Hillary and Bill Clinton might want to avoid movie theaters if they’re looking for a little downtime from campaigning.
In the coming months, there could be up to eight right-leaning films set to hit the big screen and online streaming services with storylines less than flattering for the Democrats’ presumptive nominee. The first, which hits YouTube on Thursday, uses actors to reenact Hillary Clinton’s deposition about the email scandal that’s swirled around her candidacy.
And there’s more. Bigger projects include one directed by political documentarian Dinesh D’Souza; another based on best-selling author Peter Schweizer’s book Clinton Cash, which follows the Clinton money trail; and perhaps one more sponsored by conservative nonprofit group Citizens United.
The filmmakers, some of whom began their efforts years ago in preparation for Clinton’s impending nomination, will each try to tap into hype surrounding what could be the strangest and most contentious presidential election in memory. Clinton and Donald Trump, in fact, have large numbers of detractors, each with an unfavorable rating exceeding 60 percent, according to a recent poll. So there’s already a built-in market.
“We’re gearing up for a big movie and a crazy election,” says D’Souza, who is no stranger to political fare after 2016: Obama’s America was ranked among the most successful political documentaries in history.
To be sure, defenders of Hillary and Democratic Party backers are rising to meet the onslaught of anti-Hillary movies. Left-leaning Media Matters for America has issued multiple missives, calling Clinton Cash “error-filled” and D’Souza a “discredited conservative conspiracy theorist.”
Still, they aren’t likely to influence the slate of anti-Hillary films, the first scheduled for streaming on Thursday.
When Hillary Clinton adviser Cheryl Mills was deposed in a lawsuit related to the former Secretary of State’s email scandal, she used some version of “I don’t recall” or “I don’t know” 189 times, and her lawyers objected to some 200 questions. Americans may never see the testimony, though, because a judge has blocked the release of the video. But look on YouTube, Facebook and elsewhere for Deposition and audiences can see actors reenacting the deposition.
The short is considered “verbatim theater,” meaning filmmaker Phelim McAleer’s script is a shortened version of actual testimony made public by the courts. He is a journalist-turned-filmmaker whose work includes conservative-leaning environmental documentaries and the upcoming Gosnell, a movie about Kermit Gosnell, the infamous abortion doctor serving life in prison on multiple convictions of murder and manslaughter.
“The original deposition was six hours, so we had to shorten it to make it palatable, but we didn’t do a Katie Couric on it,” McAleer says, invoking a controversy whereby Couric apologized for manipulating a scene in her recent documentary, Under the Gun.
McAleer, whose first foray into verbatim theater was with Ferguson, a stage play based on grand jury testimony about the police shooting of Michael Brown in Missouri, is trying to raise $84,000 on Indiegogo so he can make four more short films based on testimony about Clinton’s use of a private email server, including that of Huma Abedin, her deputy chief of staff, who is set to testify June 28.
Some of the eight actors in Deposition appear conflicted about their roles and politics. Jessica Anne Bogart, who is seen objecting as Mills’ attorney, says it’s “very risky” participating in an anti-Clinton project given Hollywood’s reputation for liberalism. “There was a time when we could roll our shoulders back and have a conversation; now you have to be afraid if you’re a conservative in Hollywood,” she says.
The biggest-budgeted of the films targeting Clinton is Hillary’s America: The Secret History of the Democratic Party, written and directed by D’Souza and executive produced by Gerald Molen, the Oscar-winning producer of Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park and other blockbusters. The production cost was $5 million and another $5 million will be spent on prints and advertising. A controversial trailer (embedded below) featuring images of Clinton and the Ku Klux Klan has been viewed nearly 2 million times.
“They like to say racism was the fault of Republicans. That is pure bullshit — excuse me — you can tell I get emotional about this,” Molen told THR after the trailer caused a stir online. “Students know nothing about history, nothing about America. They don’t know 600,000 people died in the Civil War, most of them trying to protect black Americans from Democrats who supported slavery.”
The plan is for Hillary’s America to premiere in Los Angeles on July 11 and again on July 17 in Cleveland, Ohio, one day before the Republican National Convention kicks off. D’Souza says it’s too early to announce who’s distributing the film, though insiders say it’s likely to be Quality Flix, a new offshoot of Pure Flix, known best for its distribution of the two God’s Not Dead films. Hillary’s America is set to open wide on as many as 1,600 screens on July 22.
As for Schweizer’s Clinton Cash, it’s produced by Stephen Bannon, a former investment banker who made a fortune as a partial owner of shows like Seinfeld and now is executive chairman of Breitbart News. ARC Entertainment is distributing the one-hour documentary, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival and will premiere at a venue near the Democratic National Convention, which runs July 25-28 in Philadelphia. Clinton Cash gets a limited theatrical release on Aug. 1; then it will quickly segue to TV and digital distribution in plenty of time for the election three months later.
In fact, Bannon tells THR that it could even debut on TV and digitally prior to its theatrical release. “We’re getting a lot of interest in this, and we’ll take the offer that gets us the broadest audience.
“We’re not going to screw around with it,” he says. “We just want it out there.”