Filmmaker Reaves Washburn quoted Oscar Wilde: “Wilde said, ‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise, they’ll kill you.’ For us,” he continued, “that means give them good themes, peak their interest, ease people in and make it fun in every way.”
Washburn, whose film Knocked Down won the short narrative Excellence in Filmmaking award, was one of four filmmakers participating in the Anthem Film Festival panel titled “The Future of Libertarian Filmmaking”. Other panelists included Janek Ambros, short narrative Best Libertarian Ideals winner for Son of Man, Adam Guillette, Director of Development for the Moving Pictures Institute, and Anna Smith, whose documentary Rebel Evolution won an honorable mention for Libertarian Ideals. The discussion was moderated by Courtney Balaker, writer/director of The Conversation.
Balaker asked the panelists about their strategy for getting to a main stream audience.
Ambros emphasized the basics. “You’ve got to have a three act structure and a character arc. The great irony for libertarians is that almost every movie you see is about an individual struggling against overwhelming odds, and that makes it libertarian.”
Guillette pointed out, “Story telling seems to have a greater appeal to the left. They’ve already got everything in place in the studios and the funding. Naturally, the villains in mainstream films would be our heroes.”
Ambros cited the 1981 film Reds, which stared Warren Beatty as journalist John Reed, who is sent to Russia to cover the Communist reforms. “He starts out supporting the Communists, but when they censor him he says, ‘If you change my words you take away my liberty.’ It’s ironic that a leftist journalist could make a libertarian point.”
Washburn claimed his boxing-flick, Knocked Down, had a built-in advantage. “Boxing is the most popular sport in movies,” he said, “but the trick is to tell a good story, in this case about self-redemption, which bridges the gap to the mainstream audience while remaining true to our beliefs.”
Balaker asked Smith what inspired her documentary Rebel Evolution.
Rebel Evolution tells the story of a leftist who changes to a libertarian. “He has this incredible arc,” she said. “A radical leftist reaches the pinnacle of leftism. He literally runs part of New Orleans after Katrina. He is courted and supported by Hugo Chavez. It’s stuff you can’t make up. Fundamentally, it’s about the pursuit of truth. That’s what resonates with people.”
Balaker asked the panel how they avoided being didactic.
Ambrose said, “Think about what the story is first. Think about what the message is afterwards.”
Guillette emphasized telling the right stories. “Tell the stories of our heroes. Tell the stories of kids who are sentenced to terrible public schools and want to get out. Stories, not interviewing so and so in an office about facts. You can read facts. No one ever says ‘I loved the movie. It has a guy in a suit in an office and he had really great facts.’”
Smith said, “Make sure your film is good technically, has a quality story, and a hero. Everyone wants a hero.”
Balaker brought up distribution.
Smith claimed that studios are so worried about their bottom line that they are at a breaking point. “It’s up to us, because the old model is broken,” she said. “The paradigm is changing and conservative and libertarians need to seize the opportunity to get stories past the gatekeepers who don’t really exist anymore.”
Washburn said that his film Knocked Down was going up on Indie Flix. “It’s kind of a higher quality YouTube,” he said. “It gets thought provoking films to a larger audience. Short films have somewhere to go after the film festival circuit.”
Balaker asked for final thoughts.
Guillette said, “Give them red meat. People don’t want to watch a story about an ideology they can’t pronounce.”
Washburn emphasized writing every single day and Ambrose said, “Don’t wait for permission, because they won’t give it to you. Just make it.”
Smith agreed: “Just press on. Do 30 seconds, 5 minutes; you can make a film. No excuses. Just do it and keep doing it. Be persistent.”
The theme of next year’s FreedomFest and Anthem Film Festival will be “Is Big Brother Here?”