Monday, September 5, 2016

STARVING THE BEAST: Mims and Banowsky's smart, timely and very important documentary

Is higher education at America's public universities soon to become a "private" kind of thing?  As in: even higher tuition fees, less and less public funding, and more and more nasty disruption and fake reform from trash-talking (and worse-acting) Republicans bent on the destruction of any kind of government that would actually provide for the people it governs? According to the new, must-see documentary STARVING THE BEAST, the answer is a decided "yes" -- unless the public that most needs to make use the of that education is able to wrest control back from the purveyors of this "new business model" for our universities.

As written, directed, filmed and edited by Steve Mims, shown at right, who earlier co-directed that exceptional documentary, Incendiary, and produced by Bill Banowsky (below), the documentary is actually one of the more intelligent I've seen in its refusal to spoon-feed us a bunch of talking points and sound bites. Instead, the filmmakers let us slowly see and understand what is going on here by listening hard and watching well, then putting together all the pieces Mims provides in order to understand the bigger picture, as well as the smaller details that make up that picture.

Mims begins with an angry speech by James Carville (shown below, and no hero of mine: see Our Brand Is Crisis) about what's happening at LSU, but there so much going on here that the filmmaker then offers up some history, including how the private sector began encroaching upon the public, and the results of all this in various locations and universities. Those locations are often, no surprise, in America's south and southwest (Louisiana, Virginia, North Carolina, Texas). But not always: We get a good dose of what Scott Walker did and wants to continue doing in and to Wisconsin.

We also see what Rick Perry and Bobby Jindal have in mind for higher education in Texas and Louisiana. Funny how all three would-be Presidential candidates have long since been unmasked for the lying pikers they are. We even get a dose of another would-be, Marco Rubio, who sings the praises of the Investing in Student Success Act -- surely one of the worst ideas those die-hard/kill-the-government idiots have yet concocted. Wait until you hear its particulars: This lunatic piece of if-only lawmaking (along with another bit of nonsense called The HERO Act) sounds like something out of the darkest, dystopian sci-fi film.

How did all this come about? Listen and learn of Jeff Sandefer and his Seven Solutions, or Wallace Hall and the Kick-Ass Regents. And, yes, Grover Norquist rears his ugly, no-more-taxes head once again. The fix is in by the one per cent to "starve" public higher education of funding. Sure, times are hard (except for the wealthy) but that is no excuse for so many states to abdicate their responsibility over higher education.

There is so much impressive information here -- including talking head interviews, copious charts and statistics, and especially a delving into exactly what happened and why -- that you will come away from this documentary with renewed appreciation for what public education used to mean and what, we hope, it can someday signify again.

As a filmmaker, Mims never raises his voice (although he occasionally lets his interviewees do this for him). Instead he piles up the evidence quietly and carefully and places it right in front of us. The result is impressive in both its quantity and quality. The movie's epilogue, involving the condition of Iowa State University, is like a further call to arms.

Starving the Beast, from Mr. Banowsky's distribution company, Violet Crown Films, and running 95 minutes, opened this past Friday, September 2, in at the E Street Cinema in DC, hits New York City at the IFC Film Center this coming Friday, September 9, and then opens on Friday, September 16, in Austin (Violet Crown Cinemas), Charlottesville (Violet Crown Cinemas), Los Angeles (Laemmle's Noho) and Madison (Sundance Cinemas). Click here to see all currently scheduled playdates, cities and theaters.

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