RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
At CPAC this weekend - that's the Conservative Political Action Conference - you could listen to speeches or panels, or you could go to the movies. A decade ago there were only one or two documentaries film shown at the annual meeting of conservative activists. This year, there were more than 20.
NPR's Suzanna George spent three days hopping from screening to screening. She has this review.
SUSANNAH GEORGE, BYLINE: Down the hall in the main auditorium, headliners like Texas Senator Ted Cruz filled the seats this weekend. But it was also standing-room only in the smaller meeting room used as the CPAC theater.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Ladies and gentlemen, I call my friend, (unintelligible).
GEORGE: Lights dimmed and a quote from Thomas Jefferson flashes onto the screen: Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper.
The film is called "Hating Breitbart." It's a documentary about the polarizing conservative media mogul Andrew Breitbart, who died last year, not long after appearing at the 2012 CPAC.
ANDREW MARCUS: You need to tell a story.
GEORGE: Andrew Marcus is the director of "Hating Breitbart," and he says that films like his are the way to get the conservative story out.
MARCUS: You need to have a protagonist and an antagonist, like just basic storytelling.
GEORGE: Documentary film has long been dominated by liberal directors, but that's changing. Just last year, a conservative documentary, titled "2016: Obama's America," got wide distribution and made money.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "2016: OBAMA'S AMERICA")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Obama has a dream, a dream from his father...
GEORGE: The theme of the film is that President Obama's politics are rooted in 20th century anti-colonialism. Dinesh D'Souza is the writer and director.
DINESH D'SOUZA: There actually is great freedom now to be able to make films that are a lot of fun and that are very creative. And if conservatism doesn't show that kind of creativity, it's going to be confined to a narrow fringe of American life.
GEORGE: But some of the attendees here say conservative films share a problem with their movement in general, a problem with making connections.
MIKE WARSE: Conservatives do a poor job of actually talking about the human element. I mean, we've got economic arguments and statistics, and all this other stuff that just isn't really helpful unless you can say this is how what we believe makes somebody's life better.
GEORGE: Mike Warse is a student from Colorado. He's just watched "FrackNation." It's a pro-fracking documentary that follows a group of Pennsylvania farmers, who want to lease their lands to natural gas companies but can't because of government regulation.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "FRACKNATION")
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: I can make it seem like fracking is something very new that we know little about...
GEORGE: The makers of "FrackNation" raised money for the movie with the crowdfunding Web site Kickstarter. Over 3,000 people donated an average of $70 each to help the movie get made.
Andrew Marcus, of "Hating Breitbart," says that this kind of populist financing can make a big difference for conservative filmmakers.
MARCUS: The walls are coming down and artists are going to be able to reach their audiences without the traditional gatekeepers in place. So that's incredibly exciting.
GEORGE: CPAC may not turn into a film festival anytime soon, but the role of movies is growing, both at the annual gathering and in the conservative movement as well.
Susannah George, NPR News.