Sunday, May 20, 2007

Liberty Film Festival

With the blessing of my wife, I abandoned my new parental duties for a night to attend the Liberty Film Festival in Orange County. Started by Yale grads Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, the Liberty Film Festival is the premier outlet (perhaps the only outlet) for conservative filmmakers who have imprudently revealed their leanings to the established industry. As expected, the night was much more of a three hour pep rally and unabashed plea for funding than it was a film festival. Still, I had fun-- the founders of the festival put together an impressive slate of political filmmakers. David Zucker (Airplane, Naked Gun) outshone them all, but perhaps that conviction stems more from my lingering adolescence than from any profound thought expressed on Zucker's part. I'll never cease being impressed by him. Who else can build an entire career around endless variations of basically the same pun?

The whole experience brought to mind the ancient philosophical conundrum: "if a tree falls in the woods but nobody hears it, does it make a sound?" Most of the filmmakers were talented, passionate, and articulate... but marginalized. Despite the rah-rah atmosphere, it was evident that none of them were going to make a ripple any time soon. Only one of the films has a chance: a political documentary on Hillery Clinton featuring Dick Morris. This documentary had two factors going for it that none of the others did. Firstly, Dick Morris, being a long-time Clinton confidante, is a heavy-hitter; thus, it can't be smothered to death by media silence. It reminds me of advice Steve McEveety lent our students: The Passion of the Christ only received media attention because of Mel Gibson's stardom. If it had been done by any moe-shmoe the media would have simply ignored it-- McEveety told JP students to start secular and get big before making huge overtly religious films. Secondly, the film has money behind it. They don't care about being rejected by the liberal distributors because they're simply going to buy the theaters out.

None of the other films had these two factors going for them. After every clip I saw, I couldn't help thinking, "that's great, but who's going to watch this?" Even the head of Genius Products (a DVD distributor), couldn't shed any light on the impossible up-hill distribution battle for conservative documentaries without much money or a big name. Only the immortal (and at times immoral) David Zucker alluded to the answer: the new media. Zucker's zany political shorts were made for U-Tube, gaining millions of eyeballs and a number three overall rating. The truth, it seems to me, is that the future for these filmmakers is online and not in the traditional distribution channels (theaters, DVD, television). What else can they do? Go from film festival to film festival begging crowds to support them? It's unclear how that approach leads to anything.

To make matters worse, these poor political filmmakers suffer, by no fault of their own, from the Michael Moore syndrome. Moore's ridiculous antics have degraded political documentaries to the point that no one can watch one without a certain amount of resistance. He has played so fast and loose with the facts in service of an ideology that its natural for any viewer to assume these excesses are unavoidable for anyone with convictions. This is why political documentaries don't interest me as much lately because its hard to gauge their impact.


Jim said...

Perhaps John Paul Catholic University should contact the Acton Institute, which is primarily a think tank concerning issues of Catholic social teaching and the economy. These people write books, but they also are now getting into television documentaries. Their first endeavor is called "The Call of the Entrepreneur" and it is a first rate and entertaining production (of about 50 minutes). Apparently, they have a number of other documentaries planned, and if they are anything like this first one, they should be quite good too. While it is no doubt true what you say of the difficulties of conservatives, we have here at least one instance of conservatives getting their message out. (Perhaps I am "jumping the gun" here. We'll see if this documentary gets on PBS). But I would be surprised if they didn't, only because their work is so interesting and engaging.

Martin Harold said...

Funny you mention "Call of the Entrepreneur". JP Catholic is hosting a screening of that documentary next week!