It has been hailed as a summer “blockbuster,” a hagiographic documentary about State Senator Doug Mastriano, the Republican nominee for governor of Pennsylvania, which premieres Saturday.
But filmmaker Steve Turley’s red carpet rollout for The Return of the American Patriot has stumbled twice in the last week, with two venues committing to screenings and then canceling amid community resistance.
Turley, a conservative author and podcaster, did not respond to requests for comment on the controversy. On social media, he solicited reviews for the screening of the film, which he said cost him more than $100,000 to make.
In a YouTube video on Saturday, Turley said he should “write a special thank you letter to the woke activists who complained about the film” because donations to Christian fundraising website GiveSendGo “doubled in 24 hours.”
That website showed more than $19,000 in donations on Tuesday.
A trailer for the film shows Turley in line with Mastriano’s far-right conservatism, likening “fighting globalism” to the Revolutionary War and complaining about government measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.
“We’re the people who are tired of being mugged by the establishment,” Mastriano said in the clip, which starred as villains House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Anthony Fauci, the President’s boss Joe Biden, Presents Medical Advisor.
General admission tickets are $20, while VIP access is $50.15 and includes a “special meet-and-greet event on the red carpet” with Mastriano and Turley before the show. A Patriot’s Circle ticket costs $100.15, but the prices for this ticket, which is listed as sold out, do not describe any perks for buyers.
The film does not appear to be a fundraiser for Mastriano, although Turley has used its web platforms to encourage donations to the campaign. Mastriano on Saturday tweeted in support of the filmand said, “We hope to see you there.”
Mastriano did not respond to a request for comment. He has limited campaign communications to caring podcasters and conservative radio show hosts.
Mastriano won the primary in May, running against his party and challenging the conservative credentials of other candidates. Some Republicans active in politics and government have backed Mastriano’s Democratic opponent, Attorney General Josh Shapiro, and have vowed to help defeat Mastriano.
He has a competitive resource disadvantage to Shapiro, who had nearly $13.5 million in the bank as of June 6. Mastriano had just under $400,000.
Still, early polls show a close race.
Turley has been touting the film’s premiere for weeks, with daily emails saying tickets sold out but then making room for a larger audience.
He announced the first venue last week, the 400-seat Penn Cinema IMAX Theater in Lititz. But that venue canceled Thursday’s screening.
Theater owner Penn Ketchum declined to comment, but wrote in a Facebook message to a person who objected to the showing: “We had plans with this group but when we found out about the nationalist-populist agenda we got the event cancelled.”
This sentence, nationalist-populist agenda, often appears on Turley’s website and YouTube channel.
Turley attributed the cancellation to “angry anti-Christian activists” in a press release, but gave no details on the claim.
He turned next to the Wyndham Lancaster Resort and Convention Center, which agreed to a showing in a 1,000-seat theater but then canceled Sunday.
Owner Kalpesh Vakil said his store was inundated with calls and messages from people objecting to the film being shown, raising concerns about the safety of staff and hotel guests.
“We just knew it was a movie premiere,” Vakil said of the project. “We didn’t know anything else about the event.”
Turley credited the second cancellation in social media posts to “the woke mob” and announced that a “backup location” had been secured but would not be announced until 24 hours before Saturday’s premiere.
Turley, an early supporter of Mastriano’s run for governor, spoke at the campaign’s launch in January, complaining about COVID precautions and calling supporters “participants in a global revolt.”
“You are the heroes who refuse to stand by and watch as our supposed representatives became despotic tyrants bent on destroying the very values of faith, family and liberty that define countless lives around the world as… hopefuls,” Turley told the crowd.