Kind of like The Yes Men with a fondness for Ayn Rand, or maybe a better-dressed Michael Moore, conservative activist James O’Keefe specializes in catching his opponents on hidden cameras saying controversial things. O’Keefe’s past targets have included ACORN, NPR, Planned Parenthood, Medicaid, and the New Jersey Teacher’s Union, and now he’s turned his cameras on the hybrid-driving, organic wine-sipping greenzos who run Hollywood. O’Keefe unveiled his new movie Expose: Hollywood’s War on U.S. Energy this week at Cannes; O’Keefe says the film “shows the dark side of Hollywood’s environmental movement.”
This assertion comes from hidden-camera footage taken at the Beverly Hills Hotel, where “Muhammad”—an actor O’Keefe hired to impersonate a Middle Eastern oil sheik—offers to give $9 million in oil money to fund an anti-fracking documentary. Sitting at the table are filmmakers Josh and Rebecca Tickell; the Tickells produced the 2008 documentary Fuel, which condemns “America’s addiction to oil.” Also present are Mariel Hemingway, who co-wrote a “mindful living” book called Running With Nature, and Ed Begley Jr., who is well known for his environmental activism.
In the footage, “Muhammad” explains that the only reason he is interested in funding an anti-fracking movie is that if fracking continues, “America will be energy-efficient and then they won’t need our oil anymore.” The Tickells, Begley Jr. and Hemingway all appear to support the idea—or, at least, they don’t voice their dissent—with Hemingway seeking assurances that the conversation “is only at this table,” and Begley Jr. saying “Washington and Hollywood are a lot alike.”
After a clip from O’Keefe’s film was released to The Hollywood Reporter, all involved released statements explaining their involvement with “Muhammad.” Begley Jr. says, “I basically sat there and didn’t say much. Josh [Tickell] said to just nod and agree, so I guess I did that.” He also added that he’s hard of hearing, so cut him some slack already. Hemingway’s manager calls O’Keefe a “coward” before adding, “He’s going to have some legal issues on this one.” (She does have a point: Recording a private conversation without the consent of both parties is illegal in California.)
The Tickells have since responded by launching an Indiegogo campaign to fund the documentary themselves. In the pitch video, Josh Tickell references the incident, saying, “If it wasn’t so serious it might even be kind of funny… Recently, my wife and I were royally ‘punked.’”