The subjects of the riveting Air America documentary Left Of The Dial approach the Herculean task ahead of them with a sense of evangelical zeal befitting a network with such outsized goals. In a field dominated by the right wing, the decidedly left radio network Air America sprang to life in 2004 as a plucky slingshot-toting David intent on taking down some of the nation's most fearsome Goliaths, most notably a wartime President up for re-election and his staunch allies in the right-wing echo chamber. Following closely in the highly caffeinated footsteps of such voyeuristic, zeitgeist-friendly vérité-styled docs as Control Room and Startup.com, Left Of The Dial chronicles the network's rocky birth as it stumbles through one potentially fatal crisis after another, emerging from its travails battered and bruised, but somehow still intact.
Left Of The Dial captures the infectious electricity of a bold new venture, as well as the bleak gallows humor that ensued once the money ran out and the network and its staffers were forced to scramble just to stay afloat. Though Al Franken looms large as the network's marquee name, the ferociously neurotic Marc Maron and brassy populist Randi Rhodes steal the documentary—and then the DVD, with an audio commentary that's funny, mean, and brutally candid. In spite of Air America's rocky birth, Left Of The Dial leaves audiences with an emotion progressives haven't had much reason to experience lately: hope.
At the opposite end of the political spectrum comes another HBO documentary about zealots committed to living their politics at any cost. In Soldiers In The Army Of God, Marc Levin and Daphne Pinkerson explore the radical fringe of the anti-abortion movement, specifically a shadowy group called "Army Of God." As the filmmakers delve into the world of anti-abortion extremism, they uncover a lot of lost souls for whom the movement provides an invaluable outlet for channeling their frustrations. It's unsettling how far people will go when they're convinced they're executing God's will: The eerie calm on Paul Hill's face as he awaits execution for murdering an abortion provider is far more disturbing than anything found in most horror films. The filmmakers survey this sect with queasy sociological fascination, but tip their ideological hand with an ominous score straight out of a B-grade horror movie. Such tabloid tactics aren't needed—the subjects themselves are sufficiently terrifying.
Key features: Both discs include worthwhile audio commentaries, deleted scenes, and interviews.