Andrew Breitbart died in 2012, but Ann McElhinney hasn’t forgotten his message to fellow conservatives.
Politics is downstream from culture, Breitbart cried. McElhinney and partner Phelim McAleer heed that message as well as any conservative artists today.
It’s why they fought for four years to bring the horrors of Dr. Kermit Gosnell’s abortion factory to theaters. The duo smashed crowdfunding records in 2014 by raising $2.1 million on Indiegogo.com for the “Gosnell” movie, set for an Oct. 12 release.
The “Gosnell” movie, directed by Nick Searcy and starring Dean Cain, tracks Dr. Gosnell’s grisly medical practices. His actions finally ended with his conviction on three counts of first degree murder. The details of the case make horror movies like “Saw” look tame by comparison.
The Philadelphia district attorney, R. Seth Williams, said the Gosnell case was probably the most gruesome he had dealt with since becoming district attorney three years ago.
“I will not mince my words: Kermit Gosnell is a monster,” Mr. Williams said after the sentencing. “Any doctor who cuts into the necks, severing the spinal cords of living, breathing babies, who would survive with proper medical attention, is a murderer and a monster.”
Money poured into the project’s crowdfunding coffers back in 2014, but it didn’t happen without a fight. The “Gosnell” film initially set up camp at Kickstarter.com, but the site rejected the project under dubious circumstances.
The service complained about the graphic nature of the film’s description but gladly supported far more gruesome projects. Even liberal pundit Kirsten Powers agreed on the hypocrisy in play.
McElhinney says that early battle previewed the skirmishes to come, including a legal challenge by a judge depicted in the film which held up its release. McElhinney could not comment on the case only to say that it’s resolved.
FAST FACT: At one point Dr. Kermit Gosnell was writing roughly 1,900 prescriptions a month, a practice which attracted the attention of the DEA.
Finding a distributor for the film proved just as challenging. That surprised the filmmakers, given the intensity behind the crowdfunding campaign.
“We had proof of concept,” she says, along with an early stamp of approval. “When the film was finished, we showed it to an agent who said, ‘no problem. You’ll get distribution.’”
Easier said than done, apparently. The couple reached out to many film distribution companies with the same negative results.
“No one said the film was bad,” she recalls. Instead, the nature of the content turned off potential partners. “’We have to pass, it’s too controversial for us.’ Controversial sells. Blood and gore sells. That this film is beyond the pale is ridiculous.”
Abortion is hardly the only hot-button issue McElhinney has pushed in recent years. She’s part of the team behind “FrackNation,” a documentary debunking media lies about fracking.
Her 2006 feature “Mine Your Own Business” explores how environmentalists ignored the will of the people to shut down projects that would bring jobs and resources to struggling communities.
More recently, she helped bring “Ferguson” to select theaters, a play using court transcripts to reveal how too many media outlets distorted the truth about the death of a black Missouri man, Michael Brown, at the hands of a white police officer.
Feature films. Documentaries. Plays. Viral videos asking tough questions of liberal filmmakers. McElhinney and McAleer thrive on using media to share their points of view.
It’s all part of the plan.
“People don’t change their ideas by reading a white paper … very few people pick up a philosophical tome on capitalism and have it change their lives,” she explains, adding the narratives surrounding the mining exploitation captured in her 2006 documentary turned her toward conservatism.
With the right stories, “suddenly the world opens up,” she says. So why don’t more conservatives embrace that approach?
“We’re just really lousy at this,” she says bluntly. “We don’t tell stories.”
It wasn’t always this way.
“Jesus Christ did it with parables,” she says. “I don’t know when conservatives stopped doing it, when we abandoned the playhouses, the cinema. Other people took their place and some of those stories are lies.”
Faith-friendly films are often accused of being propaganda, putting the message in front of the storytelling. The charge holds true on certain projects. McElhinney promises “Gosnell” is different.
“The story is so extraordinary it doesn’t need embellishing or preaching,” she says.
The “Gosnell” movie might get a boost from current events, too. The Supreme Court battle over President Donald Trump’s nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, has renewed the conversation over the landmark decision known as Roe v. Wade.
“Maybe the timing is just right,” she says. “People’s hearts and minds need to be opened.”
“Gosnell” has company in that regard. A new pro-life film centered on the Roe v. Wade decision is currently in production. The filmmakers describe a concerted effort to crush the project, from university locations refusing to host the shoot to cast and crew members fleeing for a variety of reasons.
McElhinney knows the drill. Several actors left her “Ferguson” play before it hit debuted even though the play recited facts from court records. Similarly, “Gosnell” parts had to be recast during the early days of the production as actors fled the project.
The frequen cast turnovers became an inside joke, akin to a “dog ate my homework” line of excuses, she says.
McElhinnery’s creative team once again embraced the source material as a defense against the “Gosnell” movie’s potential critics. Audiences will hear verbatim details during the film’s courtroom sequences.
She thinks that alone will chill viewers to the core, like how medical experts detail what a “good abortion” looks like.
“It’s a true story, not a made-up story or a religious film even,” she says.
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