By Glenn Palmedo-Smith
The documentary film “2016: Obama’s America” had its San Diego debut a few weeks ago. By the end of that weekend, the film grossed more than $6.2 million with 1,725 screens and is now postured to surpass Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” of $24 million gross. This film has local connections. The director (author Dinesh D’Souza) lives part time in Fairbanks Ranch. Much of the film’s financing was raised in the area, including a generous contribution from Jenny Craig. I talked with famed Hollywood producer Gerald Molen (producer of Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List), who is the driving force behind the film. Thus, here’s my take on the film:
The first act was surprisingly gentle in its telling, almost sympathetic to an innocent, wide-eyed “Barry” growing up in search of a fatherless identity. At the very onset of the film, the filmmakers graciously attempted to settle the “birther” question to an Obama favorable conclusion, stating that two Hawaiian newspapers announced the birth in print back in 1961. I find this smart filmmaking, much how I, myself, might attempt when approaching a controversial subject. Assuming America is split half left and half right, why unnecessarily disenfranchise half the audience when just coming out of the gate?
On one level, the audience can feel sorry for Obama because of the radical influences he had growing up. Yet, on the other hand, our brains are asking us, “How did this guy get to the top seat of government?” Developing fair “conflict” early is a place where overt propagandists like Michael Moore never venture as he narrates his own films, brazenly promoting his one-sided and biased agenda. Ideally, like nostalgic views of bygone newscasting of the past, so should documentaries thereby go, seemingly unbiased.
My two favorite clips of the movie were: 1) The “off-mic” comment from Obama to Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, (paraphrase), “Don’t worry, after my second term we will be free to do much more,” while giving a wink-wink, pat on the knee. The Russian president then retorts, “I understand — I will inform Vladimir.” And 2), The “diss” of returning the Churchill bust to Britain, a gift to the Bush Whitehouse, presumably in an effort to proclaim to the Middle East that a new America has arrived that will distant itself from previous empire builders. Couldn’t the gift have quietly gone to another government office?
As a filmmaker, I had a problem with the many uses of reenactments in the film. A good documentary film utilizes reenactment sparingly, only in a last-ditch effort to make a point. Conducting his interviews on a phone (almost a dozen times by my account), is a cheap way to perform an interview. Having people on camera reenact previous conversations quoted from the director’s book and then depicting the director on his cell phone, presumably from California, asking the questions is sort of cheap, potentially misleading and an unnecessary gimmick with a $10 million budget. Also, the series of reenactment shots of the black kid being “dissed” by his white classmates and then seeing the sadness on the black kid’s face, while the white kids happily return with a lit cake, is sort of some soft church-type video, preserved for Catechism class and Lawrence Welk reruns.
But by the third act, the resolution of the movie, the film becomes important and timely for this upcoming election. It asks the viewer to think, and what more can a film do? I don’t believe it will change opinions of the extreme left — Take over General Motors, control the banks, socialize medical care, etc. I also don’t believe it will alter the extreme right vote either, as they will simply feel the film didn’t go far enough! But, I feel it will influence the center-leaning Democrat and GOP voters and, more significantly, the much-sought independent voter.
Consequently, I enjoyed the film and I believe it’s a worthy effort, if not merely for its marketing and forbiddeness, then for its daring subject matter — that certainly demands more industry exploration.
Glenn Palmedo-Smith is a film director, producer and writer. He recently received three Emmys for his Korean war film “Hold At All Costs,” and he has received many national “Best of Fests” awards for his other works.