Controversial Docs Hit Road to Get to You

Bob Compton, Harvard MBA and venture capitalist, has a new calling: documentary filmmaker. And he'd like to change the way this country thinks about education.

So he's taking his film, "2 Million Minutes," which follows a half-dozen high school students in Indiana, India and China -- guess who's being served big dollops of science and engineering, and guess who's not -- to the conventions this month. Yes, he has an invitation from both the Democrats and the Republicans, and the plan in both Denver and St. Paul is to jump-start discussions on education with screenings of the film.

This fall Adrian Belic, an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, will tour the country with his latest film, "Beyond the Call," which he has already screened in senior citizens centers, high schools, junior highs, film festivals, military organizations and juvenile detention centers.

"Indiana Jones meets Mother Teresa" is how he'll describe "Beyond the Call." Three middle-age men take humanitarian aid, medicines and cash for schools and teachers to the world's most dangerous -- and most cinematically beautiful -- places.

Belic's first outing with the trio was to Afghanistan in 2000, but the men they had planned to meet had just been assassinated, so they rerouted to Cambodia and the Thai-Myanmar border. Aside from presenting the appealing Gonzo characters in exotic locales, Belic would like the film to inspire self-reflection and action in audiences.

And Patrick Creadon's "I.O.U.S.A." about "our ailing economy," in the words of the filmmaker, opened theatrically Friday, but what's really firing Creadon's jets is that the night before, a live digital feed went up in 400 theaters across the United States. After the credits rolled, the lights came up on a live town hall meeting in Omaha, Neb.

Omaha? Native son Warren Buffett was one of the panelists who discussed the film and its message about what all constituents should know about the national debt and their fiscal responsibilities.

Compton, Belic and Creadon are not alone: Filmmakers, concerned citizens all, are taking their docs to the streets, the conventions, the halls of Congress, the United Nations, town halls, college campuses, community groups and beyond.

Targeted Groups

Manic energy aside, documentary filmmakers are becoming more and more sophisticated about where and to whom they show their films.

"It's about niche marketing, identifying strategic partners, taking the film to its most interested audience," Robert West of Working Films told ABCNews.com.

"Linking nonfiction films with cutting-edge activism" is how Working Films identifies itself on its Web site; the group has linked filmmakers with the ACLU, churches, synagogues, United Way, Greenpeace and health-care institutions. It may be preaching to the choir, acknowledges West, but "sometimes the choir needs practice."

Citing Rory Kennedy's "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib," which initially ran on HBO, as an example, Working Films linked up with Kennedy to screen the film before 600 congregations on one Saturday in October, through the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Together they created a viewer's guide and helped expand the national conversation on torture. "You think it's about terrorism, but this is a moral issue" was the message, West said.

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