THE political documentary that won the Academy Award is called "The Panama Deception." The title itself is deceptive. It should have been called "Love a Dictator!"
The documentary, which has received a number of awards, is filled with leftist "social consciousness" of the most fashionable sort. It was created by a Santa Monica, Calif.-based group called "The Empowerment Project," which says it is "dedicated to media and community organizing, with the goal of empowering people and communities without access to traditional economic or political power."
What comes out of this ideological shriek against the American invasion of Panama in December 1989 is interesting indeed. Here are a few of the things it would have us believe:
* The Panamanian dictator, Manuel Noriega, was really a nice guy, beloved by his people.
* The Panamanian democrats, who suffered so bitterly under Noriega, are merely pawns of the Americans.
* The Bush administration launched the invasion in order to sabotage the Panama Canal treaties of 1978, which gave the canal to Panama, and to allow the U.S. to maintain bases in Panama after the year 2000.
* The Americans killed "thousands, not hundreds, in the attack." There were deliberate mass executions and mass graves, and the Bush administration deliberately tested secret weapons in Panama to be used against future Third-World victims.
* American troops were so bestial that for three days and nights they went house-to-house in the poor Panama City neighborhood of El Charrillo and torched the entire area, to the screams of fleeing Panamanians.
* George Bush confirmed that he is a "real man" by bashing Panama. The invasion helped dispel his reputation as a wimp.
* Finally, the real drug smugglers were not Noriega and his friends (who were trying to stop the drug trade and thus had to be destroyed), but Mr. Bush, the Americans and the Panamanian democrats.
Many of these charges can be checked against cold, rational, verifiable facts. One wants to say, "But Noriega was one of the most brutish killers since Genghis Khan. And every independent PTC source on the invasion -- from Americas Watch to Physicians for Human Rights, neither wildly pro-American -- has testified that no more than 500 Panamanians were killed, none deliberately."
And one wants to interrupt, "But I personally sat in Panama two months after the invasion reading the Roman Catholic Church's report on how El Charrillo was burned by Noriega's 'dignity brigades.' And why are all the Panamanians in this film former Noriega supporters, epigones and enforcers."
Why are all the "investigators and authors" on the American side leftists who live in the same labyrinthine ideological world in which the film resides?
Any real answers to these questions would presuppose some degree of rationality -- and there is none here. Filmmakers Barbara Trent and David Kasper, who say they came together to make "socially conscious" films after they met during the 1983 anti-nuclear peace caravan, live in a dream world.
One can no more penetrate such utopian, angry, arrogant minds with facts or truths than one can engage the mind of a madman with physics or philosophy. This hatred for the United States and what it does and stands for has its own logic -- and everything follows and flows from that.
Finally, why would a group like the motion picture academy, with its years of awarding excellence in films, choose to honor such a factually perverted film?
Part of the answer has to do with the fact that documentaries are judged more loosely than other categories, and selections tend to be made by the most ideologically impassioned.
A welcome sign of the academy trying to straighten itself out and rid itself of its politicization came after the awards when Gil Cates, producer of the Oscars telecast, announced that several stars who had given uncalled-for political addresses were no longer welcome. Good for him!
Meanwhile, if you do go to see "Love a Dictator," please remember that you are entering a world of political fantasy.
Georgie Anne Geyer is a syndicated columnist.