EDITOR’S NOTE: This article appears in the December 13, 2004, issue of National Review.
I’ve never attended a major film festival, but it’s a safe bet that none of them–not Venice or Cannes, not Sundance or Toronto–begins its Saturday-night screening with the Pledge of Allegiance. Or opens nearly every film with a “support-our-troops” montage of military photos, set to a pulsing rock beat. Or passes around collection boxes for the “Wounded Warrior Project,” and invites filmgoers to write letters of encouragement to U.S. troops abroad.
Into this breach has stepped the American Film Renaissance festival, which debuted in Dallas this September in a strip-mall movie theater sandwiched between sprinkler-fed subdivisions and a Smoothie King. Billing itself as “the nation’s first and only conservative film festival,” the AFR weekend was a cheerfully ramshackle affair, where left-wing journalists milking the weekend for laughs easily outnumbered movie stars. And that’s only if Timothy Bottoms–whose Showtime-produced Bush hagiography, DC 9/11: Time of Crisis, was screened on opening night–really counts as a star at all.
The festival was the brainchild of Jim and Ellen Hubbard, she a chipper trial attorney with bouffant hair, he a heavyset man with the hangdog air of a less-than-ruthless Harvey Weinstein. “It was a labor of love,” Jim told me, and so it would seem, since the couple raised most of the necessary money from family and friends (their only sponsors were a local talk-radio station and WorldNetDaily), screened and selected every entrant themselves, and spent most of the festival scrambling around with walkie-talkies, keeping the theaters full, the soda flowing, and the films running on time.
The one thing they couldn’t do, alas, was find enough good films to fill even a longish afternoon, let alone a weekend. The festival’s movies were often awful in fascinating ways, but they were awful nonetheless. Sometimes–as in the piously minded Beyond ‘The Passion of the Christ’: The Impact–the filmmaker assembled reams of interesting footage and then simply threw it all on screen, with little sense of editing or narrative drive (and a cloyingly preachy voice-over). Other films were more slickly packaged but still lousy, like libertarian radio host Larry Elder’s pro-gun, anti-Michael Moore polemic Michael and Me, or the soullessly polished George W. Bush: Faith in the White House. Still others were painfully tone-deaf, like Innocents Betrayed, which could have passed for a History Channel documentary about genocide, save for a narrator intoning–over shots of piled Cambodian skulls or trains bound for Bergen-Belsen–that gun control inevitably leads to state-sponsored mass murder. (Innocents Betrayed, I later learned, was produced by the Wisconsin-based Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership. Make of that what you will.)
So there was nothing in Dallas to make liberal Hollywood quake in its boots, and much to make it chuckle derisively: Stars-and-Stripes hats and “I Luv Halliburton” T-shirts, a ubiquitous British journalist peddling grievances against the BBC and the Guardian, and an almost pathological obsession with Michael Moore among filmmakers and audience members alike. (Though to be fair, the weekend’s second anti-Moore flick–Michael Moore Hates America, by a twentysomething documentarian named Mike Wilson–was easily the festival’s finest, and funniest, effort.)
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