The Selling of a (Gasp!) Right-Wing Documentary

“I Want Your Money” will open wide in 500 theaters this fall, pushing the conservative agenda into uncharted waters

Last Updated: August 25, 2010 @ 12:40 PM

The feature documentary format has always been the left wing's equivalent to AM radio.

While Rush Limbaugh reaches millions of listeners every day, Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11" grossed $222.4 million theatrically.

Now comes filmmaker Ray Griggs with his "I Want Your Money" — a film that very favorably compares Ronald Reagan's fiscal policy to that of Barack Obama.

His talking heads? A partial-to-one-side group of interview subjects, such as Newt Gingrich, Steve Forbes, Ed Meese, Mike Huckabee, John Stossel and Tom McClintock

Call it the Air America of the feature documentary.

Self-financed for under $1 million — "No corporations or political organizations are involved," Griggs insists — the plan is for the movie to be released in some 500 theaters nationwide on Oct. 15 through a service deal with Freestyle Releasing.

True, the art-house circuit isn't as big in the Red States as it is in Manhattan, but Freestyle is going after bookings.

"This won't be your typical New York and L.A. documentary roll-out," said Freestyle co-founder Susan Jackson. "The people who are interested in this are probably in the middle of the country. In some markets, we'll be able to find specialty theaters. In others, we won't. But we've had a good response from exhibition so far."

While the concept of the right-leaning documentary isn't exactly unheard of, there isn't a lot of precedence for wide theatrical release.

"I find this unusual," said veteran publicist Fredell Pogidin, who has overseen the Oscar campaigns of top documentary filmmakers for years. "Documentaries typically get most of their play in the top 10 markets. I don't know how you get a documentary into small-town America." 

By all accounts, Griggs' effort is novel.

Particularly during the middle-decade years of the George W. Bush administration, filmmakers like Moore, Alex Gibney ("Taxi to the Dark Side") and Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth") were prolific, mining the genre to express points of view on health care, the Iraq War and the environment in recent years.

Some of the biggest documentary grosses were achieved during this period, with not only Moore's "Fahrenheit" breaking the all-time genre box-office record, but small-budgeted titles like "Inconvenient Truth" boasting nearly $50 million in worldwide grosses.

And so far, Griggs' effort doesn't seem to be the harbinger of a movement among now-dissonant conservatives to seize the documentary format in the same way.

At least, not yet. A solid box-office performance by "I Want Your Money" could change that.

A bomb? The right can go back to complaining about how it can't get a movie made in Hollywood.

"When we saw this, we said to ourselves, 'Oh my God, somebody has made a right-wing film'," said Freestyle's Jackson, tongue-in-cheek. "But there is a whole group in America that is very interested in this film."