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Are Conservative Documentary Films on the Rise?

A longtime conservative activist has landed where no other conservative making documentary films has landed before — the list of the top ten highest-grossing documentary films in history.
 
 
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If you were the generous sort, you might call Dinesh D'Souza, the Neil Armstrong of conservative filmmaking. D'Souza, a controversial longtime Christian conservative political activist and provocateur, has landed where no other conservative making documentary films has landed before; the list of the top ten highest-grossing documentary films in history.

Although D'Souza's thesis about President Obama was eviscerated by Bill Maher on HBO's Real Time on Friday, August 31, a recent Fox News.com headline, "Conservative documentary film 2016: Obama's America poised to surpass Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth," signified that his unabashedly anti-Obama film is having enormous box office success. (As of Labor Day, 2016 stood at #10, just two spots behind Gore's film.)

D'Souza, co-director, along with John Sullivan, of 2016: Obama's America, brashly told FOX411's Pop Tarts column: "We're really ramping it up to the next level, theaters are begging for the film because they know our per-screen average is the highest in the country right now. We are on-track to surpass Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and who knows, we could even reach Michael's Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 box office numbers. That film had a major distributor and opened in 900 theaters, we opened in one. And we don't have a big Hollywood studio behind us."

Will the success of D'Souza's film be an indicator of what's coming in November?

The Michael Moore factor

Although conservative documentary filmmakers have been making movies for many years, it is only in recent times that they have been spreading their filmic seeds a lot more liberally.

The success of Michael Moore's documentaries inspired a spate of conservatives to make movies. At first, this resulted in a spate of anti-Moore docs; Canadian filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine made Manufacturing Dissent, a film investigating Moore, while Michael Wilson attempted to refute Moore's Bowling for Columbine with the subtly titled Michael Moore Hates America.

Despite D'Souza's optimistic comment, no conservative documentary has yet come close to touching the box office success of Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 (released some 5 months before the 2004 election), which is still listed as the number one grossing documentary film in history, outpacing Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, March of the Penguins, Katy Perry: Part of Me, and Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. In fact, according to boxofficemojo.com, three of Moore's films (Bowling for Columbine and Sicko are the other two) are listed in the top ten grossing documentaries of all time, and five are in the top twenty-five.

Newt Gingrich and his wife Callista, aka Gingrich Productions, have made a number of films including, Nine Days that Changed the World and A City Upon A Hill, which according to its web site, "explores the concept of American Exceptionalism from its origin to the present day." While none of the Gingrich films have gotten major theatrical play, Gingrich Productions distributes a fair number of DVD's via its web site and during personal appearances.

David Bossie's Citizens United has also been in the forefront of conservative filmmaking. One of CU's films, Hillary: The Movie, had less to do with box office numbers than with political impact, as it was that film that ultimately led to the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision.

At the Republican Party Convention, Citizens United premiered Occupy Unmasked, a film directed by Stephen K. Bannon – who last year made The Undefeated, a Sarah Palin vanity project -- and produced by Bossie. Occupy Unmasked, according to a FoxNews.com report, "takes cameras into the Occupy camps in New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., Portland, Denver and Oakland, documenting instances of brutality and profanity that took place."

Occupy Unmasked, inspired by and featuring the late Andrew Breitbart, does exactly what you expect it to do; throw a load of elephant dung about the origin and leaders of the Occupy Movement up on the screen and call itself a documentary film. According to FoxNews.com, Occupy Unmasked will get its theatrical release later this month.

D'Souza's 2016 Obama's America making box office noise

These days, it is Dinesh D'Souza's 2016: Obama's America that is the talk of the conservative movement. Released to select theaters in mid-July, the film had already moved into the number 14 spot on boxofficemojo.com's list before the Republican convention, leap frogging the previously highest grossing conservative doc, 2008's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

2016: Obama's America is based on D'Souza's earlier book titled, "The Roots of Obama's Rage," and a forthcoming book titled "Obama's America." In an interview with Focus on the Family's citizenlink.com, D'Souza said that the "film focuses on ... the ideological mystery of Obama. What's his inner compass? What's he like?"
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D'Souza added: Obama "is shrinking American power abroad, and expanding the power of the state at home, and he's doing both things simultaneously. It's part of his sort of anti-colonial or third-world agenda - an agenda that was very powerfully held by his father, and one that Obama adopted at a young age."

Esquire's Mark Warren recently reported that, "Glenn Beck says that only D'Souza knows the truth about Obama and his deeply un-American designs for the country which we all call home. ... [and] Rush Limbaugh ... says that his new documentary may well constitute a turning point in this election."

As for turning points: Think 2004, when Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 set box office records, but didn't turn the election in John Kerry's favor.

Warren also reminded readers that D'Souza, has a history of playing fast and loose with the facts: "Remember, it is D'Souza who five years ago published "The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11," in which he blamed the death that rained down on us on September 11, 2001 not on the religious fanatics who were actually responsible for it, but on his fellow Americans. The 'cultural left' who, by its failure to stone homosexuals to death in the public square, and its insistence on speaking so freely and having so much sex, provoked the violence of crazy Muslims, giving them no choice but to kill us en masse. That's what D'Souza's book actually says."

Of the actual film, Salon's Andrew O'Hehir recently wrote: "Somebody in ... D'Souza's shaggy, piecemeal right-wing screed 2016: Obama's America definitely has a problem with post-colonial theory and the conflicted ideologies of third-world intellectuals. But I don't think it's Barack Obama. A blend of genuinely fascinating observations and shrill, repetitious character assassination, 2016 is the surprise hit documentary of late summer, hypothetically lifting the spirits of true-hearted Americans as they battle to thwart the dastardly schemes of ... well, the middle-of-the-road, drone-happy politician who has occupied the White House for the last four years, apparently without showing his true colors.

"As far as actual argumentation about Obama goes, there's nothing new here that Sarah Palin didn't try in 2008: The president spent his childhood and young manhood pallin' around with terrorists of various stripes and haunted by the specter of his Kenyan radical dad, and those influences have shaped him into a creature of unique deviousness. While the birthers may not be precisely correct when it comes to troublesome factual details – D'Souza does not endorse, disavow or even mention the kookier conspiracy theories – they're right at the level of essence and insight. Obama is a dyed-in-the-wool anti-American who was born in a hospital with a funny name, reared on his absent father's 'Third World collectivism' and elected president in a nationwide racial pity party after concealing crucial elements of his own background. He is 'weirdly sympathetic to Muslim jihadis' and hopes to enable a 'United States of Islam' in the Middle East while raising taxes to 100 percent at home. Any questions?"

There appear to be enough anti-Obama theatergoers willing to plunk down good money to see D'Souza's film. If that holds true, it will reach box office heights never before experienced by a conservative documentary film.

Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement.