Woman with brown hair and glasses

Director Jen Sanko explores her father’s addiction to Rush Limbaugh in The Brainwashing of My Dad

What would turn a happy, fun-loving dad into an eternal grouch? As far as filmmaker Jen Sanko is concerned, the culprit is Rush Limbaugh.

Sanko makes her case against Limbaugh and other purveyors of right-wing rage in The Brainwashing of My Dad, one of 16 films featured in the Gateway Film Center’s upcoming Documentary Week. (See schedule below.)

As demonstrated by the family’s home movies, Sanko’s father, Frank, was a joy to be around when she was growing up. In his later years, however, he discovered Limbaugh and became a perpetually pissed-off “dittohead.”

Frank even moved out of his wife’s bedroom so he could listen to the commentator’s rants well into the night. Eventually, he added Fox News and various websites to his daily diet of conservative vitriol.

Deciding a film was the best way to investigate her father’s metamorphosis, Sanko started a Kickstarter campaign to raise the necessary funds. The response surprised her. Along with money, strangers offered stories of their own family members who had been changed by right-wing media.

What makes once-reasonable folks susceptible to this kind of “brainwashing”? The film uses vintage footage and interviews with media insiders to explain the process by which Limbaugh, Fox News and others keep their audience in a constant state of turmoil.

The doc is an interesting effort, but it also has flaws. First, it spends too much time on political history that will be familiar to many. And second, it never asks Frank himself why he found Limbaugh’s message so intriguing.

A third disappointment is that, apparently due to timing, the film doesn’t mention the candidate who has outflanked mainstream conservatives by appealing to the very rage they’ve spent so many years cultivating: Donald Trump.  

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Artists, activists and a gal named Sloopy

The Gateway Film Center has presented Columbus Documentary Week twice a year since 2012, said Johnny DiLoretto, the multiplex’s director of communications. All of the films are selected by Chris Hamel, Gateway’s president and programmer.

“He watches dozens of these films and selects the finest titles across an array of subject matter, from art and music to politics and social issues,” DiLoretto said.

Films featured in the upcoming Documentary Week are listed below. For more information, visit

• Hang On Sloopy: The Movie: How did “Hang On Sloopy” become Ohio’s favorite song? Times: 7:30 p.m. March 31, 9:30 p.m. April 6.

• Queen Mini: A homeless woman becomes a neighborhood celebrity. Times: 1:30 p.m. April 1, 11:30 a.m. April 3, 3:30 p.m. April 4.

• The Brainwashing of My Dad: A filmmaker examines how her father was changed by right-wing media. Times: 3:30 p.m. April 1, 5:30 p.m. April 3, 1:30 p.m. April 6.

• King Georges: A proud French chef struggles to save his decades-old Philadelphia restaurant. Times: 5:30 p.m. April 1, 3:30 p.m. April 3, 1:30 p.m. April 5.

• Requiem for the American Dream: Noam Chomsky expounds on policies that favor the wealthy few at the expense of the many. Times: 7:30 p.m. April 1, 11:30 a.m. April 2, 5:30 p.m. April 4 and 7.

• Here Come the Videofreex: Story of a pioneering video collective from the 1970s. Times: 9:30 p.m. April 1, 7:30 p.m. April 5.

• Florence and the Uffizi Gallery: Journey through the works of Leonardo, Michelangelo and other Florentine artists. Times: 1:30 p.m. April 2, 5:30 p.m. April 6.

• They Will Have to Kill Us First: Musicians of Mali fight back against Islamic censorship. Times: 3:30 p.m. April 2 (following 2:30 p.m. party), 5:30 p.m. April 5, 3:30 p.m. April 7.

• Steve McQueen: The Man and Le Mans (1:42): The story behind the actor’s disastrous 1971 racing epic. Times: 5:30 p.m. April 2, 1:30 p.m. April 4, 9:30 p.m. April 5.

• At Fest: The Movie: Portrait of North America’s oldest and largest music festival. Times: 7:30 p.m. April 2 (following 6:30 p.m. party), 9:30 p.m. April 3, 3:30 p.m. April 5.

• Mad Tiger: A friendship is shaken when a Japanese performance artist quits his two-man punk band. Times: 9:30 p.m. April 2 and 4, 3:30 p.m. April 6.

• Goya: Visions of Flesh and Blood: The life and work of Spain’s most celebrated artist. Times: 1:30 p.m. April 3, 9:30 p.m. April 7.

• When We Were Kings: Black power in the era of 1974’s “Rumble in the Jungle.” Time: 7:30 p.m. April 3.

• Speculation Nation: An impressionistic look at the Spanish housing crisis that followed 2007’s global financial meltdown. Times: 7:30 p.m. April 4, 1:30 p.m. April 7.

• Science, Sex and the Ladies: Female sexuality is discussed in the guise of a whimsical variety show. Time: 7:30 p.m. April 6.

• Paper Tigers: An intimate look at youths affected by adverse childhood experiences. Time: 7:30 p.m. April 7.


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