At the Liberty Film Festival: “Loyal Opposition”

“It’s been a tough week,” said “24” executive producer Joel Surnow to a crowd at the opening of the conservative Liberty Film Festival on Friday. “The votes are in, America has spoken and Joey Lawrence has been voted off ‘Dancing with the Stars.'”

His comment drew many laughs from the audience, but the sobering fact that the GOP lost control of Congress certainly didn’t change the dynamics of this festival. Now in its third year, the Liberty Film Festival has always operated under the presumption that it was the minority counterbalance in an industry with a liberal bent. It is a long way from being Sundance, but still drew a healthy amount of attendees to the Pacific Design Center. Govindini Murty, cofounder of the festival with Jason Apuzzo, told the gathering that they were the “loyal opposition”  and that the intent should be to “have a healthy and vigorous debate in Hollywood.”

180pxpathto911_lead  Although much of the fare was in the form of non fiction docs — including the world premiere of Pierre Rehov’s Israeli-Palestinian feature “From the River to the Sea” — Murty said that she was encouraged that more conservative filmmakers were branching out into narrative fare. The fest honored ABC and the production team behind the “Path to 9/11” with the Freedom of Expression Award, for airing the miniseries despite pressure from former President Clinton and other Democrats to pull it. Former studio chieftan Frank Price, who presented the award, quoted Voltaire and said that the “easy corporate path would be to buckle under pressure, but they didn’t.” Screenwriter Cyrus Nowrasteh said that they faced “one of the most viscous spin machines” that did “everything they could to get this pulled.”

Surnow showed footage from his pilot “This Just In,” sort of a “Daily Show” that tips to the right. It drew wild cheers for an opening skit in which the real Rush Limbaugh plays the president and the real Ann Coulter plays the vice president, and guffaws when fake newscasters Kurt Long and Susan Yagley did their report. (“Kofi Annan has announced his resignation. He wants to spend more time with the oil-for-food program.”) Surnow says Fox passed on the show as a late-night prospect, but he was meeting with Roger Ailes to pick up the show as a series of specials on Fox News Channel. Obviously, the jokes will be updated. “Come January, we’ll have a lot more material,” Surnow quipped.

Myrna Sokoloff and David Zucker, director of the “Scary Movie” and “Airplane!” films, screened three ad spots they did for the Republican National Committee.  Two were from this year’s campaign — one featuring a grim reaper like tax man and the other on Madeline Albright’s appeasement of North Korea — and the other was a John Kerry flip-flop spot from 2004. “Well, one of those ads won an election,” Zucker said, a bit flippantly. They worked with Ken Mehlman to make the spots, which Sokoloff says “weren’t meant to be mean-spirited, just plain funny.”

Also featured was a screening of “Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration,” a documentary from Kevin Knoblock and David N. Bossie on the ongoing immigration debate from the eyes of border agents, a Minuteman volunteer, the widow of a slain police officer, an immigrant rights activist and outspoken Arizona Rep. J.D. Hayworth. The latter is an immigration hardliner who is expected to lose his seat to Harry Mitchell, although the final results are close and have yet to be certified. Bossie, who contributed to Hayworth’s campaign, predicted that with the Democratic gains, Bush would get his proposal for a guest-worker program passed as an opportunity for both sides to show bipartisanship. The film is being distributed by Genius Entertainment, which is 70% owned by the Weinstein Co. The Weinsteins, known to support the Dems, backed “Fahrenheit 9/11,” while Bossie made its conservative response, “Celsius.” The question will be who distributes Bossie’s next doc, on Hillary Clinton, which he is making with Dick Morris and is scheduled for release next year.

Addendum: Conservatives find catharsis in talk radio, and Fox News on election night.

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