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Indie docs target election-year politics

Grassroots efforts seek to build 'GhettoPhysics,' 'Money'

A pair of quirky, politically minded indie docs launch this month amid efforts to drum up election-time aud support — with each going after an opposing end of the political spectrum.

And although “GhettoPhysics: Will the Real Pimps and Ho’s Please Stand Up” and “I Want Your Money” target different demos, both aim to tap into the country’s political discussion in a crowded field of issue-oriented docs. Despite a generally soft climate for theatrical docs, education reform-themed “Waiting for Superman” and banking scandal story “Inside Job” are showing promising B.O. returns.

Captured Light and Samuel Goldwyn Films’ “GhettoPhysics,” a left-leaning look at power dynamics in the modern world, opened in limited release Friday in a number of big African-American markets, before widening later this month to attract fans of co-director and co-distributor William H. Arntz, who achieved viral success with his last film, “What the Bleep Do We Know!?”

On the other hand, “I Want Your Money,” which opens Oct. 15 on more than 500 screens around the country, has targeted politicians and political groups on the right for endorsements of this conservative screen take on the economic crisis, which casts a critical eye on the excesses of big government. Freestyle Releasing’s film has behind it the marketing muscle of Motive Entertainment, the company that pushed “The Passion of the Christ” and “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and Wardrobe.”

Arntz, who made “GhettoPhysics” with co-director E. Raymond Brown (who penned the book that inspired the doc), comes to the table with lessons he learned on underground success “Bleep.” Part of that strategy involved the patience to wait for momentum to gather behind the film.

“The vision that guided me was building a fire,” Arntz said. “We would basically go to one place and let demand there get really, really intense and then expand out.”

“Bleep” began screening in small-town Washington state and expanded to Oregon, Colorado and other areas deemed receptive to that film’s alternative spirituality slant. Average run in theaters was four months, according to Arntz, with the film logging 50 weeks in a theater in Tempe, Ariz.

Key “Bleep” markets also will be targeted for “GhettoPhysics,” with the thinking that the liberal-minded doc will jibe with the “Bleep” demo’s voting tendencies.

“The thing that worked was a slow and meticulous campaign and the interaction with the audience,” said Meyer Gottlieb of Samuel Goldwyn Films, which partnered on “Bleep” as well as “GhettoPhysics.”

Although the movie’s subject matter broadly includes looks at Wall Street and other power structures around the world, the pic’s central pimp/ho conceit has steered the distribution strategy initially to target African-American auds with screens in Atlanta, Philadelphia, Oakland and Detroit.

Marketing efforts have included screening the films for hip-hop radio DJs (whom filmmakers hope will tout the pic to listeners), a songwriting contest and outreach in educational arenas including pan-African academic programs.

“GhettoPhysics” saw a muted opening weekend at the B.O. with $10,000.

Meanwhile, “I Want Your Money” has attracted considerable attention from the right. Last week the trailer had logged some 3.5 million views on YouTube.

According to Motive Entertainment’s Paul Lauer, marketing efforts for “Money” have aimed largely to catch the eye of political groups who are already mobilized for the November elections, particularly those in areas with hotly contested races.

“The only way to reach millions of people is to go through the organizations that have thousands of members or hundreds of thousands,” Lauer said.

Pic has racked up endorsements from people at orgs including the American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform and Citizens Against Government Waste.

According to Lauer, U.S. Rep Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan, the Republican House policy committee chair, has offered to promote the film on his own dime.

But Lauer acknowledged that while the high online response is encouraging, it’s no guarantee of success.

“Three and a half million trailer views is not the same as 3 1/2 million tickets sold,” he said.

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