THIS is the one week out of the year when Republicans in Hollywood come out of the closet (and I'm not talking about today's pivotal midterm elections). In the famously liberal world of show business, being a conservative writer or actor is a quixotic pursuit, like a Cubs fan longing for a trip to the World Series or an antiwar activist hoping to land a show on Fox News.
But this weekend Michael Moore followers will have to take a backseat to Michael Medved fans, thanks to the third annual Liberty Film Festival, which opens Friday at the Pacific Design Center. The festival is the brainchild of Jason Apuzzo and Govindini Murty, husband-and-wife film devotees who are on a mission to establish a conservative beachhead of cultural influence in the movie business.
Having watched a batch of the films slated to screen this weekend, the festival still seems a few years away from being a real cinematic force, though it features several well-made documentaries, most notably "Suicide Killers," a chilling portrait of imprisoned suicide bombers by French Algerian filmmaker Pierre Rehov.
As it turns out, Apuzzo and Murty's most inspired idea is their Libertas website (www.libertyfilmfestival.com/libertas). Launched in early 2005, the festival spinoff has emerged as a must read for anyone who cares about film and enjoys seeing Hollywood blowhards and hypocrites take a few jabs to the head. I couldn't agree less with most of its politics, but in an era in which most movie sites are dominated by gossips and geeks, Libertas is one of the few websites that actually takes movies -- and their cultural influence -- seriously.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday November 17, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Liberty Film Festival: An article in the Nov. 7 Calendar section about the Liberty Film Festival referred to the TV channel Turner Classic Movies as Turner Movie Classics.
To say that the site is defiantly right wing would be an understatement. If it has a central theme, it would be that moviegoers won't spend money on movies populated with obnoxious liberal stars who deride President Bush and undercut the war on terrorism. Libertas blamed the box-office failure of "All the King's Men" on Sean Penn, saying his vitriolic attacks on Bush have made him box-office poison.
The site's rhetoric is often just as harsh as anything you hear from Penn. After Variety announced a film starring Reese Witherspoon that involves a CIA operative in the Middle East who questions his mission after observing a secret police grilling of a suicide bombing suspect, Libertas raged: "What these films are doing to embolden the enemy and turn potential allies in the Middle East against us is unmistakable.... And here's the biggest actress in Hollywood doing our enemies bidding.... Shame on these people. They're as dangerous as any terrorist."
Many of the most inflammatory posts (like the one above) are written by a filmmaker using the nom de plume of Dirty Harry. Apuzzo won't reveal his identity but says the site's regular contributors disagree on many films. Still, the site has also attacked "Catch a Fire" as "another apartheid movie with an anti-Christian theme thrown in just to impress the Academy" and dismissed "Blood Diamond" sight unseen, with Dirty Harry saying, "I'm assuming 'Blood Diamond' is anti-American because well, [liberals] Leo [DiCaprio] and [director Ed] Zwick are involved."
Fortunately, Libertas has more than just political vitriol. Michael Kim provides shrewd analysis of Hollywood economics. Apuzzo keeps tabs on vintage films airing on Turner Movie Classics. A recent posting offered the 15 top conservative horror films, the winner being "The Exorcist": "A priest who doesn't molest children finds his faith and sacrifices himself for another. And Jesus saves the day! How did this one slip through?"
Libertas' politics often drive me around the bend, especially when Murty goes on about how Hollywood movies are undermining the war on terror. (Silly me, I thought the war on terror was being undermined by the war in Iraq.) But Libertas has an undeniable intellectual energy, not unlike Newt Gingrich during his rise to power in Congress. The site's contrarian ideas certainly represent a breath of fresh air in a town where you can go to dinner parties for years on end without ever hearing anyone question liberal conventional wisdom on any issue.
Murty and Apuzzo first established themselves as minority combatants attending Yale. Apuzzo graduated in 1992 with a degree in philosophy, and Murty left in 1997 with a degree in East Asian studies. Today they're like an old married couple -- during our interview they often interrupted each other, snapping, "Let me finish, please!" They admire iconoclasts and Big Thinkers. Murty's favorite professor at Yale was Harold Bloom, and Apuzzo did his doctoral dissertation at Stanford on Thomas Mann.
At Yale, Murty was drawn to conservative causes. "I was irritated by Yale's liberal orthodoxy," she says. "In fact, being in Hollywood feels a lot like it was at Yale."