WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. -- It feels like a Saturday matinee, but with no popcorn, here at the Liberty Film Festival as the villains appear on the big screen to hoots and whoops.
U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix: "Booooo." Former ambassador and CIA spouse Joe Wilson: "Traitor!" Al Gore: "Uggggh." And the scariest size XXXL boogeyman of all, Michael Moore, whose every appearance sets this partisan crowd into hissing fits.
Billed as the first conservative film festival in Hollywood, the three-day affair showcased comic shorts, one about the "ultimate minority" in Tinseltown ("Greg Wolfe: Republican Jew"), an epic homage to Ronald Reagan and his battle against Soviet communism ("In the Face of Evil") and a snappy doc on tart-tongued commentator Ann Coulter ("Is It True What They Say About Ann?"), in which Coulter signs the T-shirt of a leftie college student with the words "Have fun in Guantanamo!"
But there is a law in physics that for every action there is a reaction, and the Liberty Film Festival played out like an anguished and earnest rebuttal to the fantabulous success (and, according to these conservative filmmakers, lies) of Michael Moore and his ($200 million in international box office and climbing) anti-Bush assault "Fahrenheit 9/11."
Moore played a starring role as the bad-boy piñata in four of the documentaries screened to several hundred attendees: In "Michael Moore Hates America," described by filmmaker Mike Wilson as his "devastating exposé of real people exploited by Moore to make a buck." In "Celsius 41.11," or "the temperature at which the brain begins to die," directed by David Bossie of the conservative advocacy group Citizens United. In talk show host Larry Elder's "Michael & Me," about the benefits of gun ownership. And finally, in "Confronting Iraq" by Roger Aronoff of the group Accuracy in Media, which used a PowerPoint-like construction in its attempt to deflate Moore and "the bitter left" peaceniks and the "cut and run" presidential candidacy of Sen. John F. Kerry.
The festival was organized by a husband-wife duo of young filmmakers, Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, and underwritten by the Foundation for Free Markets, which likes privatizing Social Security, cutting taxes and issuing school vouchers. The foundation's leader, Paul Harberger, applauded the "courage and conviction" of Apuzzo and Murty and announced the birth of conservative film as "the frontlines in the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people."
Murty, an aspiring actress, says the impetus was, in part, the cool reception she and her husband have received in Hollywood for their own screenplays and their film "Terminal Island," which premiered at the festival.
Based on audience reaction, their film was one of the weaker entries -- a low-budget, digital, black-and-white noir about a ditzy heroine (played by Murty) who is pursued through the port of Los Angeles by a hooded Muslim terrorist. The latter in one scene threatens to kill the gun-dealing "Omar," who begs for his life stating, "I'm a liberal. I'm your friend. I'm here to help you."
So you get the point of view.
Murty says Hollywood is infested by liberal goo-goos who despise "mainstream American values" and refuse to give over their studio budgets to films from the conservative perspective, "the family-friendly fare for middle America." As evidence of liberal bias, she points to "Day After Tomorrow" about global warming, "The Manchurian Candidate" and Moore, but does not address the three highest-grossing films of the year, about a lovable ogre, a boy wizard and a Spider-Man.
"We don't have the money or the power," Murty says, "but the festival is a way to get our work before the public." She says the movie industry is afraid to make films that portray the real villains in the war on terrorism, the radical Islamists. Says her husband Apuzzo: "Now it's the Hollywood liberal aristocracy that's grown old and abandoned art for endless political propaganda."
Well, call it what you will. Moore and his challengers produce advocacy journalism, or personal artist statements, or propaganda. Fair and balanced, it is not. What has clearly come is a return, with zeal, of the culture wars on another front, on DVDs and in movie houses. This season has seen an explosion of advocacy films from both left ("Bush's Brain," the Robert Greenwald series, etc.) and right ("George W. Bush: Faith in the White House" and the Liberty Festival entries, etc.).
The film festival that might be really informative would be to run all these competing films together. (Or as a series on PBS?) But maybe that is not the point.
The message of Hollywood's liberal bias was not universally embraced by attendees. Victor Elizalde, a Sony Pictures executive who is running as a Republican challenger against Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), appeared on the panel "Conservative Filmmaking 101" and sought to explain that what makes Hollywood run is not so much ideology as money.