A warning at the start of CSA: the Confederate States of America advises audiences that what follows may be unsuitable viewing for children and servants. This is the first of many culture shocks in a faux-documentary that reconstructs the history of America as it would be if the civil war had ended differently.
In this version, Abraham Lincoln went on the run after the Confederacy's victory at Gettysburg had been sealed by the co-operation of British and French forces. President Jefferson Davis's first move was to give tax rebates to slave-owners, ensuring that slavery spread to the north. Intent on becoming the most powerful empire in the world, the CS next conquered South America. And in 1939, it stopped just short of helping Hitler realise the Final Solution, but only on grounds of waste: why exterminate all those Jews when they could more usefully be put to work?
The deeper the picture wades into the 20th century, the more chilling its conjecture, from the construction of the Cotton Curtain, an impregnable wall, designed to separate the CS from abolitionist Canada, to America's alliance with South Africa. The premise is influenced heavily by It Happened Here, the 1966 film that imagined British life under Nazism, but the makers of CSA inject their own brand of toxic humour by breaking every 15 minutes to show the kind of advertisements that would be commonplace in this parallel America.
Plugs for Nigger-Hair Cigarettes and the Coon Chicken Inn - both of which did exist - are mixed in with commercials for a drug that renders obstinate slaves docile ("Ask your veterinarian about it today") and the parcel courier service ConEx. The film is at its most scalding when this alternative world overlaps with our own. A government appeal for the public to inform on "persons of questionable racial identity", and a trailer for a reality show called Runaway, in which cops hunt errant African Americans, are too close for comfort.
Written and directed by Kevin Willmott, CSA is billed as "a Spike Lee presentation", which won't harm its chances at the box office. But Lee's involvement only reminds you that he visited this subject in his angriest film, Bamboozled (2000), about a modern-day minstrel show. While that picture sustained its fury, CSA is slightly limited by the detached tone of its documentary format. It is possible to admire the film's inventiveness yet still feel it could have hit a little harder.
Who Killed the Electric Car? may sound far-fetched, but this is no mockumentary. Narrated by Martin Sheen in "trust me, I'm the president" mode, the film examines the brief revolution in fuel-free transport between 1987, when General Motors began developing the sleek EV1, and 2004, when the last publicly owned model was crushed, at the manufacturer's behest. The company started producing electric cars in response to a mandate from the California Air Resources Board (Carb). According to the film, the first EV1s were received enthusiastically, but GM sabotaged its own creation - having resented being told by Carb which products it should be making, it set out to prove, at great expense, that there was no market for electric cars.
GM will be relieved to hear that it is not the only suspect in the frame for this killing. There are also the oil industry, the White House and Carb itself, which reneged spectacularly on its initial proclamation. But it is GM's tactics that stand out. When its researchers compiled a list of 4,000 people who had expressed a willingness to drive the EV1, the company called each potential customer and outlined the car's shortcomings. After this novel act of anti-salesmanship, the tally stood at 50. You can't help wondering what deterred the other 3,950, but the film doesn't expand on this. I think we should have been told, especially as it's possible, when the camera scans some negative newspaper articles, to glimpse that troublesome word, "crashworthiness".
Pick of the week
Three Times (12A)
dir: Hou Hsiao-hsien
Two actors play three different couples in a tale by the acclaimed Taiwanese auteur.
Over the Hedge (U)
dirs: Tim Johnson, Karey Kirkpatrick
Your best bet for summer holiday entertainment.
The Death of Mister Lazarescu (15)
dir: Cristi Puiu
Sick of the sunshine? Try a few hours in rainy Bucharest in the company of a dying man.