With his election-year release of “2016: Obama’s America,” commentator Dinesh D’Souza is borrowing the strategy of a political opposite, Michael Moore, to promote the critical documentary film.
Touted by radio host Rush Limbaugh and the Hoover Institution’s Thomas Sowell, “Obama’s America” has been building momentum since opening in a single Houston theater in July. This weekend it expands to 1,090 locations and is expected to take in $5.8 million, probably enough to reach the top 10, according to Boxoffice.com, an industry researcher.
D’Souza, who based the documentary on his best-selling 2010 book “The Roots of Obama’s Rage,” was thinking about Moore’s successful marketing of “Fahrenheit 9/11,” the documentary about the administration of former President George W. Bush, released during the 2004 election year, as he developed “Obama’s America.”
“You had a controversial president, Bush, you had one half the country on the fence and Michael Moore dropped the film right in the middle of the national debate,” D’Souza said in an interview. “I thought, now the conditions look eerily similar, so I’ll take a page out of Michael Moore’s book.”
The film, made for $2.5 million, is resonating with a conservative audience energized by President Barack Obama’s re- election battle against Republican challenger Mitt Romney, said Phil Contrino, editor of Boxoffice.com. “Obama’s America” led all films in advance ticket sales yesterday on Fandango.com, the online ticket vendor, the company said.
“Obama’s America” is benefiting from the timing of its expansion, three days before the opening of the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.
“Voters around the country understand that President Obama’s policies have not made things better, and they are energized at the thought of replacing him with someone who can turn this economy around,” said Andrea Saul, a Romney spokeswoman, in an e-mail.
Obama’s campaign didn’t respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
Sales of $5.8 million would lift the film to No. 10 for U.S. weekend ticket sales, according to Boxoffice.com. It also would make “Obama’s America” the sixth best-performing political documentary of all time, ahead of actor-writer Ben Stein’s “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed,” according to Box Office Mojo, another industry researcher.
“Obama’s America” examines the influences that shaped the president’s view of America’s place in the world, including his years as a youth living in Indonesia and his father’s imprisonment by British colonial authorities in Kenya. D’Souza concludes those events led Obama to seek a diminished world role for the U.S.
“I’m not suggesting he hates America,” D’Souza said. “I’m just saying that he subscribes to an ideology, that he wants to see a smaller American footprint in the world.”
“Fahrenheit 9/11,” opening a few months before the 2004 election, criticized the Bush administration’s handling of the war on terror, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
“Obama’s America” was produced by Gerald Molen, also a producer on Steven Spielberg’s “Schindler’s List” and “Jurassic Park.” It is being distributed by Salt Lake City- based Rocky Mountain Pictures, which distributed 2011’s “Atlas Shrugged,” based on the novel by Ayn Rand.
D’Souza and Molen raised the movie’s production budget from about 25 investors. They raised $7.5 million more for marketing, for a total investment of about $10 million.
Although D’Souza would welcome a profit, it wasn’t his goal, he said. Typically the producers of independent films receive about half of box-office revenue after distribution fees.
“We made the film because of ideas,” he said. “At the same time, we wanted to have a sensible business plan.”
“Obama’s America won’t come close to matching the sales of ‘‘Fahrenheit 9/11,” the top documentary of all time with $119.2 million in domestic revenue, according to Contrino.
“But there is a strong anti-Obama feeling in conservative circles, and this is going to scratch that itch,” he said.
There is also little competition. Late August is typically a slow time for cinema attendance because studios already have released their big summer movies, according to Paul Dergarabedian, president of Hollywood.com Box-Office.
“The Expendables 2,” from Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. (LGF:US), is expected to repeat as the top film this weekend with $14 million in revenue, the estimate of reesarcher Boxoffice.com.
“A movie that, earlier in the summer, would have been completely lost in the shuffle now is getting talked about,” he said. “It’s all about timing.”
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