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Taking the cause to the big screen

David N. Bossie, president of Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, has turned to documentary-style films to push his causes.
/ Source: a href="" linktype="External" resizable="true" status="true" scrollbars="true">The Washington Post</a

David N. Bossie earned a reputation as a relentless sleuth -- or right-wing hit man, depending on one's political persuasion -- during his years as a high-profile Republican congressional investigator and conservative activist.

Through the 1990s, Bossie spent much of his time assembling caches of documents to push his admittedly ideological agenda. He was a ready promoter of stories about President Bill Clinton's sexual and ethical lapses, proved and otherwise.

Bossie was fired as an investigator for the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee after overseeing the release of recordings of Hillary Rodham Clinton's phone conversations with Whitewater figure Webster L. Hubbell. The tapes were edited to create the impression that Clinton was involved in billing irregularities at the Arkansas law firm where she and Hubbell worked.

No longer content to merely unearth documents, Bossie, president of Citizens United, a conservative advocacy group, has turned to documentary-style films to push his causes. His latest contribution to the national political debate is "Border War," a film he co-produced that makes the case for a serious crackdown on illegal immigration.

Cold-hearted coyotes and criminals
The movie, which makes its national premiere in Los Angeles tomorrow, in Washington on Sept. 13 and on DVD in October, tells the story of illegal immigration -- with Bossie's unmistakable point of view. "It shows what illegal immigration means to your average person," he said.

"Border War" does not portray illegal immigrants as economically desperate people who break the law by sneaking across the border then often go on to renew the American dream with their thrift, enterprise and hustle while filling back-breaking jobs that few citizens want.

Instead, the film makes the case for tougher border enforcement by focusing on the most unsettling aspects of the nation's huge illegal immigration problem: the cold-hearted coyotes who guide illegal migrants across the border, sometimes abandoning them in the desert at the first sign of trouble. The illegal immigrants who proposition and even molest young girls in safe houses. Violent criminals who cross the border with impunity. And immigration activists who believe the border has no legitimacy to begin with, because much of the southwestern United States was Mexican territory more than 150 years ago.

"We never really crossed the border," one says. "The border crossed us."

The documentary, shot over six months, weaves this tale by following the lives of five people who embody different aspects of the difficult issue: the widow of a Los Angles County deputy sheriff killed by an illegal immigrant; an open border advocate who helps immigrants making the perilous trek into the United States; a Latina whose father helped smuggle illegal immigrants into the country but now voluntarily patrols the border with the Minutemen; an undercover Border Patrol agent; and Rep. J.D. Hayworth (R-Ariz.), a leading advocate of cracking down on illegal immigration.

"It is an exciting way to educate people about issues," Bossie said of his film. "I love any new form of communication to deliver a political message."

Bossie, who has no formal film training, calls himself an accidental moviemaker. In the years after leaving his congressional post, he wrote or co-wrote three books: one slamming former vice president Al Gore, another attacking Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and third making a case for how President Clinton's foreign policy set the table for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

'Celsius 41.11' counters Moore's film
When Michael Moore's 2004 documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11" proved to be a hit that rallied partisans on the left against President Bush, Bossie said he was surprised and then got on the phone looking for someone to craft a right-wing response. When he got no answer, he reached into Citizens United's deep pockets, put up about $1 million and hired Hollywood stalwarts Lionel Chetwynd, Kevin Knoblock and Ted Steinberg to help him make "Celsius 41.11."

"The contrasts are startling. 'Fahrenheit' Bush was a deer in the headlights; 'Celsius' Bush is a deer hunter," read a review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. ". . . 'Fahrenheit' Bush barely could speak in complete sentences; 'Celsius' Bush delivers confident speeches. And so on."

The movie may not have created the buzz that "Fahrenheit 9/11" did, but it did go on to be shown in 125 theatres and to be reproduced on 200,000 DVDs, many of which were given to Citizens United supporters. "One thing I learned is you can have impact with that medium," Bossie said. "I also learned that I can make films. And you don't have to make them in Hollywood."

He had editing equipment installed in the basement of Citizens United's Capitol Hill headquarters and has gone on to make a film excoriating the United Nations, before shooting "Border War."

Weapons in Washington
Films have long been used as propaganda. Frank Capra's "Why We Fight" series was commissioned to explain U.S. policy during World War II and to answer the German 1935 film, "Triumph of the Will," which glorified Adolf Hitler and the Nazi cause.

But the use of films as weapons in the political and ideological battles in Washington is a relatively new development aided by advances in digital technology, which makes editing and distribution cheap and easy. It also is being helped along by Moore's success.

"This is just an obvious outcome of the polarization that is happening in this country," said Malcolm Spaull, chairman of the film school at the Rochester Institute of Technology. "In this case, it is through the media. I only see this growing."

Bossie says he has two more film projects in the pipeline. One, about the American Civil Liberties Union, is scheduled for a fall release. The other is about Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who is widely believed to be positioning herself for a 2008 presidential run. Bossie said he is teaming with Dick Morris, the former Clinton media adviser, on that one.

Asked when it will be released, Bossie said, "At the right time."