"Fire From the Mountain," Deborah Shaffer's movie based on Omar Cabezas' book about the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua, is more an ideological rant than a political documentary. So shameless is the movie's bias that it's almost a parody of leftist, rebel-rousing cinema, and if it weren't so flagrantly laughable, you might feel outraged. Watching it, you think not about impassioned propaganda like "Potemkin" or "Triumph of the Will" or "The Battle of Algiers," but Woody Allen's "Bananas."
Shaffer, who uses interview and archival footage to present a history of the Sandinista movement from 1927 to 1987, has the movie equivalent of perfect pitch for revolutionary cliche's. That the cliche's are heartfelt doesn't matter. Nor does it matter that her account is, in some places, accurate. The context is so skewed that even the facts come across as rhetoric.
But the movie doesn't pretend to journalistic accuracy, and it's a good thing, too. (No mention is made of the role of the church in the fight or the influence of Marxism.) Yet Shaffer, who won an Academy Award for her documentary short "Witness to War: Dr. Charlie Clements," fails to present a compelling first-person point of view as well.
Cabezas' experience is the unstable center of the film. But he's a source of irritation, too. There are few things more excruciating than a bad revolutionary poet, and that's exactly what Cabezas is. The patches of his writing on the sound track aren't inspirational -- they make you groan. But Shaffer doesn't seem to have noticed.
Revolutionary fervor has turned her brains to mush. Fire From the Mountain, at the Biograph, is unrated and contains no suggestive material.