The Right Stuff
Conservatives decide if you can't beat Hollywood, join it.
Oct 15, 2007, Vol. 13, No. 05 • By SONNY BUNCH
It's hard to know exactly what to expect from a film festival that caters to conservatives. Will the program consist of films made by conservative filmmakers? What even makes a movie conservative?
"Our mission, really, is to bring Hollywood back in touch with the hopes, dreams, and aspirations of the American people," says Jim Hubbard, who, along with his wife Ellen, heads the American Film Renaissance (AFR), a small outfit looking to make a big impact on the world of film. AFR has been hosting film festivals across the country since 2004, but the Hubbards hope to set up permanent shop in Washington and push the festival into the mainstream. Jim Hubbard says he wants the name recognition of a Sundance or a Cannes while maintaining the political sensibility of Middle America.
His philosophy is pretty simple. "First and foremost, you've got to entertain. You've got to be a skilled artist. And if you don't do that, you're going to hurt the side that you profess to want to help." The 2007 American Film Renaissance kicked off at Washington's E Street Cinema to a standing-room-only crowd with a short documentary on eminent domain starring Drew Carey. The main attraction, though, was a feature made by the Acton Institute, The Call of the Entrepreneur. The movie is essentially an hour-long infomercial for capitalism, but it fits Hubbard's prescription to a T. Shot in pristine high definition, The Call of the Entrepreneur was alternately funny, moving, and educational.
Acton--described to great laughs by spokeswoman Michelle Muccio before the screening as "Like Cato [the libertarian think tank], but slightly more virtuous"--made this film because it believes that business has received short shrift from Hollywood for many years. "Hollywood demonizes entrepreneurship and business ventures," Muccio told me before the show, pointing to examples like the evil Mr. Potter in It's a Wonderful Life and the conniving Gordon Gekko from Wall Street. It's not often that you see a businessman doing much good in a Hollywood film.
One of Hubbard's goals for AFR is "to give a place at the table to those groups in the country that traditionally feel alienated--at least for the last forty years anyway--have felt alienated from the entertainment industry. That's our mission, in part: to give people who feel marginalized a place at the table."
Consider Indoctrinate U, a documentary focused on the left-wing bias pervasive on college campuses today. Earlier this year, one of the producers complained to me about the reception the film had received from festival programmers across the country. The Hubbards offered Indoctrinate U top billing, and it played to a raucous sold-out audience at the Kennedy Center. The film's director, Evan Coyne Maloney, was thrilled by the enthusiastic reception. "Having spent four years working on this film, it was easy for me to forget how much of an emotional impact these stories have when you first hear them. The crowd got it; they were boisterous, enthusiastic, outraged at times and laughing hysterically at others. And to be rewarded at the end with a standing ovation made it a night I'll never forget," he said.
The four-day festival wasn't limited to documentaries. One evening's program featured a short that revolved around a man whose young daughter dies because he leaves her alone in the family pool so he can engage in a homosexual affair and a feature film named Weirdsville. It focuses on a trio of heroin addicts who square off against a trio of Satanists while simultaneously attempting to steal a fortune from a man who has been crippled by an icicle. I enjoyed it immensely (the short a little less so), but I was confounded by their inclusion in the festival.
"We wanted to throw a curveball," said Hubbard when I asked him about that evening's programming. "We're a mainstream film festival. . . . It was a fun, entertaining film, people laughed throughout. Part of our mission is to reach out to young people, and it was definitely a heavily youth-centered audience." The audience certainly did enjoy itself. There was another, programming-related reason to throw Weirdsville into the mix, Hubbard said. "When you have something serious on Wednesday night dealing with business and something serious on Friday night dealing with the political climate on universities, Thursday you've got a break from serious topics and can come and laugh and attend an after party and just be entertained."