There no shortage of either documentaries or polemics at the Anthem Film Festival, and they serve their role to advance the cause of Libertarian thought. But, and I heard this message last year and even more this year, before you can have an impact on the political system, you must change the culture. Narrative film – movies that tell a story through drama or comedy – does more to change the culture than other forms, because the lives of the characters in the film are experienced and internalized. Thursday at Anthem included two cultural catalysts, Littl3 Broth3r and Knocked Down.
Littl3 Broth3r took me off guard. I was expecting cute. I got profound. The story is similar to a
documentary I saw at the LA FilmFest, My Stolen Revolution. (Nothing which follows should be taken as a criticism of My Stolen Revolution, it is an excellent documentary. I’m comparing the effect of two genres.)
In both films, an Iranian woman’s brother is killed by an Islamist government and she embarks on a life changing quest. Littl3 Broth3r takes the idea and asks “What if…?.” Partially political thriller with a subtle sci-fi element, it changes our perspective. Rather than watching the protagonist document and narrate her quest, we experience it through the eyes of the protagonist as she seeks revenge and achieves victory. It deals with high-level concepts such as freedom and political corruption, but does it in an intensely personal way. The film is so tightly written and edited that it is difficult to say much more about it, without creating a spoiler.
Cyrus Saidi, the writer and director answered questions afterwards. “I of course had Iran in mind, but I left the name of the country out because the ideas and situation could apply to Syria and other middle-eastern regimes,” he said. Saidi was born in Iran around the time of the Khomeini revolution and left with his mother in 1998. “I have been told that after this film, I will never be able to go back.”
The film is dedicated to Jafar Panahi. An audience member asked who this was. Saidi explained that Panahi is an award winning Iranian film maker who was sentenced by the Iranian government to six years in prison and forbidden to make films for 20 years. He was able to strike one more blow for free expression, while his case was on appeal, by creating This is Not a Film, a video diary. The film was smuggled out of Iran in a flash drive hidden inside a cake and was shown at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. “What a terrible thing to be a filmmaker,” Saidi observed, “and be forbidden to make films.”
Another aspect of the film was its emphasis on the first amendment as opposed to second amendment freedoms. “If all Iranians had been armed in 1978, the Mullahs could never have taken over. Now, however, in an age of drones, it is the means of communication that are more important. If regimes can control the means of communication, they can keep the people from learning the truth and revolutions won’t happen.”
The theme of the Anthem Film Festival is “Individuality, Accountability, Choice.” These are not political themes, per se, and Knocked Down approaches all three of them from the personal point of view of Patty, a boxer. Patty is played by Case Fitzsimmons, who is also the screenwriter.
Patty runs a seedy gym handed down to him by his boxing trainer father, who is dying. Because of an accident in the ring Patty cut short his career. A promoter friend wants him to get back in the ring. Patty is torn between loyalty to what his father taught him, his wife, and guilt. He must choose the right thing to do.
Acting, directing and cinematography all get high marks. During the Q&A after the film, I asked director Reaves Avery Washburn about the somewhat non-committal ending of the story. “We actually did film another ending which gave a more direct answer to the choice Patty had to make,” he explained. “I like films with vague endings because I think that gets people to discuss the issues involved. It makes them continue thinking about them after the film has ended.”
And that, of course, is what the Anthem Film Festival is supposed to do.