June 27, 2005


On the Right Side of the Theater Aisle (JAMES ULMER, 6/26/05, NY Times)

In December, for instance, Walt Disney Studios and Walden Media, owned by the evangelical financier Philip Anschutz, are to release their $150 million "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," the first in a projected movie franchise based on C. S. Lewis's Christianity-inspired Narnia novels. Walden is also developing its political thriller, "Amazing Grace," about the British evangelical abolitionist William Wilberforce, and Sony Pictures is hoping that the next installment of the apocalyptic "Left Behind" series, "Left Behind: World War III," will usher in its own religiously inspired franchise.

What joins these independent and studio filmmakers, says the conservative author James Hirsen, is a shared sense of being political outsiders in a town in which the term "Hollywood conservative" can sometimes seem an oxymoron. "A lot of them," Mr. Hirsen says, "are feeling left out on the Left Coast."

That sense also binds conservatives who have had long careers in mainstream Hollywood and, like the newer activists, cut a broad political and religious swath, from "right-to-life" Christians and foreign-policy hawks to more middle-of-the-road "family-values" advocates. They include strongly identified Catholics like Mel Gibson and the manager-producer Doug Urbanski ("The Contender"), and evangelicals like Ralph Winter, who produced "X-Men" and "Fantastic Four." One of their leading voices has long been Lionel Chetwynd, a Jewish neo-conservative whose credits include the 1987 pro-Vietnam War feature "The Hanoi Hilton." A collection of what might loosely be styled conservative libertarians includes the actors Clint Eastwood, Drew Carey and Gary Oldman, along with the producers Jerry Bruckheimer and Gavin Polone.

The old guard has been joined by the so-called Sept. 12th Republicans. These include former liberals and centrists like the actors David Zucker, Dennis Miller, James Woods and Ron Silver - who all, in Mr. Bannon's words, "had a Road to Damascus experience" after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

More recently, these familiar faces have been bolstered by new players from both inside and outside the system, many intent on using the documentary form to promote their conservative message. One, Stephen McEveety, 50, who struck gold as a producer of "The Passion of the Christ," recently left Mr. Gibson's Icon Productions to start his own film company. According to two people who have worked with him and who spoke anonymously to protect their industry relationships, Mr. McEveety, who declined to be interviewed, controls a $100 million fund devoted to making and promoting family-oriented movies. (Mr. McEveety did note in an e-mail message that his criterion for making films is whether "my kids would be able to see them," not politics.) He is collaborating with Mr. Bannon, 51, on two new Catholic-themed documentaries, one on cloning, and another on Pope Benedict XVI, which is budgeted at about $1 million.

The two men have also participated in discreet, religiously based outreach and financing initiatives, including gatherings arranged by the Wilberforce Forum, the Virginia-based evangelical public policy group whose chairman is the former Watergate figure Chuck Colson and which has a mission to "shape culture from a biblical perspective," according to its Web site, wilberforce.org. Last September, Mr. McEveety and Mr. Bannon flew to Maryland to meet with top Christian powerbrokers on Capitol Hill in a forum co-sponsored by Wilberforce.

"The idea was to start tying money from Washington's right-to-life movement to key Hollywood players," said a participant who asked not to be named to protect his relationship with Wilberforce. A spokeswoman for Wilberforce confirmed that the organization, along with the Washington nonprofit group Faith and Law, were the hosts.

That was followed by a gathering three months later in Santa Monica in which a half-dozen Christians from the world of politics met with Mr. Gibson, Mr. McEveety, Mr. Bannon and others. "The idea was just to meet conservatives in Hollywood and find out what they're working on," said Mark Rodgers, staff director of the Senate Republican Conference, who attended the events along with Bill Wichterman, policy adviser to Bill Frist, the Senate majority leader.

A co-host for the Santa Monica gathering was Act One, a nonpolitical group of Christian screenwriters based in Los Angeles and led by Barbara Nicolosi, a Catholic activist and former nun. Ms. Nicolosi said one of the goals of the meeting was "for Wilberforce to find some intersection of policy and story ideas" for future Hollywood content.

Ms. Nicolosi added that while religiously motivated filmmakers can "obviously find it difficult enough" working in Hollywood, "some of us think we should stop calling ourselves Christians, it's become such a political liability here." Building political connections hasn't been easy, either. "The Christians in Washington just don't trust us, because we're part of the Great Satan called Hollywood," she said.

And some show business conservatives say they fear that overt political connections will turn off audiences. "It never works when politicians come to Hollywood to try to influence content," said Govindini Murty, a Hindu actress and right-wing advocate who appears frequently on conservative talk shows. "Democrat or Republican, they should just stay away."

Just make good movies and they'll be conservative--there's only one story.

MORE (via b):
NY TIMES CALLING... (Church of the Masses)

[This is a somewhat paraphrased and somewhat literal transcription of an interview I did Sunday night with a NY Times reporter named James. This was the follow-up interview to one he did with me a few weeks ago. That first interview started with the following exchange (after intro comments):

James: So, in the last six months, there have been 37 pairings in the Times of the word "Christian" with words like "scary", "frightening", "theocratic" and "intimidating". My question is, what is it about Christians that makes you so scary?

Barb: (loud, snorting and sneering laughter) Are you kidding me?

James: What?

Barb: I finally get interviewed by the New York Times, and you ask me a question like that?! (more snorting and laughing)

James: (sniffs) Are you laughing because you think it's funny that people find Christians frightening?

Barb: No. I'm laughing because you want me to tell you why you and your friends are scared of Christians -- and I think you should ask your therapist!

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 27, 2005 11:41 AM

I'm sure most people have seen the hilarious account Ms. Nicolosi wrote on her blog of her interview for this story, but if not, here it is:


Posted by: b at June 27, 2005 11:51 AM

Looking back at the pounding "The Passion of the Christ" took during production, pre-release and in the reviews, odd are the knives will be out for "Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," if the pre-release buzz on the movie indicates the Christian allegories are close to the sufrace.

At the same time, looking at the money "The Passion of the Christ" took in despite all those negative media stories, if the film is good, all the bad publicity in the world won't keep it from drawing customers (and despite the fact the Disney is run by mostly liberals, that's not going to keep them from promoting a seemingly "conservative" movie if they can make a buck off of it, any more than it's kept Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity off their radio stations).

Posted by: John at June 27, 2005 5:03 PM

If the hardcore Star Wars geek crowd is any indication, Narnia should enjoy a pretty bulletproof release. Of all the trailers that ran before "The Revege of the Sith" on opening night in the Northern California theater I was in, by far, the audience went the craziest over The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at June 27, 2005 5:25 PM

The Lord of the Rings was written as a Christian, strongly Hesperocentric myth and this came through strongly in the film, for all that Gandalf tells Frodo to turn to the left when leaving Rivendell, instead of telling him to take the right-hand way as he did in the book in the mines or Moria. Not too shabby, when you think how easy it would have been to twist the story to fit the personal predelictions of the director and some of the cast.

Posted by: Lou Gots at June 27, 2005 5:45 PM

"evangelical financier Philip Anschutz"

Oh...Oh...the New York Times gives Anschutz two warning labels on his name.

What does the New York Times call George Soros again?

Philanthropist George Soros? Or is it "investor" George Soros?

Posted by: David at June 27, 2005 6:48 PM