Reeling on the Right

A liberal-bashing film festival puts this conservative critic to sleep

| March-April 2009

  • Reeling Right Winger

    image by CBS / Photofest

  • Reeling Right Winger

The American Film Renaissance Film Festival bills itself as “the only film festival in the world devoted to celebrating America’s timeless traditional values like freedom, rugged individualism, and the triumph of the human spirit.” In other words, AFR is a conservative film festival. During its first wine-and-cheese afterparty, one Washington lawyer said he hoped the festival “will get Hollywood to go back to the pro-American films that they used to have—like the ones John Wayne used to be in.”

He’s not alone. Some conservatives have long lamented that the right has focused on electoral politics to the exclusion of cultural endeavors. Think tanks, magazines, and activist groups can accomplish political tasks, they say, but culture makers shape our prejudices and ideals in a subtle though more profound way.

AFR is supposed to be the conservative film movement’s showcase. Unfortunately, the festival reveals that self-conscious conservatives are largely incapable of producing good films.

The top-billed film of the 2008 festival, held last fall in Washington, D.C., was An American Carol, a slapstick comedy about documentary filmmaker Michael Malone, who sets out to abolish the Fourth of July because he hates America. To the delight of the audience, JFK, General Patton, and George Washington make appearances to slap the Michael Moore look-alike and teach him that America is the greatest country ever. By the end, the liberal filmmaker realizes that being American means being pro-war (any war), and that’s OK.

Is An American Carol funny? In parts. There is some mildly amusing ethnic humor and a bravura film-within-a-film about Christian terrorists that involves homicidal nuns, hijacker priests, and an “Episcopalian suppository bomber.” But the rest is a series of tiresome gags hastily tied together. Adorable children curse their liberal relatives, Dennis Hopper blows away ACLU zombies, soldiers and sailors are hailed for their prowess in the sack. Of course, antiwar activists are smeared as pro-slavery Nazi appeasers. Bill O’Reilly makes a cringe-inducing cameo.

Far from lampooning the left, Carol insults conservatives by presuming that they are so simple as to be won over by fat jokes and flatulence. But AFR audience members, imagining themselves to be persecuted by Holly­wood, chuckle obediently at every cheap laugh.