Is Mr. Spock a libertarian? To find out you’ll need to attend this year’s FreedomFest and Anthem Film Festival, July 19-22, at the Paris Resort Las Vegas. Captain Kirk, a.k.a. William Shatner, will be there to help you navigate “The Free Enterprise” and answer this and other questions explored at the libertarian themed conference and film festival.
Admission to all Anthem Festival films is included in the price of a ticket to FreedomFest. Anyone who just wants to watch the films can purchase various Anthem ticket plans separately from FreedomFest.
To get a preview of this interstellar freedom trip, billed as “the world’s largest gathering of free minds, with over 200 speakers and 2,000 attendees,” I spoke with Anthem Film Festival founding director, and entertainment editor of Liberty Magazine, Jo Ann Skousen.
People love anniversaries ending in zero. The program for FreedomFest 2017 appears broader in scope than past events. And your guest list includes William Shatner, Greg Gutfeld, Senator Mike Lee, Steve Forbes, Kennedy, John Stossel, and Dinesh D’Souza. Is FreedomFest becoming cool for celebrities?
This is FreedomFest’s 10th Anniversary, and it’s lucky number 7 for Anthem. So yes, we wanted to make this year special. We have an impressive lineup, including James O’Keefe of Project Veritas and Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock, who were just added. I think we’re growing in stature as well as size. Most of the speakers you listed have become regulars at FreedomFest. They like to share their message at our conference, because of the quality of our attendees. It’s not only worth their time to speak, but most of them attend our sessions and learn from the other speakers as well.
Your focus, the Anthem Film Festival, doesn’t go back to the beginning of FreedomFest. When did it start and what was your inspiration?
Anthem began in the Skyview rooms on the 26th floor of Bally’s with a handful of films and a handful of viewers. I have long believed that film has the power to change hearts as well as minds in a way lectures and articles can’t. Our Best Short narrative from last year, Daniel Hanna’s Everything, is a great example. You can talk theoretically about the need for marrow donation to save lives of leukemia patients, but when you experience this mother’s agony as she tries to persuade a potential donor to help her child — well, the audience walks away thoroughly convinced, and outraged at the government for it’s small-minded, heartless legislation.
I wanted to provide a venue for filmmakers who care about issues like that. Hollywood isn’t kind to libertarians. But, I think it’s because of our festival that more organizations are sponsoring outstanding films. It’s having an impact. The Locastro brothers premiered their short documentary Seized at our festival last year, won our Best Short Doc award, and went on to win an Emmy with it last week.
There are only two narrative features in the festival. I find that disappointing. Narratives have so much more influence. Are libertarian filmmakers barking up the wrong genre?
I agree — it’s one of my biggest disappointments. We just don’t get that many good-quality narrative features. Frankly, it’s a lot harder. In a documentary, characters tell their own stories, and filmmakers do their magic in the editing room. Narrative filmmaking is expensive, and if you can only afford one or two major actors, the imbalance is even more pronounced. So, it’s always a struggle for me between wanting to make filmmakers happy and needing to provide a good audience experience. It’s tough, but it’s one reason my audience has grown — they trust my judgment.
So, are you happy with this year’s feature narratives?
I’m thrilled with our opening night feature! Little Pink House tells the story of Susette Kelo, a small-town nurse who fought her local government all the way to the Supreme Court when they used eminent domain to give her home to Pfizer. Director Courtney Balaker and her producer husband Ted did everything right with this film — Courtney wrote a great script based on the book by Jeff Benedict, great cast led by Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorne, great music by Anthem alums Scott McRae and Ryan Rapsys and a dynamite original song by David Crosby, and enough money to scout locations and hire qualified cinematographers and editors. Susette Kelo and her attorney Scott Bullock will be at the screening to answer questions.
And the second feature?
Re-evolution, is a gem as well, by a libertarian director from Spain on a tiny budget. Set in a dystopian future, it’s a little bit V is for Vendetta with quotable dialog à la Ayn Rand. And we have a handful of excellent short narratives as well. I’m hoping our festival encourages more filmmakers to write scripts with libertarian themes, and more producers to fund them.
The films cover a broad range of topics. Is there a subject area you think is missing?
This is probably our best year ever in terms of topics — eminent domain, identity politics, school choice, freedom of speech, police violence, prison reform, women in business and social welfare. They look at freedoms that made America great, and whether America is now in retreat. They tell harrowing stories of escape from communism and exuberant stories of capitalism and innovation. Buy yourself an extra-large bucket of popcorn; you won’t want to leave the theater during this film festival.
If there are two issues I would like to have included, they are immigration and inclusion. I had to leave out two excellent short films because they arrived late and I didn’t have room. I’m hoping to screen them next year.
You have awards for Anthem alumni this year. Is this new? Is it a sign of progress?
Several of our filmmakers return year after year, with new and better films each time. I don’t want to turn them down simply because they’ve been with us before, but it does begin to feel like a filmmakers’ reunion at Anthem! I call Ted and Courtney Balaker the Dynamic Duo of Libertarian Filmmaking. Ted directs docs, and Courtney directs fiction. They produce each other’s films. Janek Ambros is another alum who does amazingly creative work. The impressionistic style of May 15 in Paris is beautiful, while making a powerful yet subtle point about similarities between Donald Trump and Napoleon Bonaparte. This is the second year for John Papola (Freedom on Trial), too. But we also have some amazing new filmmakers this year, such as Ramsey Denison (What Happened in Vegas), Kevin Howe (Democracy through the Looking Glass), Eli Steele (I Am, or How Jack Became Black), Hawk Jensen (Anastasia Lin: The Witness Project) and a host of others.
What are you looking forward to most during this year’s Anthem?
I’m looking forward most to the press conference after the screening of Ramsey Denison’s What Happened in Vegas, about several innocent victims killed by police officers in Las Vegas.
The most recent occurred a few weeks ago, when a young black man, Tashii Farmer-Brown, approached a policeman to ask for help and ended up being tasered, punched, and choked to death. He did exactly what every mother teaches her children to do if they’re in trouble — ask a police officer for help. And he ended up dead.
Ramsey managed to get an interview with Tashii’s mother and added it to his film. She has resisted all other requests for interviews. But we’ve invited her and the families of the other victims to the screening of the movie, and afterward she’s giving her first, and maybe only, press conference at our festival. Not only am I offering a venue for the film, but also a sympathetic venue for this grieving mother to tell her story. I hope that after seeing the film, the press will get it, too. That’s the power of film.
Photos courtesy of Anthem Film Festival