Does what’s happening in the world socially and politically affect how people interpret films? Three films which screened at the tenth annual Anthem Film Festival demonstrated this in several ways. Anthem, part of FreedomFest, normally takes place in Las Vegas, but this year, in order to avoid potential COVID difficulties, relocated to Rapid City, South Dakota, where it showed 39 films over four days.
And “COVID difficulties” also brought three films into sharper focus: The Cartel, This Is Me, and Cough. What struck me as remarkable was that they all were all made before the COVID crisis, yet are extremely relevant to it.
The Cartel screened this year at Anthem as a call back to the festival’s beginnings. The film, a feature length documentary, was Anthem’s first Grand Prize winner in 2011. How could this be relevant now?
The film examines teachers unions and how they are intertwined with politicians and public funding. Whether to re-open schools during or after COVID (if it’s really over) has been a major concern and understandably a preoccupation of teachers unions.
As I watched the film, even though I knew it was made ten years ago, it seemed totally relevant to the debates going on now about the power and influence of unions. This may have been because of what the festival spokesperson called it’s “systems analysis” approach.
Most current events documentaries craft a story through interviews and “talking heads.” Had The Cartel done this, it probably would have seemed dated. Instead, it analyzed where the teachers unions derived their power, how they interacted with government officials and parents, and to what extent they reached out into areas beyond education. Remarkably, in ten years, little had changed.
The original release of The Cartel appeared in theaters and on Netflix. Currently, you can rent it on YouTube.
This Is Me
COVID totally turned this film, a sci-fi short, on its head.
This Is Me, which I produced and wrote in 2019, before COVID, focused on teenage angst and concern with maintaining who you are. There was nothing political about it. I am a libertarian and my director was a Bernie Sanders supporter. We never discussed politics during the creation of the film.
What caused the film to attract the attention of festival judges? The protagonist is a teenage girl played by a remarkable young actress, Kiran Sprout. The girl fights against her mother, played by Nina Kaczowski and a doctor, played by Tyrone D. Smith, who want to give her a vaccine which will dramatically impact a change her body is experiencing. The current demands that people get vaccines or efforts to resist them, certainly made the film topical in a way we never anticipated.
Anthem director Jo Ann Skousen, during a Q&A after the film, praised it for its libertarian focus on “…this is me, this is who I am, this is who I want to continue to be.” She mentioned it reminded her of Ayn Rand’s novella Anthem, after which the festival is named. You can view This Is Me on YouTube.
Another film reprised for Anthem’s tenth anniversary first screened in 2014 when it won the Best of the Fest award. I reviewed Cough in detail that year. Why is it so relevant now?
The film creates a dystopian future in which a pandemic takes place in Australia. A widowed man tries to find supplies to survive when most store shelves look empty. He must drive a long way, having to deal with police setting up roadblocks, demanding people wear masks and dragging them off if they refuse.
He discovers a secret which could place his life in danger if the authorities find out. Watch the trailer below and see if it reminds you of anything. Cough is available for screenings.
The Cartel, This Is Me, and Cough all show the magic of film and storytelling. They predicted the future and connected with the zeitgeist without even trying.