine, won the Best Satire award named after the great Spanish director, Luis Bunuel.
British working class champion Ken Loach received the Sergei (Eisenstein) for Lifetime Progressive Achievement On or Off Screen.
The list of nominees submitted by JACC members is a shopping list of great films for the progressive community. Films such as “Lebanon,” “American Violet,” “In The Loop,” “The Messenger” and “The Informant” are among films that should be on your must see list.
2009 PROGIE AWARDS FOR BEST PROGRESSIVE FILMS & ARTISTS
presented by members of the James Agee Cinema Circle
1. THE TRUMBO: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE PICTURE is named after Oscar-winning screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, a member of the Hollywood Ten, who was imprisoned for his beliefs and refusing to inform. Trumbo helped break the Blacklist when he received screen credit for “Spartacus” and “Exodus” in 1960.
(nominees included: “Capitalism: A Love Story”; “Invictus”; “The Messenger”)
2. THE GARFIELD: The Progie Award for BEST ACTOR in a progressive picture is named after John Garfield, who rose from the proletarian theatre to star in progressive pictures such as “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Force of Evil,” only to run afoul of the Hollywood Blacklist.
Colin Firth, “A Single Man”
(nominees included: Morgan Freeman, “Invictus”; Woody Harrelson, “The Messenger”; George Clooney, “Up in the Air“)
3. KAREN MORLEY AWARD: The Progie Award for BEST ACTRESS in a progressive picture is named for Karen Morley, co-star of 1932’s “Scarface” and 1934’s “Our Daily Bread.”
Gabourey Sidibe, “Precious”
(nominees included: Sophie Okenedo, “Skin”; Zoe Saldena, “Avatar”)
4. THE RENOIR: The Progie Award for BEST ANTIWAR FILM is named after the great French filmmaker Jean Renoir, who directed the 1937 anti-militarism masterpiece “Grand Illusion.”
(nominees included: “White Ribbon”; “The Messenger”; “Lebanon”)
5. THE GILLO: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE FOREIGN FILM is named after the Italian director Gillo Pontecorvo, who lensed the 1960s classics “The Battle of Algiers” and “Burn!”
“The Baader-Meinhoff Complex”
(nominees included: “Sin Nombre”; “The Wedding Song”; “Lemon Tree”)
6. THE DZIGA: The Progie Award for BEST PROGRESSIVE DOCUMENTARY is named after the Soviet filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who directed 1920s nonfiction films such as the “Kino Pravda” (“Film Truth”) series and “The Man With the Movie Camera.”
(nominees included: “Capitalism: A Love Story”; “Burma VJ”; “Food Inc”)
7. LA PASSIONARA AWARD: The Progie Award for MOST POSITIVE FEMALE SCREEN IMAGE is named after Dolores Ibarruri, the fiery leader of the Spanish Republic who appeared in documentaries such as Joris Ivens’ “The Spanish Earth.”
(nominees included: “Bright Star”; “Inglourious Basterd”; “Baader Meinhoff Complex”; “White Ribbon”)
8. OUR DAILY BREAD AWARD: The Progie Award for the MOST POSITIVE AND INSPIRING WORKING CLASS SCREEN IMAGE.
A three way tie:
“Capitalism, A Love Story“
9. THE ROBESON: The Progie Award for the BEST PORTRAYAL OF PEOPLE OF COLOR that shatters cinema stereotypes, in light of their historically demeaning depictions onscreen. It is named after courageous performing legend, Paul Robeson, who starred in 1936’s “Song of Freedom” and 1940’s “The Proud Valley,” and narrated 1942’s “Native Land.”
(nominees included: “Invictus”; “Avatar”)
10. THE SERGEI: The Progie Award for LIFETIME PROGRESSIVE ACHIEVEMENT ON- OR OFFSCREEN is named after Sergei Eisenstein, the Soviet director of masterpieces such as “Potemkin” and “10 Days That Shook the World.”
11. THE TOMAS GUTIERREZ ALEA AWARD: The Progie Award for BEST DEPICTION OF A MASS POPULAR UPRISING OR REVOLUTIONARY TRANSFORMATION is named after the legendary Cuban filmmaker who directed 1968’s “Memories of Underdevelopment” and 1994’s “Strawberry and Chocolate.”
(nominees included: “Burma VJ”; “Baader Meinhoff Complex”)
12. THE BUNUEL: The Progie Award for the MOST SLYLY SUBVERSIVE SATIRICAL CINEMATIC FILM in terms of form, style and content is named after Luis Bunuel, the Spanish surrealist who directed 1929’s “The Andalusian Dog,” 1967’s “Belle de Jour” and 1972’s “The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.”
“The Men Who Stare At Goats”
(nominees included: “In The Loop”; “A Serious Man”; “The Informant”; “Up In the Air”)
13. THE PASOLINI: The Progie Award for BEST PRO-GAY RIGHTS film is named after Italian director Pier Paolo Pasolini, who directed 1964’s “The Gospel According to St. Matthew” and “The Decameron” and “The Canterbury Tales” in the 1970s.
“A Single Man”
(nominees included: “Outrage”)
14. THE LAWSON: The Progie Award for BEST ANTI-FASCIST FILM is named after John Howard Lawson, screenwriter of 1938’s anti-Franco “Blockade” and the 1940s anti-Nazi films “Four Sons,” “Action in the North Atlantic,” “Sahara” and “Counter-Attack,” and one of the Hollywood Ten.