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Has Kyle Rankin Sold Out to the Far-Right?

Indie Maine filmmaker partners with pro-Trump propagandists to push school-shooting movie.

Kyle Rankin, the indie filmmaker who launched his career in Maine, partnered with several notorious far-right figures to produce and distribute his new movie, Run Hide Fight, an action flick about a mass shooting inside a high school. Critics have panned the work, which has attracted attention for the controversy it’s sparked. 

Run Hide Fight is the first feature film acquired for distribution by The Daily Wire, the media company co-founded in 2015 by former Breitbart News editor Ben Shapiro. The nonprofit watchdog group Media Matters for America called The Daily Wire “a platform grounded in racist hate and bigotry” that “regularly advocates positions and rhetoric that are racist, sexist, and disparaging of the LGBTQ community.” 

The movie was produced by a company based in Dallas, called Cinestate, that imploded last year after an investigation by the Daily Beast revealed its partners were protecting a member credibly accused of sexual predation. 

Rankin, who declined our interview request, is a University of Maine grad from York who broke into the business in the mid-1990s with the no-budget thriller Reindeer Games, about a misfit who kidnaps and tortures a coworker in his basement. Rankin and his buddy Efram Potelle made headlines later that decade when their public-access-TV call-in show drew complaints for its crude humor. 

The pair got their big break in 2003 when they won Project Greenlight, a contest put on by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, in partnership with Miramax, which led to 2003’s The Battle of Shaker Heights, a comedic drama starring Shia LaBeouf. Rankin has since relocated to Los Angeles and made numerous small-budget “B” movies, such as 2018 The Witch Files, which was filmed in Maine. 

Rankin has said he got the idea for Run Hide Fight many years ago. The film centers on a teenage girl (played by Isabel May) who uses skills learned from her Army vet dad (Thomas Jane) and the ghost of her mom (Radha Mitchell) to battle a small crew of student outcasts who seem primarily interested in committing mass murder to gain fame via social media. The script was acquired by United Talent Agency, but higher-ups at Hollywood studios balked at its subject matter. After the 2018 massacre at a high school in Parkland, Florida, Run became “radioactive,” Rankin told The Ringer, a pop-culture website. 

But disgraced Cinestate founder and CEO Dallas Sonnier “loved” the concept. The studio, based in Dallas, specializes in “‘populist’ films for the Trump crowd like Dragged Across Concrete, a nasty piece of police brutality apologia starring Mel Gibson,” wrote Daily Beast editor Marlow Stern. The company arranged financing for the $1.5 million production and brought it to the silver screen, where it debuted last fall at the Venice Film Festival. 

Last spring, Cinestate partner Adam Donaghey was arrested on a sexual assault charge, and the Daily Beast subsequently reported that Sonnier and a third partner, Amanda Presmyk, a co-producer of Run, “not only turned a blind eye to Donaghey’s predatory behavior but [gave] him more power and authority within the company.” (Donaghey was indicted on felony sexual assault charges last fall.) 

When major distributors declined to pick up Run after its Venice debut, Shapiro’s company snapped it up to launch its foray into the feature-film business. The movie can be streamed on The Daily Wire’s website for a subscription fee, though it wasn’t hard to find a free version online. 

“I’m forever in debt to those guys,” Rankin said of Shapiro and Daily Wire co-founder Jeremy Boreing. In addition to being “incredibly smart and talented,” the duo “had the courage to put out a movie that I love from start to finish and that has everything I wanna say in it.”

The critics have had a different take. “It’s hard to say what’s more offensive: That Rankin is pissing into an overflowing reservoir of national pain, or that he’s doing it so poorly,” David Ehrlich, a film reviewer for IndieWire, wrote, then added: “Just kidding, it’s not hard at all.”

“Merely pedestrian at the levels of direction, craft and performance, the film … makes a grab for attention by peddling an ambiguous line on gun control and eye-for-eye morality,” Guy Lodge wrote in Variety. The film reached only 44 percent on Rotten Tomatoes’ metric of film-critic reactions, but had a 93-percent approval rating among general audience members, which were largely Daily Wire subscribers.  

In an interview with the horror-genre site Dread Central, Rankin said he expected the involvement of Shapiro would lead some viewers to conclude Run is “right-wing propaganda,” while others will see that it’s about a school shooting and think, “How dare you. You’re exploiting the deaths.” 

“But there’s an easy answer to ‘How could you?’ which is also, ‘How could you not?’” Rankin continued. “This is a major problem in America, so why not make a movie about it? Because my whole point was to get people talking.”

Run aims most of its criticism at school administrators, whose policies for dealing with the threat of gun violence are portrayed as naïve. 

“Well, well, well. If it isn’t our friendly old neighborhood security guard?” taunts the villains’ teenage ringleader, Tristan Voy (a uni-dimensional Eli Brown). “As if it’s not sad enough that they’re paying him only $12 an hour to protect our school, they expect you to do it without a fucking gun?” 

The guard, armed only with a nightstick, flees the cafeteria where Voy and two accomplices are holding students hostage and shooting them at random. Rankin makes a point of showing the guard’s shame for having pissed himself when threatened by imminent death.  

But Run’s depiction of the school’s inept response to the attack is undercut by Rankin’s ridiculous direction of the action. Most of the school’s staff and students are apparently unaware that a van has crashed through a wall of windows into the cafeteria even after this is followed by much screaming and automatic-weapons fire. Lodge called this “one [of] several yawning plausibility gaps in a story that really can’t afford to suspend our disbelief in the name of, well, suspense.”    

The film is littered with lines and scenes seemingly included to appeal specifically to far-right viewers. “Trigger warning!” Voy announces when the attack begins. Later, while forcing hostages to construct a barrier, he casually remarks, “It’s not that hard to build a wall.” 

Run was shot in Texas, and in the fall of 2018, Rankin complained to the Portland Press Herald that his “initial pitch to shoot [Run] in Maine got shot down rather quickly,” because the state doesn’t offer the kind of generous tax breaks to filmmakers that other states do. If Rankin intends to continue his partnership with Shapiro and Sonnier, he may wish to reconsider his public support of taxpayer-funded, socialized cinema. 

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