Protests vs. Popcorn; Politically Minded Film Programming During the RNC
by Wendy Mitchell
As New Yorkers prepare for the looming Republican National Convention (August 30 – September 2), local citizens, visiting activists, and delegates can find convention-related activities ranging from free yoga classes to wet T-shirt contests. And of course, film will be a big part of the week, at least unofficially. With the phenomenal success of “Fahrenheit 9/11” and other movies, 2004 has been the biggest year in history for political films, so it’s no surprise that film programmers and directors think that convention week is an ideal time to bring political films to screens in the Big Apple.
Several dozen of the film events are part of the Imagine Festival, a collection of more than 100 arts events from August 28 – September 2 at several dozen venues. Longtime film programmer Jim Browne is in charge of Imagine’s film lineup. “This past winter I was talking about the state of the world, I just wanted to do something,” Browne told indieWIRE. “I’ve never been politically active other than voting and going to the occasional protest,” so when he heard about the burgeoning Imagine Fest, “it sounded like a place to do what I know how to do and it could raise some consciousness.” Imagine’s programming includes clips from John Sayles new feature about corrupt politics in Colorado, “Silver City,” Spike Lee‘s election 2000 short “We Was Robbed,” Jehane Noujaim‘s Al Jazeera doc “Control Room,” D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus‘ “The War Room,” environmental doc “This Land is Your Land” by Shoshana Perry, the forthcoming United Artists release “The Yes Men,” and the Earth First! documentary “The Forest for the Trees: Judi Bari Vs. The FBI.” Filmmakers will be present at many screenings, and composer Philip Glass will host a benefit screening of Errol Morris‘ “The Fog of War.”
Many local filmmakers have joined forces with the Imagine Festival or set up their own screenings of politically relevant films. Suki Hawley and Mike Galinsky, who co-directed “Horns and Halos,” about a small publisher’s fight to get the unauthorized George W. Bush biography “Fortunate Son” into stores, previously had a brief theatrical run in 2003, but the directors are excited to be showing again during the convention. (The film will play a number of other small bookings in September before the Go-Kart Films DVD comes out on October 5). “With the convention coming to town and all of the protesters trailing along it just made a lot of sense to get the film back in front of people,” Hawley says. “We’ve reached out to a lot of the lists that protesters are on and we’ll be giving out postcards at the protest events because we really do want to reach these people. Protesters are the sort of activists who’ll really get the balanced nature of this film.”
Ray Privett, who has been programming the Two Boots Pioneer Theater since early summer, said that convention-related topics had been on his mind for months and he thought it would be a good time to show a film like Andreas Horvath‘s “This Ain’t No Heartland.” (He had programmed the film himself and then was invited to have it be part of the Imagine festival). “Heartland” is a tough doc about the Iraqi invasion as seen through discussions with rural Americans. “I thought maybe the convention and this film would have something to say to each other,” Privett says. “It’s a really tough film and it’s very much of questions, it’s not a film of answers.”
Jesse Moss, a former Democratic speechwriter who directed the AMC doc “Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood,” has set up a New York screening of the film on Monday night before the doc’s premiere on the network September 14. The film includes interviews with Hollywood conservatives including Vincent Gallo, Drew Carey, Ben Stein, John Milius, and others. Moss hopes he can draw a mixed crowd of delegates, protestors, and New Yorkers. “I’m hoping to have a dialogue after the film,” says Moss. “I didn’t make it to preach to the choir. It seems like there’s plenty of that around. I can’t think of too many events that week that will have Democrats and Republicans in the audience at the same time. That’s why I’m screening during the convention, I think it’s the right occasion to do that.”
Another approach is specifically going after delegates — that’s what Roadside Attractions has done in setting up a screening of Jim DeSeve‘s gay marriage doc “Tying the Knot.” The screening (set initially by Roadside and later grouped with the Imagine events) is for delegates, press members, and representatives from the organizations co-sponsoring the screening: the Log Cabin Republicans, the Human Rights Campaign, Marriage Equality, and the Wedding Party. Even if only a handful of delegates show up, Brooklyn-based director DeSeve is optimistic. “If we can change a few delegates’ minds, that’s where it’s at,” he says.
“I think it’s important to keep a dialogue open… when people see these stories about gay middle Americans, they can change their minds. I hope the screening will help delegates to rethink all the rhetoric flying around this issue and realize it’s not a partisan issue.” says RJ Millard, a VP at Roadside partner IDP/Samuel Goldwyn, he also noted that this was a good chance to reach visitors to New York from smaller markets, where the film might not play during its theatrical release in October.
First Run Features, which just this month acquired the rights to “Brothers in Arms: The Story of the Crew of Patrol Craft Fast 94,” about John Kerry’s Vietnam experience, knew they could get the DVD out in time for the election but also really wanted to get the film shown during the convention. It will open Friday at Cinema Village, and filmmaker Paul Alexander will be on hand for Q&As over the weekend. (A First Run spokeswoman joked that the partisan debate might break out at Cinema Village because the Kerry doc is opening at the same time as “Bush’s Brain,” the Karl Rove documentary by Michael Paradies Shoob and Joseph Mealey.)
Everybody seems to agree that for political junkies, there will be a wealth of options. But that could be just the problem — if folks are that politically minded, they might be out protesting, not sitting in a cushy theater. Or if they do opt for the dark theater, there are an overwhelming number of options each night of the convention (and beyond). Browne admits he’s worried that Imagine’s screening of “Secret Honor” and discussion with Robert Altman, scheduled for 4 p.m. on Sunday, will be running opposite one of the big protests. Transportation in Manhattan could also be an issue in screening attendance. And many New Yorkers are skipping town. “People who will be sympathetic [to these kinds of films] will have a lot to do that weekend,” says the Pioneer’s Privett.
Hawley says they aren’t trying to compete with protests for their “Horns and Halos” screenings, which are planned for 11:30 p.m., so that they can function as a “post-protest wind down kind of thing or a late-night get-psyched-for-the-protest tomorrow thing.” The directors and film subjects will be at a number of the week’s screenings.
Most of the film events planned are clearly left-leaning, but don’t be so quick to blame that on a bias in the liberal film industry. “The Imagine Festival is New York artists and organizations responding and creating a forum of discussion and debate,” Browne says. As for the lack of pro-Bush programming, Browne responds, “Have you seen any Republican documentaries? We were hoping to find that kind of stuff but I don’t know where it is… I just looked for the best work that I could find.”
There will be no official film events planned for the RNC delegates, a Host Committee spokesman told indieWIRE.
Regardless, politically minded films showing in New York this week — not to mention the many showing across the country until Election Day — can provide another outlet for people fired up by the 2004 election. “I think a lot of people are freaked out and need another way to respond, other than a traditional protest,” Browne says. “I was watching one of the Noam Chomsky films, he said, ‘It’s my fault, it’s your fault, it’s everybody’s fault, we’re all laying down on the job and we really need to engage in this process.’ Film has that power to mobilize people.”
Selected film screenings in New York during RNC week:
Ascension – A multi-media event on Sunday at OfficeOps in Williamsburg, will include screenings of “1 Giant Leap” and socially conscious shorts.
“Brothers in Arms” – Doc by Paul Alexander about John Kerry’s Vietnam experience, at Cinema Village starting Friday.
“Bush’s Brain” – Karl Rove doc by Joseph Mealey and Michael Paradies Shoob, at Cinema Village starting Friday. Also playing five times on Monday at Walter Reade Theater from the Film Society of Lincoln Center.
Imagine Festival – (More than 100 events including film, theater, music, and dance). Films include “Silver City,” “The Fourth World War,” “Everywhere But Florida,” “We Was Robbed,” “Voting in America,” “This Ain’t No Heartland,” “Secret Honor,” “Sixty Cameras Against the War,” “Control Room,” “About Baghdad,” “The War Room,” “Tying the Knot,” “Brothers and Others,” “Baghdad in No Particular Order,” “Unpredecented: The 2000 Presidential Election,” “This Land is Your Land,” “Down to Earth,” “The Yes Men,” “Fog of War,” and “The Forest for the Trees: Judi Bari Vs. The FBI.”
“Medium Cool,” Haskell Wexler’s film about the Democratic National Convention in Chicago in 1968, and “The Battle for Broad,” Pamela Yates‘ short about protestors at the 2000 RNC, will play at the Pioneer Theater on September 1 at 4 p.m. (“Medium Cool” and “The Best Man” will play September 4 at the American Museum of the Moving Image.)
“Persons of Interest,” Alison Maclean and Tobias Perse‘s doc about Arab immigrants detained after 9/11, at Cinema Village starting September 3.
“Rated R: Republicans in Hollywood,” Jesse Moss’ doc about conservatives in Tinseltown, Monday at the Tribeca Grand Hotel’s screening room. Invite-only event, interested parties can email firstname.lastname@example.org. (The film will air on AMC on September 14).
“Horns and Halos,” Suki Hawley and Michael Galinksy’s doc about the publication of George W. Bush biography “Fortunate Son,” at City Cinemas Village East, Friday through September 3.
Repugnican Short Film Convention, hosted by Film Blitz, featuring “The Adventures of Supernigger: Episode 1, The Final Chapter,” “Underground,” “This Land,” and more. September 1 at Teatro La Tea, 107 Suffolk Street, Second Floor.
“Uncovered: The War on Iraq” by Robert Greenwald continues at the Angelika through September 2.
“WAR – Oh, The Horror…,” a multi-media evening including films “Berlin New York,” “Star Spangled Basher,” “Sodom on The Hudson,” “Viet-Flakes,” “The Draft Card Burner,” “The Family Fallout Shelter,” and “Explosions,” August 28 at Le Petit Versailles.