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. R2Mog says:

    We were sad that our short documentary “Return to Mogadishu: Remembering Black Hawk Down” was turned down for Sundance.

  2. Rob Finn says:

    Very thoughtful comment……very well stated and you are 100% correct.

    • Richard125 says:

      An actor is someone who makes their living making believe they are someone else, doing something that they (the actors) have neither the courage nor intelligence to do themselves! This being the case, why would anyone care what they say or do!

  3. Thespians and minstrels? Who cares what they think? Human waste like Redfern? Bad jokes, all.

  4. bevus says:

    The NRA will become the new lords of hollywood. Hellow! Merril and dumbxxxx!

  5. patrick says:

    They shitcanned Blood Brothers because the guy goes to church????

  6. Mark says:

    Tolerance and free speech at its finest. A model for all.

  7. Merkin Muffy says:

    From the same people who bragged about preventing a film version of Darkness at Noon from ever being made!

  8. bill says:

    Redford and his crowd think of themselves as gods.

  9. Jones says:

    And this is a surprise to whom??

  10. Brian Norman says:

    But…But…But, I don’t understand, these festivals have always been so supportive of conservative right wing documentaries in the past, what’s happened, I’m totally shocked and devastated…..Yeah right!.

  11. Smitty says:

    Of course…anyone surprised at this? The left has turned “group think” into an art form, and this is one reason why…sheer intellectual bankruptcy.

  12. It would be helpful to see the list of snubbed films and let the people decide

  13. Stella says:

    who gives a flying rat’s a.. except for the pretend people. so let them keep on propping each other up. that’s the only way they can survive. they’d never make it in the real worls

  14. Ronnie Van Zant says:

    Typical liberal Hollywood hypocrites. I wonder if they know how many people “out here” despise them.

  15. mike says:

    What is very funny about this is Redford just whined his movie didnt get a lot of press for an oscar and now his company is snuffing out conservative documentaries. LOL, The irony is delicious

  16. cowardobama says:

    I’m having a difficult time feeling ONE BIT SORRY for any of these “Conservative” producers who cannot stand PROUD as a TRUE American Patriot and produce something worthwhile that TRUE American Patriots would enjoy. Perhaps HOW a Kenyan Muslim fooled all of America in believing he was going to bring about CHANGE in America through LIES & DECEITFUL Marxist Policies. Perhaps JUST ONE of you supposed Hollywood “Conservative” producers will GROW A SPINE for Liberty and actually “produce” something of substance instead of the same old garbage you continually create.

  17. BeBe BooRay says:

    I love to watch documentaries. Not a big money maker. Sundance? It is his deal. He can do what he wants. Show what he wants. Award what he wants. Start you own. ConDance. LOL.

  18. Kevin Fodor says:

    You expected…like…an Academy Award for them? Anyone with half a brain would have figured this out…

  19. Heywood Jablome says:

    In the case of the film “Blood Brother”, had the director been a Muslim they would have been falling over themselves to promote his film, but being Christian, or even loosely associated with any Christian church is absolute Kryptonite to these leftists. Hypocrisy is the lifeblood of the film industry, from top to bottom.

  20. Joe Peaon 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.”

    Yeah, because the “status quo” in the United States is decidedly right-wing conservative…

  21. pokey5735 says:

    I gave up on Redford a long time ago. I wouldn’t touch his films. Here is a guy who calls you racists if you don’t agree with a person of colors philosophy. The idiot thinks everyone thinks like he does and if they don’t, well then, they are racist.

  22. David says:

    Sorry, this is news why exactly?

    “It’s no secret that film festivals tend to skew more toward liberal or progressive subjects,” Schnack says. “I had one tell me they couldn’t stand the sight of the people in (‘Caucus’).”

    Exactly, and this has been known for decades. Hollywood is more oppressive and intolerant of political views not their own that McCarthy EVER was and their blacklist is much, much longer than it was during that era.

    • BertaD says:

      Uhhh, David, the blacklisting in the 50’s was done by “Hollywood” — no once else and certainly not Senator McCarthy or the House Committee on Unamerican Activities.

  23. astralweeks says:

    that’s because they’re very open-minded, as long as you believe what they believe

  24. JimMAY says:

    Recently removed all Redford movies from my collection after he called me racist. Will never pay or watch one of his movies again. The only person who is racist is the one who see’s color, not the heart or the person. In my book he’s a hypocrite and a bigot.

  25. Red Baron says:

    Well….. CREATE YOUR OWN FESTIVALS and leave the leftists OUT!!!

  26. Tim says:

    HA. That’s about the dumbest post I’ve seen yet! Keep drinking the O’Kool Aid.

  27. Allen Clark says:

    It is no surprise when the film festival is targeted towards Hollywood and we all know that Hollywood breeds liberal progressives. The witch hunts of the MaCarthy era should be relooked at because it seems McCarthy was right. Hollywood is riddled with a form of communism but the call it the progressive movement now.

  28. blisteringlogic says:

    It’s just funny how the ideology of ‘acceptance’, and ‘tolerance’ is anything but.

  29. kdnicewanger says:

    Great comments — further proving that conservatives never miss out on an opportunity to bitch about something they’re ignorant about and reveal the dank recesses of their conspiracy-addled minds. I guarantee you more left-wing documentaries are rejected than right-wing ones, for the simple fact that more are made. Yet you don’t hear liberals whining about it.

    Someone should make a documentary about the complete lack of self-awareness among wingnuts, and why every time they fail it’s because of a liberal conspiracy and not because they did a shitty job.

    • Holy Mass of Humanity, Batman says:

      Perfect!

    • Kirk Rende says:

      The point of agreement would be the terrible job that the right does in promoting their ideology. But the left takes the tin foil hat award for conspiracies and their associated movies. Michael Moore alone is a monument…onto himself.

    • Mike Jones says:

      Well……….who can argue with someone as highly evolved as you?

      I knew when I saw “nice wanger” in your profile name that I was going to be treated to one of the intelligentsia like I have never experienced before…….I was not disappointed in the least.

    • Allen Clark says:

      Is that kind of like the democrats calling the republicans obstructionist. This name calling gets a little tiresome and your comment only proves that when a democrat can not discuss an issue with any intelligence, they resort to attacks, insults and name calling. Thank you for demonstrating it so well.

  30. Rob says:

    yes exactly. That’s why Martin Bashir got to keep his job at MSNBC when he said things about Sarah Palin, but Duck Dynasty was immediately and permanently yanked off the air after Phil Robertson’s “musings”… oh wait never mind I had that backwards.

  31. Worried citizen says:

    I agree that film festivals should show more right wing documentaries, even if they are very rare and of low quality, so that right-wingers wouldn’t be offended. It’s obvious that people commenting here are in great pain, we should help them.

    • Kirk Rende says:

      Yeah, right wing documentaries are “low quality” – unlike Fahrenheit 9/11 which was such a stellar achievement…in propaganda. Not that any other Michael Moore movies were better.

  32. Josh327 says:

    You’re free to start your own film festival, if you wish.

  33. Wait a minute, is this Wild Bill from Western Center on Journalism?

  34. James McCarthy says:

    The curation of a film festival should be understood as a form of speech and, as such, protected. The producers of a film festival must be left free to choose films to “say” what they want to say. Which protections (as well as our free market system) leaves the opportunity there for anyone, left, right, or center, to start a film festival to say what they want to say. This seems another instance of the right wing being bothered by freedoms that leave them free to get off their behinds and do something for themselves. Put up (the time, money, and effort to start a film festival of your own) or shut up.

  35. Ford says:

    No surprise here. Movies that are Conservative are only made when the studios need to make money.

  36. Thrushjz says:

    Duh…

  37. Neal Ladnar says:

    Love the final condescending quote: the “progressives” supposedly have “an interest in a more complex view of the world” — and they don’t want to be exposed to other viewpoints?

  38. Eddyone says:

    Are you kidding me? These “Film Festivals” discriminate against conservative documentaries? C’mon surely you jest.

  39. Make your own network, it isn’t that hard anymore with the internet and Youtube.

  40. dropthehammer says:

    What? Hollywood bias against the right? The hell you say?

  41. FreddieH says:

    Are we supposed to be surprised?

  42. Yukiko says:

    It’s just as well. I have a rule of thumb not to watch any movie that has won any kind of award at Sundance and touted by critics. Usually a combination of the two translates to a boring self masturbatory love fest by the filmmaker.

  43. Dave Edmonds says:

    There is an interesting juxtaposition situation when it comes to this. While I have seen many conservative people consider both sides of an issue I can count on one hand how many Liberal people I have noticed do the same. Surprising? No not at all since that seems to be the Liberal mantra: “Do as I say not as I do”

  44. bossou says:

    Lol.whats new they hide from the truth so they can continue with their fictional lives.

  45. “skew left”? LOL. good one!

  46. Wa Po says:

    All “Media on Media” reviews and award shows are part of the marketing and merchandising functions of these organizations. It has no more gravitas that being sold the latest deodorant or toilet paper. The only difference is that more people understand and more highly value the role of the latter two products.

  47. James King says:

    Snubbing conservatives, Mr. Redford? Well, glad to see the Academy snubbed you this year. I expected this year to be your “John Wayne Tribute” year. So did you. Too bad!

  48. Liberals will always respect your views as long as they are the same as theirs.

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