R2016_obamasTAMPA, Fla. – The anti-Obama documentary "2016: Obama's America" was a
weekend box office surprise with $6.3 million as it expanded to more
than 1,000 locations.

As the Republican National Convention gets off
the ground Tuesday, and next week as the Democrats gather in Charlotte,
several filmmakers are screening their projects in hopes of building
similar buzz for their politically minded projects.

In addition to box office, the goal is a genuine impact on the race.

That's
the case with "The Hope and the Change," debuting Tuesday at a Tampa
venue. Pic chronicles the deflated hopes of supporters of Barack Obama.
Previewed on Fox News' "Hannity" on Friday, it comes from
director-writer Stephen K. Bannon and producer David Bossie, two
prolific conservative filmmakers who say they set out to interview
Democrats and independents who have soured on the president.

The
model is 2004, when Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" took off at the
box office, with a worldwide gross of $222 million, proving that people
will pay for political documentaries when the promise is a passionate
mix of partisanship and entertainment.

While some critics have
dismissed some of the conservative docs as more infomercial than
entertainment, there's proof that the right mix, at the right time and
with the right marketing, can strike a chord. The question is what
happens after Labor Day, as partisan messaging reaches a fever pitch.
It's one thing to debut a politically charged title in the summer; it's
another to debut it in October, when 30-second campaign spots will soak
the airwaves. In mid-October 2010, Freestyle Releasing distributed "I
Want Your Money," with posters featuring President Obama pointing his
index finger, Uncle Sam-style, but it failed to fully capture Tea
Partier enthusiasm at the midterms, perhaps because they were otherwise
engaged in campaign activities on the weekends.

The same seems to
be true for scripted fare. David Zucker screened his comedy spoof "An
American Carol," a star-studded satire on Moore, at the Republican
Convention in 2008, but its take after its October debut that year
hardly matched the election excitement. The same goes for another pic
that debuted that month, from a perspective on the other side of the
spectrum, Oliver Stone's "W."

"There is a confluence of factors
that you have to have in place. The Michael Moore 9/11 movie was
lightning in a bottle. The Swift Boat situation was lightning in a
bottle," said Democratic strategist Chris Lehane, who consulted on the
rollout of Moore's movie, referring not just to "Fahrenheit 9/11" but
the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth book and mini-documentaries that came
later in 2004. "Those things are difficult to come around again."

Lehane
co-wrote "Knife Fight" with director Bill Guttentag. While IFC recently
picked up the drama about the harder edges of a political campaign for
distribution, it is eyeing a release in January.

"There was sort
of a sense that people were saturated with stuff, that people were going
to be tired of the campaign at that point," Lehane said. "Every ad is a
negative ad. The thinking was January is less cluttered and people have
a chance to digest what is going on."

"Knife Fight" will get a
screening during the Democratic Convention, sponsored by Tom Steyer and a
California ballot initiative to close a corporate tax loophole and use
the proceeds to create clean energy jobs. Two of the film's stars, Eric
McCormack and Richard Schiff, are expected to attend.

There also
are a host of issue-oriented films aiming to get some buzz out of the
conventions. The Impact Arts and Film Fund is sponsoring a film festival
in Tampa and Charlotte, with highlights including an appearance by Jeff
Bridges introducing the childhood hunger documentary "Hunger Hits Home"
and a screening of the Weinstein Co.'s comedy "Butter." The education
reform org StudentsFirst is planning screenings at both conventions of
"Won't Back Down," which stars Maggie Gyllenhaal and Viola Davis as
mothers trying to turn around their children's failing school. Goal of
the screening at the party gatherings is to stir even more debate about
education reform, as already was apparent when the New York Times' Frank
Bruni wrote a long column about it earlier this month. Fox will release
it in late September.

The biggest hurdle, Lehane noted, is
"distribution. Ultimately that comes back to having some kind of content
that viewers find interesting that is beyond the 5% who are true
believers."

"The Hope and the Change" will have a limited release,
but Bannon and Bossie say they are intent on major distribution on TV
platforms. It will screen on Tuesday at the RNC, as well as at the
Democratic National Convention next week, in a theater near Bank of
America Stadium where President Obama will deliver his acceptance
speech.

"'The Hope and the Change' is not geared toward
conservatives. It is not geared to rallying the base. Our film is
targeted toward Democrats and independents who voted for President
Obama," Bannon said.

A movie that may have even more of a
political charge is "Occupy Unmasked," another effort from Bannon and
Bossie that is one of the final projects featuring the late Andrew
Breitbart. It will be get a limited theatrical and day-and-date VOD
release in late September from Magnet Releasing, co-owned by Mark Cuban.

The
message of "The Hope and the Change" is disappointment in Obama, and
that will be out there whether viewers watch the film or merely see its
ads. The film, its marketing and its TV deal is "exactly the reason I
went to the Supreme Court," Bossie said. He's referring to that fact
that before the high court's landmark Citizens United decision, he might
not have been able to put out advertise for it, perhaps just as
important in messaging as the film itself. The Federal Election
Commission in 2004 deemed the promotion and broadcast of Citizen's
United's "Celsius 41.11" as electioneering communication too close to
the election and prohibited under campaign finance reform laws. So in
2008 Bossie made "Hillary, the Movie" and intentionally challenged those
laws, arguing that he should be able to advertise his movie just as
Moore would be able to, and the result was the high court's landmark
2010 ruling.

This cycle Bossie finds himself up against not just
other documentaries but what is expected to be an avalanche of ads from
campaigns and outside groups, the latter of which have fewer
restrictions after the Supreme Court's ruling. Nevertheless, he thinks
"The Hope and the Change" can cut through the clutter and be "able to
break through a bit."

"You have all these cable platforms. You
certainly have a lot of television ad competition," Bossie said of the
coming months. "But our ads are for a movie. People may tune out when
they hear 'My name is Barack Obama and I approve this message,' or 'I am
Mitt Romney and I approve this message.'"

Photo: "2016: Obama's America."

Filed Under:

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more