- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

For the second year in a row, the District will play host to the nation’s biggest right-leaning film festival. American Film Renaissance Institute’s 2008 festival kicks off Wednesday and runs through Saturday, screening films in locations around the city.

Founded by the husband-and-wife duo Jim and Ellen Hubbard, AFR hosted festivals in Michigan, Hollywood and Dallas before settling in Washington.

“Basically, my wife and I had no background in film whatsoever,” Mr. Hubbard says, “but we were probably more than the casual filmgoer, and we were pretty attuned to the social and political messages that were embedded in the films.”

Frustrated by the paucity of projects in tune with their political views, the Hubbards set out to create a festival that would bring together right-of-center filmgoers and give them something to celebrate.

“Our festival does cater to a more conservative audience,” Mr. Hubbard says, “but we are a mainstream festival. And we do screen films that don’t have a political or cultural message one way or the other.”

Consider this year’s biggest attraction, “The Dukes.” Directed by Robert Davi and starring him, Chazz Palminteri and Peter Bogdanovich, “The Dukes” isn’t what one might traditionally consider a “conservative” film.

“Getting good, quality films before their theatrical runs” is the key for Mr. Hubbard. “It’s what we’re striving for. We’re a small festival, but I can say we’re really pleased with what we’ve been able to do.”

Related story: Davi’s known, but name isn’t

Past festivals have seen the Hubbards make similar efforts. Last year, they screened “Weirdsville,” a kooky little feature about a pair of heroin-addled thieves; the year before that, they showed “The World’s Fastest Indian,” Anthony Hopkins’ motorcycle picture.

The Hubbards make sure to throw their core audience some red meat. Last year’s festival featured the world premiere of “Indoctrinate U,” Evan Coyne Maloney’s tale of left-wing dominance on American college campuses. This year’s program is no different.

Those interested in looking at hypocrisy on an international scale can check out “U.N. Me,” a documentary examining the United Nation’s failure in preventing genocide and its legacy of massive corruption. Or they can see “Do As I Say,” Nick Tucker’s documentary about “the two-faced mantra ‘Do as I say, not as I do’ [that] has become the unwritten golden rule of modern liberalism.”

If conservative comedy is more your speed, there’s “An American Carol,” the new parody from David Zucker. Following the screening of “An American Carol,” AFR is hosting a pub crawl.

The extracurricular activities are among the highlights of the festival; in addition to the pub crawl, a series of parties invite audiences and talent to commingle (for a price). Tickets to the screenings and parties range from $15 to $40.

For a full schedule of festival events, times and locations, check out the AFR Web site, www.afrfilm.org/ticket.cfm.

Sonny Bunch

Atwater: Life of the party

Democrats ignore the rise of late Republican strategist Lee Atwater at their own peril, says Stefan Forbes, director of a new documentary about the charismatic political figure.

“Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story” recounts - from a decidedly left-tilting perspective - the stunning career and tragic death of the Southern-born strategist.

“Democrats don’t understand the revolution that took place in the Republican Party under him,” says Mr. Forbes, who says Mr. Atwater’s playbook helped the party win the last two elections.

“I don’t think Atwater is given sufficient credit for his influence on politics,” Mr. Forbes says.

Mr. Atwater’s story arc - that of a blues-loving, take-no-prisoners Southerner who scratched and clawed his way to become Vice President George H.W. Bush’s campaign manager for his presidential run in 1988 and later became chairman of the Republican National Committee - begs for a cinematic treatment.

“It’s a legendary American story, a Greek tragedy arc,” says Mr. Forbes, who previously directed 2004’s “One More Dead Fish,” a documentary about globalization. “If you tried to write it as a novel, they’d laugh you out of the room.”

Mr. Forbes’ film traces Mr. Atwater’s growth from his days playing fast and loose with local elections all the way to his use of the notorious “Willie Horton” ads, which helped Mr. Bush beat Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis in 1988.

Mr. Forbes spoke to Mr. Atwater’s enemies as well as some of his longtime pals. Ultimately, viewers will have to sort out for themselves whether he achieved - or even sought - real balance.

“I ignored a lot of what had been written about Lee. I went with the people who knew him best,” he says.

That included Republican strategist Ed Rollins, whose intense relationship with Mr. Atwater provides the film’s most compelling subplot. The two clashed mightily over the years but still forged a bond that affected both deeply. Mr. Rollins’ recollection of Mr. Atwater’s passing will touch hearts on both sides of the aisle.

“Boogie Man” also includes plenty of folks from the left, including polemicist Eric Alterman of the Nation magazine. The writer’s voice helps shape the story, which unfolds without narration but tells a compelling, cohesive story all the same.

Mr. Forbes says he wanted “Boogie Man” to show how Mr. Atwater represented a dark side of the American spirit. He needed to win and didn’t care who suffered as a result, Mr. Forbes says, adding that the country also suffers when politicians apply dirty campaign tactics.

Mr. Atwater’s colorful life attracted Mr. Forbes, but his final days battling brain cancer persuaded the filmmaker to tackle the project. The illness transformed Mr. Atwater’s physical appearance, but his inner metamorphosis might have been just as profound.

“He was desperately looking for meaning. His closest friends say he was racked by guilt. … He was afraid he was going to hell,” Mr. Forbes says. “Winning at all costs wasn’t enough for Lee in the end.”

Mr. Forbes’ film details the contradictions and corrosive politics of its subject, but he came away with a grudging respect for Mr. Atwater.

The late strategist had plenty of flaws, but he inspired deep devotion in his friends, worked near miracles on the political scene and, ultimately, tapped into exactly what worked in the political system, for better or worse.

“Maybe he knew us too well,” Mr. Forbes says.

Christian Toto

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