The strategy by which they have won this triumph is instantly familiar and yet so bizarre it’s sometimes hard to believe it’s actually happened: Think of Richard Nixon extolling the virtues of the “silent majority,” or Ronald Reagan shaking his head at those crazy college professors, or George W. Bush sticking up for the “regular Americans,” or the army of pundits who have written so eloquently in recent months about the humble folk of the “red states.”
And then think of the political changes that this sappy stuff has helped to sell: Privatization. Deregulation. Monopolies in every industry from banking to radio to meatpacking. The destruction of the welfare state. The beatdown of the labor movement. The transformation of the Midwest into the rust belt. And, shimmering in the heavens above all this, the rise of a new plutocracy, a class of overlords so taken with their own magnificence that they are moved to compare themselves to the Almighty.
What we are observing, then, is a populist movement that has done irreversible harm to the material interests of the common people it professes to love so tenderly -- a form of class animosity that rages against a shadowy “elite” while enthroning a new aristocracy of bankers, brokers, and corporate thieves.
How, in god's name, has all this happened? That's what Mr. Frank's book and now this movie, directed and edited by Joe Winston (shown at top, left) and produced by Laura Cohen (shown top, right), help make clear. The filmmakers accomplish this by offering us -- up close and personal, in some detail, and with the blessing of the people themselves -- how certain Kansans think, feel, believe and behave.
TrustMovies: What is Thomas Frank's feeling about your finished film?
Joe Winston: Tom has been with us the whole way. We knew Tom a little bit because we were all in Chicago, at least when he wrote the book. Then he moved to D.C. We optioned the book from him, and he gave us all his contacts, and we have now spoken to pretty much everybody that he spoke to. We still had to do our own research, though, and the main characters in the movie we found on our own.
The FSLC calls this the "world premier" of your movie. This is really the first time it's been seen? And will it have a further life here in NYC and elsewhere?
This is the only NYC screening we have lined up. And, in a sense, it is a world premier because all earlier screenings have been works-in-progress. This is the first public screening of the finished film -- which will also play in Chicago for one week, September 18-24.
Well, our movie captures a snapshot of a moment in time when the the coalition of the American Evangelical movement and the Republican Party was beginning to come apart at the seams. We wanted to remind audiences that these people are not going away, just because they have lost a couple of elections.
I can understand why the people who were in your film could then watch the film and believe that you were on their side. Because you simply let them speak and say what they want to.
We told everyone that we were interested in them. In what they thought -- and why. And we were. We assured them we would not use any voice-overs nor commentary nor any extra narration. And so every spoken word in the movie comes out of the mouth of one of its characters.
I was also surprised at some of the things I leaned from the film: the state's liberal/progressive history.
In fact, the Midwest is the seat of some the nation earliest progessive movement.
Do have a distributor lined up for your film at this point?
We are in talks with several distributors now, which is one reason we're here in NYC. But, you know, the new wave of independent filmmakers is no longer that dependent on outside distribution. If we need or want to, we can self-distribute.
I have edited a lot of documentary TV shows. And I also directed and edited The Burning Man Festival movie.
You asked earlier what Tom Frank thought about this movie, so if you want to hear and learn more you can do it most easily via this site at YouTube.
(All photos are from the film itself,
except that of Winston & Cohen, at top, which is by Jim Newberry.)