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It's A Conspiracy!

17 Aug, 2004 By: Holly J. Wagner

Nothing grabs the public's eyes and ears like a good old-fashioned conspiracy. Only in America would people still be debating, 40 years later, whether Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone or Marilyn Monroe really committed suicide.

That curiosity — and suspicion — should be a great selling tool from now through the November elections. The slate is packed with documentaries, docudramas, historical dramas and more, many of the titles focused on the George W. Bush administration, like Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11.

That title, which has raked in $115 million at the box office so far, has been threatened with everything from copyright lawsuits to fair political practices challenges. Some in the Bush camp contend that advertising the video release would require giving the Bush campaign equal time.

For a while it looked as if the film would not make it to video before the election. We waited impatiently for a date announcement that seemed to be eternally pending (it did finally arrive, the movie is due Oct. 5).

I guess one good (or bad) conspiracy deserves another. Certainly Moore's films tend to point fingers and ask difficult questions. They make some people uncomfortable. But they also get people talking.

Many of the other titles streeting before the election have that whiff of conspiracy, the suspicion that folks aren't telling us all we need to know. Titles like The Hunting of the President (Fox), Horns and Halos (Go Kart and Koch) and Outfoxed (The Disinformation Company) raise questions about what did they know, when did they know it, and why didn't we know it, too?

I like the controversial nature of these movies. I like that they make us scratch our heads and, at their best, do a little more homework before we go to the polls. There are a lot of titles that deal more with the political process than current pols — titles like Docurama's See How They Run and D.A. Pennebaker's great study of campaign hijinks, The War Room, which is about to get another run from Universal.

If I had a store, I would definitely be building a display around these titles. And if I was an indie, I might even come up with a doc-a-week promotion, maybe some kind of punch card that would let customers rent a political title from a list (each dealer would need his own list based on stock) at a reduced rate, based on paying for the card up-front, of course. It's a great way to keep folks coming back to the store and raise the level of debate. And it might be a way to test the feasibility of an in-store subscription offering.

Love 'em or hate 'em, these titles offer a great opportunity to connect with the political process and, just maybe, with customers, too.

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