Until coronavirus restrictions interfered, the tenth annual Anthem Film Festival was to move from the Paris Casino to Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, July 13-16. The film festival, part of the libertarian-themed FreedomFest conference, would have showcased both features and documentaries, exploring issues of social and political liberty.
FreedomFest founder/producer Mark Skousen explained the move: “The folks at Caesars are so excited about our plans to move ahead with FreedomFest that they upgraded us to their premier property.” Caesars, which reopened in June, planned to continue with social distancing and other COVID-related precautions to maintain attendees’ safety.
The Festival and the Crisis
The Anthem Film Festival would have screened in Caesars’ Milano Theater and featured over 25 films during its four-day run. I spoke with Anthem founder and director Jo Ann Skousen about the festival and its place in the current crises in America.
During our interview in 2018, I asked about harassment of public figures. You said, “Dignity and discourse are definitely on the wane.” Now that seems like the “good old days.” What’s going on?
I have never been so concerned for our country and our future as I am now. I call it “the new cultural revolution,” because it seems to be following the pattern China set in the 1960s—tearing down monuments, closing schools and churches, “re-educating” the elderly and turning young people against them, dismissing culture and tradition. Mao called it “the four olds”: old ideas, old customs, old habits, and old culture.
We have several films that address these issues directly or indirectly, including My Name Is Hong Kong, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Communism, Bassil’Ora, Metrics, The Teleios Act, Get Off, and Inner Self.
Which film this year do you think best carries the liberty message?
That’s a tough one! The films are so good this year. How can you not love a film that begins, “Freedom…Very few people know how to be free, and very few really understand what it means to be free,” as Bassil’Ora does? The echo of Rose Wilder Lane’s Discovery of Freedom is inspiring, and the movie delivers.
Miss Virginia, based on the true story of Virginia Walden Ford, whose fight for federally funded school choice vouchers has made it possible for thousands of children to escape government schools, also celebrates the freedom to choose.
In 2014, the film Cough told the story of a pandemic that caused people to sacrifice their freedoms. I wish everyone in America had seen that. Are libertarian filmmakers getting an audience beyond Anthem?
Yes, Cough was a good one! Metrics is probably our most timely film this year, as it supposes a future in which the protagonist lives alone, communicates through video monitors, orders his supplies through an Alexa-like device, and seems utterly devoid of human contact. In other words, our present.
And, yes, I do think libertarian films are starting to find an audience, largely because of the proliferation of streaming platforms and pre-sales agreements at independent theaters through organizations such as FilmHub. I’ve been pleased to see films like Miss Virginia and Skid Row Marathon, our 2018 grand prize winner, in theaters lately. And two of our films, Seized and Saber Rock, went on to earn Emmys.
I really could use a “laugh-filled” or “feel-good” film. Any of those this year?
Oh yes! Seize this House is devastatingly funny, as two happy-go-lucky government agents gleefully confiscate homes with unpaid tax bills and resell them at a big profit for the government. Of course, it is entirely satirical and makes the point that tax seizure is theft. You’ll also laugh at our musical beatdown, Mises vs Marx, with a powerful message along with the fun. And two features are delightful comedies: Speed of Life, with a time-traveling wormhole, and Mondo Hollywoodland, that’s just too quirky to describe — but we loved it.
Did any of this year’s filmmakers not realize they were making a libertarian film?
That’s a good question! Most of our filmmakers have an underlying libertarian philosophy, but I don’t think any of our films are preachy or overbearing. We’re still a magnet for Iranian films, and four of them made it into our lineup. They aren’t overtly libertarian, but they make an impassioned plea for freedom through skillful and evocative storytelling. Elevator, about a man who unexpectedly discovers his need for human connection, is probably the least overtly libertarian, and yet it fits the festival well this year.
One of my favorite Anthem films was from the first year I attended: The Conversation. Anything that powerful in the line-up?
Crystal City has a similar emotional connection between the two main characters. Bassil’Ora does too, and its discussion of courage in the face of wartime atrocity is powerful. Inner Self, about an Iranian violinist trying to obtain a certificate to enter the theater when she is not wearing the proper burka, is beautifully acted and the character development is slow and heartbreakingly authentic. I also think there’s something very special about the six-minute documentary The Falconer.
In 2014, two films, Poverty Inc and Exit, caused me to totally reverse my thinking on two issues. Any mind-blowing films in store for 2020?
They Say it Can’t Be Done is probably the most eye-opening. It highlights exciting developments in medicine, food production, transportation and pollution control through innovation and entrepreneurship. The free market is astounding in its ability to analyze a problem and design a solution. That’s what I fear losing the most during the new cultural revolution.
How to Love your Enemy offers an innovative approach to criminal justice reform based on restitution and forgiveness instead of imprisonment. And the Architects of Woke guys are back with a response to the 1619 Project and Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
When people leave Anthem, what do you want them to take away?
That movies have the power to change minds by changing hearts. I expect our viewers to be engaged emotionally as well as intellectually. I hope they recognize the dangers inherent in our overreaching, authoritarian government policies, and that they will be energized to speak up in defense of free will and free markets. We need that more than ever today. And I hope they have a great time.
For more information visit the Anthem Film Festival online.
You can see a preview of Miss Virginia below.