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'2016: Obama's America' Shows Up Strong When Most Box Office Is Weak

Aug 27, 2012
Originally published on August 28, 2012 3:53 pm

The movie 2016: Obama's America just did something that's hard for any political documentary to accomplish: it took seventh place on the list of this weekend's highest grossing movies. Usually, when any documentary pulls in more than five million dollars, it's about, say, Katy Perry. But 2016 looks at the ideologies and global movements that it says helped intellectually mold the President of the United States from a critical, conservative perspective. And the ending imagines an America economically undone by four more years of an Obama presidency.

During the three years writer Dinesh D'Souza worked on the documentary, he traveled to Kenya to interview George Obama, the president's half-brother, as well as to India to create something of a parallel between his story and Obama's. The attention the film's received from Rush Limbaugh and Fox News has helped it expand from one screen in Houston when it opened six weeks ago to over 1170 screens nationwide, says producer Gerald Molen.

When I asked why he made a film intended for movie theaters, rather than use the web or television to reach audiences, Molen replied, "Michael Moore did very well with his documentaries." As a producer whose credits include such films as Jurassic Park and Schindler's List, Molen is using the medium he knows best to communicate his political beliefs. And so far, 2016 has made more than nine million dollars. It's already the sixth highest grossing political documentary of all time.

Analyst Jeff Bock, of Exhibitor Relations, says 2016 might not have done quite as well if its distributor had been released the film earlier in the year. "End of the summer's always the weakest time at the box office," he says. "So it was a great move by Rocky Mountain Pictures to drop their political documentary in this spot."

Bock expects Obama 2016 to keep attracting audiences over the next few months, as the weather cools and the election heats up. In fact, Gerald Molen says his goal is for nothing less than for everyone to see the film. "I realize that's outrageous," he said, "but, sure, if there's a goal, that's what I would seek."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

A small, independent movie critical of President Obama scored big at the box office success this weekend. It's called "2016: Obama's America." And NPR's Neda Ulaby reports that the movie's been building momentum steadily since its release last month.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: "2016" tells a conservative alternative story about President Obama.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "2016: OBAMA'S AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Obama has a dream. A dream from his father. That the sins of colonialism be set right, and America be downsized.

ULABY: The movie was the brainchild of writer Dinsesh D'Souza. He interviewed Mr. Obama's half brother in Kenya and probes into his father's leftist ideologies. At the end, the film imagines an America devastated by four more years of an Obama presidency.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "2016: OBAMA'S AMERICA")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Which dream will we carry into 2016?

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

RUSH LIMBAUGH TALK SHOW HOST: This movie is going gangbusters.

ULABY: Rush Limbaugh boosted it last week on his radio show.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST, "THE RUSH LIMBAUGH SHOW")

HOST: I wouldn't be surprised if Dinesh's movie is the third or maybe the second highest grossing box office movie of the weekend.

ULABY: It was actually number seven. Still, the documentary pulled in a very respectable six and a half million dollars. When Pamela Gilcrist went to see it in Cincinnati, Ohio, this weekend, she says the matinee was about half full.

PAMELA GILCRIST: And everybody was pretty quiet throughout the movie, and at the end there was applause. Everybody stood up and applauded at the end of the movie.

ULABY: That's especially gratifying, given the film's first, super small release, says producer Gerry Molen.

GERRY MOLEN: You can't get any smaller. We started out with one theater in Houston, Texas.

ULABY: "2016" has expanded over the past six weeks to over 1,100 screens. Molen and D'Souza wanted to tap into a tradition of rabble rousing political films.

MOLEN: Michael Moore did very well with his documentaries.

ULABY: And "2016" is closing in on Moore's success, says box office analyst Jeff Bock. He works for Exhibitor Relations. He says "2016" is already the sixth highest grossing political documentary of all time.

JEFF BOCK: End of the summer's always the weakest time at the box office. So it was a great move by Rocky Mountain Pictures to drop their political documentary in this spot.

ULABY: Bock says he only expects audiences to get bigger during a slow movie season, and that's exactly what producer Gerry Molen wants.

MOLEN: Well, the ultimate goal would be for everyone in America to see the film. I realize that's outrageous. But, sure, if there was a goal that's what I would seek.

ULABY: Molen hopes people who disagree with his politics will seek out "2016: Obama's America." He thinks the movie will change their minds. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.