US president George W Bush may not seem to be furthering the cause of independent political cinema, but according to Philippe Diaz, the French producer and director who heads US production, post-production, distribution and international sales operation Cinema Libre Studio, his election in 2000 gave political film-making a shot in the arm.
"The Bush administration mobilised a lot of people to make movies," Diaz contends. "There was such a mobilisation against all the manipulation and lies. And we were definitely part of that."
Located in the semi-industrial outskirts of Los Angeles, Cinema Libre was founded by Diaz in 2003 with backing from private European investors. Originally a post-production facility, the company expanded into theatrical and DVD distribution with projects such as Robert Greenwald's documentaries Outfoxed and Uncovered: The War On Iraq. Now it produces or co-produces and distributes five or six features and documentaries a year, and handles as many as 25 titles annually on DVD.
Though the company is best known for left-leaning material, it tries, Diaz insists, "to stay away from politicking. We will consider (films from) anybody who has a really strong point of view which makes sense on politics and social or world issues."
Diaz has been busy with his own contributions to the Bush-era political film-making movement. Late last year, Cinema Libre put the Diaz-directed documentary The Empire In Africa, about the Sierra Leone civil war, into US theatres at the same time as Blood Diamond, the Hollywood feature that, Diaz feels, revealed just "the tip of the iceberg" about the West's role in the war.
And later this year, the company will release Diaz's first feature for many years as a director. The sexually explicit story of a Latina immigrant and a disgraced banker, Now & Later is, says its director, "kind of a provocation to conservative America."
Meanwhile, Diaz is directing a documentary on "the true causes of poverty". Under the working title Progress Vs Poverty, the film will look at how "countries like France, Belgium, UK, Holland and Spain built their empires on free natural resources and free labour". Diaz and his crew filmed in Venezuela, Brazil and Bolivia late last year, and are now shooting in Africa.
It is the sort of project that might find a place in the newly healthy US documentary market. The new demand, Diaz theorises, is a result not just of the current political climate but also of the fact that "people are so in need of real information".
"They understand the independent movie theatre is the place to see this product. Or the DVD store - some of these documentaries sell 50,000 or 100,000 DVDs and some commercial movies don't do that."
Track record: Philippe Diaz
Position: Founder of Cinema Libre Studio
Career: Worked his way up in the French industry, eventually producing such projects as Mauvais Sang, Pierre Et Djemila and The Bengali Night. Founded production and distribution company Sceneries Entertainment in 1989. Moved to the US in 1991, launching Cinema Libre Studio in 2003.