Right-Wing Documentaries Left in the Dark at Film Festivals

Mitt Sundance

Programmers skew left, say slighted filmmakers

Over the years, Sundance has been famously friendly to eco-themed docs, providing high-profile premieres for films such as “An Inconvenient Truth” and “The Cove,” as well as political hot potatoes like “Why We Fight” and “8: The Mormon Proposition” (about gay marriage). Among fests, Sundance is hardly alone in offering a platform to left-leaning docs. Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” won the Palme d’Or at Cannes, while Alex Gibney’s “Taxi to the Dark Side” is just one of many lefty Tribeca offerings.

By contrast, “2016: Obama’s America” co-directors Dinesh D’Souza and John Sullivan avoided the U.S. fest circuit altogether in favor of tapping into their own constituency — and it doesn’t seem to have hurt the film in the slightest. A politically conservative adaptation of the anti-Obama book, “2016” earned more than $33 million, making it the second-highest-grossing political doc after “Fahrenheit 9/11.”

For most nonfiction pics, however, the fest circuit is a vital component of a film’s life cycle, which is why businessman-turned-documaker Dennis Michael Lynch submitted his film “They Come to America” to nearly 30 U.S. festivals, including Sundance, Tribeca and Silverdocs, to no avail. He contends the film was rejected by programmers around the country on the basis of his conservative stance on immigration, as opposed to the film’s quality. Lynch went on to self-distribute and decided not to “waste a dime on festivals” when it came to the release of ‘They Come to America II.’ ”

(Lynch’s film did play in the documentary competition category at the 7th annual Myrtle Beach International Film Festival in April 2012. Fest’s founder and director  Jerry Dalton said that Lynch did not show up for his own screening in favor of a game of golf. According to Dalton, when he asked Lynch if he could play “They Come to America” at film festivals in Michigan, the helmer refused.)

On the other hand, the cinema verite-style “Caucus,” about the 2012 Iowa Republican caucus, was accepted into such established fests as HotDocs and AFI Docs last year, although helmer A.J. Schnack admits it was a hard sell.

“It’s no secret that in terms of documentaries, film festivals tend to skew more toward liberal or progressive subjects,” Schnack says. “I had one (programmer) tell me they couldn’t stand the sight of the people in (‘Caucus’). I took them at their word that that was why they weren’t screening the film. I’m sure that’s not the only case where that happened.”

That doesn’t mean conservative or right-leaning docs aren’t welcome at top-tier festivals. This year, Sundance will premiere Greg Whiteley’s “Mitt,” a behind-the-scenes look at Mitt Romney’s presidential bid, and last year, Robert Stone’s pro-nuclear power pic “Pandora’s Promise” and R.J. Cutler’s “The World According to Dick Cheney” both debuted in Park City.

“We are politically agnostic in the way that we look at films,” says Sundance senior programmer Caroline Libresco. “We never approach the programming process with any kind of pre-determined notion of what we want the films to say or the political point of view of the film. What we are looking for is great storytelling that explores complex issues and provokes thinking about those complex issues.”

Toronto programmer Thom Powers agrees, but adds he receives “very few” right-leaning docu submissions. “I actually get a lot more of what I describe as left-wing propaganda films.” Last year, Powers brought Errol Morris’ “The Unknown Known,” about former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to TIFF and says the atmosphere verged on contentious. “Audiences came with the expectation of wanting to see (Rumsfeld) pilloried and anything short of that happening in the film leaves them unsatisfied,” Powers says. “It’s unfortunate for the audience to set that kind of standard because they wind up missing the other things the films have to offer.”

But Whiteley says he isn’t worried about the Sundance reception of “Mitt,” which was recently acquired by Netflix.

“I’m a bit more concerned about conservatives (seeing the film),” Whiteley says. “If you are somebody who was an ardent Mitt Romney supporter, maybe you are hoping this film demonstrates why he should have been president, but this film doesn’t go into that at all. I feel like Romney could have been a Democrat — it really wouldn’t change how the film plays.”

But will the fact that Whiteley is a member of the Mormon church hurt him in the same way religion hurt Steve Hoover’s doc “Blood Brother”? The film, about American Rocky Braat’s work on behalf of an AIDS-afflicted community in India, won both the Sundance audience and grand jury awards last year, but was later criticized by journalist Tom Roston, who implied that Hoover manipulated audiences by not revealing a personal tie with an evangelical church.

The film failed to garner a major distributor or a spot on the Academy’s shortlist despite glowing reviews and a tradition of Sundance winners going on to Oscar glory.

In an open letter on the film’s website, Hoover called the claims “troubling”: “Neither Rocky nor myself consider ourselves evangelicals. We are both Christians, but we have no interest in pushing intolerant political agendas or using legislation to enforce doctrine. Nor do I see filmmaking as a means to fill the pews or make converts. I had no secret agenda.”

In Libresco’s experience, the motivation to make docs tends to originate from the progressive side of the aisle.

“I’ve noticed that the large majority of (nonfiction films) tend to be galvanized and motivated by an interest in a complex view of the world and in perhaps disrupting the status quo.”

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  1. I’m sorry. This is news? Who DIDN’T know this that attends or covers Sundance every year?

  2. Mark M says:

    Just for the record… “The World According to Dick Cheney” is a hit piece. It is in no way sympathetic to the VP or the Right.

  3. Donna baker says:

    Nothing new under the sun. Artists have always been bohemian, beatniks, looking for the new and different slant on things. Being controversial, anti-establishment is and has been their mindset as far back as Shakespeare and probably longer…….when the liberal, progressive, left wing becomes mainstream…artists will buck the system and become conservative in order to be “edgy”

  4. betty b says:

    And Robert Redford snubbed by Oscars – how fitting!

  5. realoutguy says:

    Well cry me a river. With all the billionaires funding the conservative movement you’d think they could find someone to finance a film festival. Start your own film festival, teabillies! I’m sure thousands would come to experience the artistry and learn about Benghazi!

  6. Barb Wire says:

    How a beautiful doc was drawn into this “everyone must fit our agenda or they are out” is beyond me and smacks of hairsplitting.

  7. But of course! Who, in his or her sanely modern mind, would like to invest, more of waste, long minutes watching the really weird things American right-wingers say or propose?
    Of course too, I cannot deny that perhaps up to the 50% of the American population can be right-leaning, but they have FOX and the others, Limbaugh, etc, etc, etc birds-of-their-same-color to watch and to feel “understood”. Be it. Do it. They enjoy that? Good for them.
    But nobody in his or her right mind, can deny that the word “progressive” means progress-leaning-individual, and the word “conservative” means supporting the things to stay the same, supporting the things old, antiquated and should we say atrophied.
    I myself do not consider Humane, to stay in the past. For the contrary, methinks To Progress is The Human Being Duty; on this Earth.

  8. mick says:

    bob, it’s over, it has been for years!!!

  9. Steve Tanton says:

    Duhhh… (another Homer Simpson moment)

  10. Alex says:

    Not new, they also snuded “Obama’s America” and “Waitting for Superman”.

  11. Parker West says:

    I don’t quite see what one’s religious background has to do with a non-religious human issue film, anymore than an agnostic’s romantic comedy should be flagged “produced/directed by an agnostic”. Aren’t we being a bit too sensitive and fearful of religion? If it’s a good story, who cares?

  12. Yaspar says:

    Except when he wants to build a ski resort, or illegally helicopter ski in a wilderness area.

  13. Yaspar says:

    “Waco: The Rules of Engagement” played at Sundance. Maybe not right wing, per se, but implicates Clinton administration. Audience and critics were extremely shocked. Watch it.

  14. Yerkov Markakis says:

    Let’s put something into perspective for the liberals out there…

    Liberals reject a documentary because they “couldn’t stand the sight of the [Republican] people” in the film.

    A group of KKK members would reject a film because they “couldn’t stand the sight of the black people” in the film.

    It’s the same thing; the same kind of hate. Liberals really are as mentally deranged as the worst racists you could think of.

    Their whole philosophy nowadays is based on bigotry towards the white race, the male gender, the straight sexual orientation, the monetarily sufficient, the personally responsible, Christianity and conservatives.

    That’s it, nothing more.

    It would be nice if we could just pity them in a dismissive way BUT they vote and in large numbers, so we have to pay attention to what they do.

    At least article in useful to the point that we know even better what a pile of crap these film festivals are.

  15. Jim says:

    It is ironic that people who are for “progress” want us to return to Eisenhower tax rates, pre-vaccination levels of disease, and pre-GMO levels of starvation and nutrition.

    • Indiana Mike says:

      But schools teach all Cultures are “equal”. Somalians, South Koreans and Saudi’s torture murdering children and women is an equally civilized activity with the USA they teach. Well,,,,, actually it IS pretty close to California!

  16. kyle says:

    Don’t watch “The Company You Keep” then. You won’t be able to remember he ever made a good movie.

  17. kyle says:

    There were no ardent Mitt Romney supporters.

  18. Buzzcuts says:

    Calling right wing propoganda, filmmaking, is a stretch to begin with.

    • John says:

      “Calling right wing propoganda, filmmaking, is a stretch to begin with.”

      Calling left wing propaganda (spelling correct), filmmaking is a stretch to begin with.

      That was fun, let’s play again.

      Why are leftists so terrified of thought diversity?

  19. RagnarNY says:

    “Withholding information is the essence of tyranny. Control of the flow of information is the tool of the dictatorship.”
    ― Bruce Coville

  20. Kojak says:

    Should read short nauseating liar….Kojak loves you baby!

  21. MarcusOHreallyUS says:

    Sundance is irrelevant.

  22. Dave the Pittsburgh Filmhead says:

    Do you know this from personal experience? I can’t say as I’ve never attended a Sundance Film Festival.

  23. I don’t think these conservative film festivals really cater to the average film circuit atendee. That’s not to say that the films shouldn’t be aired, but I don’t think they would really be met with much admiration. I wouldn’t expect an atheist documentary to do very well at a christian film festival.

  24. Jim Burke says:

    Why do filmmakers think their industry is in such decline? It is not just a matter of product delivery. Product content has become too politically slanted. There is a market for more religious and more conservative films, but idology trumps everything for most of these folks.

  25. Travis McGee says:

    It’s truly unfortunate that all the worst people have the most influence. Hollywood has gone off the deep end. This month Joan Crawford was featured all month in movies from the 20’s forward on TCM. Interesting plots, no violence that had to be shown, sex scenes while strongly suggested were never shown, no filthy language and yet great movie experiences all. What happened? You can still make compelling movies without it being a cartoon or a religious themed documentary largely influenced by liberal doubt or a corny, embarrassing movie aimed at the right and clumsily apparent. There is so much in life besides the gutter mentality of the movies that have polluted a generation of movie minds and depressed the world. We quit going to the movies a long time ago. I will try to watch at home and fast forward through things I don’t want to see and have imbedded in my mind forever but even stopped doing that. I want to speak without cursing because it is so much more intelligent and there are so many beautiful words instead of using the most ugly of words to express my thoughts. It grates on me that people can no longer express themselves without common words of the worst sort peppering their language whether they are women, men, kids. It’s another dumbing down of society that can be laid exclusively at their feel. Make no mistake, it’s the left’s mentality that will never get enough of punishing the right for perceived wrongs that deserve endless lashings. It just never gets old in Hollywood or television, that self satisfaction of beating up the right. Yawn…

  26. bobo says:

    “We never approach the programming process with any kind of pre-determined notion of what we want the films to say or the political point of view of the film. What we are looking for is great storytelling that explores complex issues and provokes thinking about those complex issues.”

    except when it comes to those dastardly right wingers!!!!

    “Audiences came with the expectation of wanting to see (Rumsfeld) pilloried and anything short of that happening in the film leaves them unsatisfied,” Powers says. “It’s unfortunate for the audience to set that kind of standard because they wind up missing the other things the films have to offer.”

    pathetic hypocrits

  27. dougjmiller says:

    Hollywood has for decades been controlled by rigid leftwing ideology. There is no tolerance for dissent. Movies, directors, and actors who step out of line are sent to the guillotine.

    • Dave the Pittsburgh Filmhead says:

      Interesting. I was unaware that Hollywood had a death penatly. Please name one director or actor who has been sent to the guillotine for stepping out of line. Using a guillotine on a movie is overkill. A scissors could function just as well. Name me one film which has been cut up because it went over the line.

  28. Tyler says:

    “Right-wing?” How often do you refer to typical documentaries as “Left-wing?” You don’t even realize your own bias.

  29. arvay says:

    Too bad.I used to post on the national review, never anything abusive or obscene, but was banned for leftist views. This is war. Crush the right, and when we take control they will be looked at VERY carefully. And thanks for the nifty surveilance system!

    • NoGuff says:

      And I used to post on Democrats.com and was banned for level-headed, logical and sometimes Conservative views. So when accusing “right-wingers” of hypocrisy, remember that the Left has made it a profession. And if you’re referring to our current police state surveillance system, you can thank Barry Soetoro for that. Just FYI.

  30. AP says:

    Nic Valle says:
    “Don’t like it?….. Beats sitting in your basement and whining on the computer.”

    Nic, you mean like the liberals did for the eight years of GW?
    Guess it really is a situ of who’s ox is gettig gored, huh?

  31. Nic Valle says:

    Don’t like it? Start your own right wing film festival. Beats sitting in your basement and whining on the computer.

  32. Bruce Pal says:

    Time for a right-leaning film award…perhaps called the Reagans.

  33. Sherry Gee says:

    “I’ve noticed that the large majority of (nonfiction films) tend to be galvanized and motivated by an interest in a complex view of the world and in perhaps disrupting the status quo.” Progressives ARE the establishment today, therefore the left represent the “status quo” in today’s political environment. Conservatives are now the “radicals” that are fighting the system.

  34. Dave the Pittsburgh Filmhead says:

    I see that one film festival programmer rejected the film “Caucus” because he or she couldn’t stand the sight of those in the film. I think that was a mistake. Although I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat, I watched the movie, even though I loathed nearly all of the candidates in the 2012 Iowa caucus. The movie was a well-done documentary showing how the candidates interacted with the voters (as many of you know the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries have much greater interaction with voters than later primaries) and how they tried to convince the voters that they were the best candidates to defeat Obama.

    I’d recommend to anyone interested in politics.

  35. thgirbla says:

    This is NOT News, it’s SOP !!!

  36. Off Duty says:

    I’m shocked….SHOCKED!

  37. Sven Nelson says:

    Is a screening at a film festival some sort of right-wing entitlement? They’re private ventures. Anyone can put on a festival if they want to put in the time, money and work. What’s stopping these guys? Murdoch owns 20th Century Fox. Apparently, he isn’t interested in showcasing their work, either. .

  38. Clearly there need to be more well-promoted, well-financed film festivals, and they need to be started and run by Conservatives. Or at least fair-minded neutral people without a distinctly leftist bent.

  39. Miguel526 says:

    Sundance has always been a haven for the mentally weak, emo-driven, ego-driven, empty shells of fake intellectualism. As a once-dedicated, very interested CA democrat, it’s so clear how much of an empty, visionally gutless, Marxist-inspired, & self-absorbed emo-party boy Robert Redford really is. I’m ashamed that I once thought of Redford as a real person, rather than the two-dimensional figure that he has proven himself to be, the dubious offerings of Sundance being the proof in the pudding.

  40. Eggs Ackley says:

    Not ignored. They’re under the category of “Comedy and Farce.”

  41. Facts_ says:

    Of course Sundance skews left.

    Redford showed the Obama 2009 inauguration on 20 foot high screens in the streets, and at the Sundance Premier of Mary & Max (a movie about Aspbergers, the head of the Sundance Film Festival spoke glowingly of Obama.

    Many of the programmers are gay, and in 2009 there were large stipends paid to producers who included a “male-on-male gay scene between former platonic friends” in their movies… which resulted in eleven different films that year having such a scene…

    Sundance is as far left as it gets and Bob Redford doesn’t even pretend otherwise.

    • Sam says:

      Those “20 foot high screens” were five 55″ flatpanels which I personally installed.

    • Ray says:

      “stipends paid to producers who included a “male-on-male gay scene between former platonic friends” in their movies”

      You made that up, doofus.

  42. OrlandoRican says:

    They ignore conservatives and the liberals ignore Redford. Tit for tat.

  43. Factchecker says:

    Hypocrite: a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

    Hollywood hates the Christian right…but loves them when they can make money off of them a la Duck Dynasty, Noah, Exodus, etc….

  44. drugbunny says:

    I am not surprised but I am disillusioned in that Redford would allow this to take place. If the community is anything I thought that it was at least fair. I guess fairness is not something Sundance is into. Oh well at least I got Duck Dynasty!

  45. Doctor J says:

    This isn’t really a surprise to you, is it? You don’t really consider such festival organizers and voters to be fair and impartial judges, do you?

  46. Is that really Redfords hair ?

  47. scooby184 says:

    Who cares? These days all the “award ceremonies” are narcissistic, attaboys handed out to each other in order to make themselves feel relevant.

  48. hippysuperstar says:

    I find it hilarious that those who complain about affirmative action are essentially demanding it from this festival. Here’s a hint to right-wing documentaries, if you want to be included in the festival, Make Better Movies. I’ve seen a few, they were terrible.

    • Miguel526 says:

      As vainly self-assessed hippysuperstar, you wouldn’t know a good movie, or a good set of arguments to advance a relevant idea if it hit you in the face, just like I was before I “woke up” from my dreary mesmerization imparted into me by ugly-minded, self-serving, over-paid college professors who had no dog in the fight, . . . their oft-paraded, & fake, “high-mindedness” bought on the cheap with no more than their baby-sitting money. If you want to enlighten & enrich your intellectual life, you would actually learn about such things as Plato’s “Allegory of The Cave”, . . that way you wouldn’t have to so lemming-like display such a shallow hatred for your fellow man.

    • jakesprogress says:

      Which ones did you see?

      • Dorkyman says:

        Yeah, right. Conservative documentaries aren’t included because they are poorly made. What a load of BS, but not surprised that you are blinded by your blue-tinted glasses.

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