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Social media has changed innumerable contemporary landscapes, including the arena of arts and culture. Creatives are bypassing the traditional power structures and looking for new ways to get their content out—whether in the fields of painting or filmmaking.

Blazing the trail with novel ways to approach distribution, filmmaker Robert Greenwald has forged a new model for a mashup of documentary filmmaking and political activism.

His new film, The Koch Brothers Exposed, examines the pervasive influence of David and Charles Koch on the American fabric of life. It covers areas as diverse as their impact on community school boards, colleges, the environment, voting rights, and think tanks. Greenwald began the film before the Occupy Wall Street movement exploded. He was eight months into conducting his own research and filming when he saw how the 1 percent was using their financial resources to promulgate their specific ideologies and economic interests.

The film supplies a familial back story on the Kochs, who Greenwald pegs as “the poster boys for the top 1 percent—using their money and their power to fuel the growing inequity in America.”

The brothers inherited their wealth from their father Fred. The elder Koch made money on oil in the USSR in the 1930s, when he was brought in by Stalin to build pipelines. He leveraged that money to develop an oil business in the United States. Fred became active in the support of right wing causes, most prominently The John Birch Society.

Greenwald chooses his interviewees with an eye to getting insights into the specific areas he identifies as separate pieces of a puzzle. His outlined goal is to create a full picture of what he qualifies as the “Koch echo chamber.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) talks about how the Kochs are spreading “disinformation” about the need to raise the Social security retirement age to 70 via pundits from sources such as the Cato Institute—which has received 13.6 million dollars in support from the Kochs.

Sanders believes that the Kochs are working to dismember government, and points to Americans for Prosperity (with chapters in thirty-four states), as a “boots on the ground” front group for the Koch agenda. This assertion leads into the segment that illustrates the Koch drive to dismantle public education through an infiltration of school boards from the state to local level.

Greenwald shows the fight that took place in 2009 in Wake County, North Carolina, when Americans for Prosperity helped to fund the two school board candidates who were behind the agenda to essentially “resegregate” Wake County. The methodology was to change the protocol of how students were assigned to schools. The defeated candidates noted wryly, “We went to a gun fight with knives.” Two years later, after the NAACP filed a complaint, the Koch-backed board members were ousted.

Katrina vanden Heuvel speaks to the issue of Koch money at the level of higher education. She notes that the Koch Family Foundations has given over 14.39 million dollars to colleges and universitiesin the United States, including MIT and Dartmouth. She states, “They are buying up departments and ideology…and the minds of the next generation.” With financial agreements at over 150 schools, 100,000 students are affected. vanden Heuvel maintains that grants have stipulations and strings attached, including hiring professors that disseminate the Kochian point of view.

In the arena of the environment, the Koch Brothers have earned the distinction as one of the top ten polluters in the nation. They have donated over $500,000 to members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, in efforts to gut environmental regulations. Van Jones is on hand to observe, “They gotta do whatever they can to protect their profits.” That includes polluting a community in Crossett, Arkansas, where clusters of people have died from cancer.

Politicians pushing Voter ID laws, which would impact access to the ballot box, have received a $245,550 shot in the arm from the Kochs. One million dollars has been funneled to ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) and their move to suppress the ballots of over 21 million people—from a cross-section of poor, minorities, students, and elders. The favored route to denial has been to demand a government photo identification. Ben Jealous of the NAACP is on camera to observe, “You start with voting rights, and it makes it easier to abridge other rights.”

The content is explosive, and Greenwald knows it. That’s why he is working to find “alternative venues” to get his documentary out to the public and break through the “gatekeepers.”

I was able to interview him by e-mail. Below is the conversation:

The seeds of your involvement with political content began in 1976 when you directed I Have a Dream, a play based on the life of Martin Luther King. In television, you produced 21 Hours at Munich and directed The Burning Bed, which dealt with domestic violence. On the big screen, the musical Xanadu seemed a departure from your path. Then you directed Steal This Movie, a biography of Abbie Hoffman, which again reflected a socio-political content. With a Peabody Award behind you, along with 25 Emmy Award nominations, you began to focus on documentaries. The first, which came out in 2002, was Unprecedented: The 2000 Presidential Election. Can you comment on your evolution, the progression into documentary filmmaking, and how the new media platforms have affected your trajectory?

New media has made it possible for filmmakers like me to get their message out. No big Hollywood studios are needed anymore to make and release a film. More and more people are watching movies and television online than going to the movie theater because of costs. This freedom gives me the opportunity to create the film I want to be seen and heard. For example, Iraq for Sale, a film way before its time, probably wouldn’t have been made if it weren’t for the new media platforms that are available.
You grasped the concept of bypassing the gatekeepers in 2003 when you used an alternative methodology for distributing Uncovered: The War on Iraq. You combined film distribution and activism through your “house parties” viewings. Do you believe creatives, using new social media platforms to amplify their work, now have greater latitude in getting their work out?
Absolutely! Filmmakers now have the freedom to create the type of movie they want. More screenwriters, directors, and producers now have the chance to see their words on screen now that VOD and streaming outlets are available. Overall, it’s a good thing for filmmaking and documentarians.
We have seen how dissident artists in repressive societies, such as Ai WeiWei and Jafar Panahi, have frightened their government with their work and ideas. The arts are not overwhelming supported in the United States. Money and lack of economic equity impact the ability of creatives to produce. Candidate Obama reached out to the arts community when he was running for President, underscoring the importance of the arts in the nation’s life. He pointed to the power of culture in soft diplomacy. There was even some hope that he would create a 21st century version of the WPA Federal Art Project. Can you share your thoughts about the role of the artist in American society—both culturally and economically?
Artists tend to be people of strong character and opinion. Often they are dismissed in our culture if they don’t fit a certain mainstream media mold. It’s a reason why filmmakers are now releasing films online. Art, in any form can invoke various emotions and actions. I think some can be frightened of the power that a simple image can invoke and that’s why they tend to shy away from it. But art documents moments in our history and that image is often what many people remember of a certain time.
What motivated you to found Brave New Films and Brave New Foundation?
The chance to reach and influence people in a new way. There was distribution and technology merging—creating these new opportunities. I wanted to work in this unique time.
In your Director’s Commentary for The Koch Brothers Exposed, you spoke about “looking for the most fruitful areas to investigate.” You covered a lot of territory. How did you decide on the final topics that were examined?
We originally did this film in stages, releasing short, topical segments every month. The Koch brothers clearly have a wide net they have cast over the political system, but the topics in the movie speak to the ones with the most relevance to everyday Americans. From social security, to education (of all ages) to the environment that surrounds you; the Kochs have a hand in our daily life. The topics shown in the film reflect that.
Jeannette Catsoulis referred to your documentaries as being “like sledgehammers of rage.” How do you respond to film critics who see your films less as documentaries and more as “manipulative propaganda?”
My films aren’t “propaganda.“ None of those critics can change the facts. Over a year of research went into this film and the facts speak for themselves.
Part and parcel of your social media outreach includes your downloadable action guide on the Koch Brothers Exposed website which includes actionable portals, as well as an activist agenda—from contacting elected officials to volunteering. The film is available on streaming outlets and cable video-on-demand. What are your hopes for the film and your rollout strategy?
I hope everybody who is interested in not only the Koch brothers, but politics in general, sees this film and heeds the call for action. Even if that action is hosting a screening at their home with their neighbors and engaging in a discussion about the Koch brothers, that small discussion can lead to big changes. The Kochs were unheard of a year ago, but through online engagement and action they have slowly been brought out of the shadows. I’m convinced once more people know of their unbridled influence, they will take action to stop them from their efforts to buy our democracy.
This article originally appeared on the website cultureID.


Originally posted to Marcia G Yerman on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 12:03 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA, ClassWarfare Newsletter: WallStreet VS Working Class Global Occupy movement, and German American Friendship Group.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Billionaires who want even MORE money (7+ / 0-)

    when more money means nothing to them, and so much to those who have none are very sick individuals.

      Their particular disease? GREED.
       And it's a sickness of the soul.

    "We the People of the United States...." -U.S. Constitution

    by elwior on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 12:26:32 PM PDT

    •  It's not 'more money' in terms of numbers in (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      lcrp, sfcouple, terabytes, myboo

      bank accounts, it's the associated accumulation and exercise of leveraged power to buy and shape the world to reflect their desires, to bring politicians running to learn their bidding. Sure, it's nice to have enough to slake their every possible taste and lusts, and to impose their whimsy on the masses via 'the free market', but there's that special feeling that comes from having attained the power to say 'No' to the whole rest of humanity, even as it struggles and is pushed to the edge, using the public's government itself as enforcer.  The power to delay and prevent regulation, to be immune from prosecution, to instead punish all who oppose them, is what the Koch brothers want to have and to hold in perpetuity. The current battle isn't over they're already having gotten this sort of power. Citizen's United gives them this.  So it's now about never being forced to give it up, preserving and building upon their ultra-privilege for their elite circle of ultra-rich, at the expense of the rest of us.  They care not for any archaic notions of the obligations of nobility...they feel society is only worth something when it can be manipulated and enslaved to their purposes.  Machiavelli is their real guide, not Adam Smith.

      When life gives you wingnuts, make wingnut butter!

      by antirove on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 01:23:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Tiger 21, new, secret meetings of uber wealthy (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      aliasalias, elwior

      Good to check out what this group is up to.  Bain presents investment offers to this group.  

      Tiger 21 is going global.  Secret meetings where members share their financial information.  Of course, insider trading is against the rules.  Right.....

      Tiger 21 has since blocked access to this information.  This is the link no longer working  Tiger 21 Confidentiality

      Confidentiality
      “Although the primary focus of TIGER 21 is learning about the investment world and available opportunities, we realize that personal and emotional issues also play a major role in investment decisions.  That’s why the assurance of confidentiality and trust is so important here.”
      --Richard Lavin, Co-Founder

      It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

      by War on Error on Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 10:54:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It has been my life experience that the (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    OleHippieChick

    top 1% are more interested in accumulation of power rather than adding another zero to their bank accounts.  Power over others is their motivation in life.  Yes, there are notable exceptions but not with the Koch Brothers, with them it is all about power.  

    Obviously it takes money to accumulate the power exhibited by the Kochs.  But once a certain level of wealth is obtained then having power over others appears to be the main driving force of the 1%.  Without wealth then it requires military strength for those infected with the virus and need for power.  

    "It took us a couple of days because I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak." President Barack Obama 3/24/09

    by sfcouple on Sun Jul 01, 2012 at 01:42:45 PM PDT

    •  I would agree with that hypothesis... (0+ / 0-)

      Money is simply a tool used toward the objective of acquiring & exerting power.


      I'm a "No Rate" pariah. So when I give a comment "+110% n/t", please consider that a recommend. (That's my workaround fix to participating in this community!)

      by The Angry Architect on Thu Jul 05, 2012 at 07:49:18 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thank God for Tenure. (0+ / 0-)

    Could you imagine how awful the Koch brothers really could be if they could stipulate targeted firings of professors with their donations? Relevant example: they could donate to their alma mater (MIT) and get Noam Chomsky fired.

    Just something I wanted to share when I noticed that 14.39 million tidbit and got a fever dream thinking about it.

  •  Here's more information (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    aliasalias

    that includes newspaper clippings of Fred Koch's rants

    80 Years of Planning: The Kochs + The Family + Birchers = No Democracy

    It's difficult to be happy knowing so many suffer. We must unite.

    by War on Error on Mon Jul 02, 2012 at 10:06:06 AM PDT

  •  Billionaire Charles Koch told to FU*K OFF! (0+ / 0-)

    For people like me and many many others, the Industrial and Chemical magnate Koch brothers, Charles and David and what they represent as 1%er's is everything that is BAD in America today!
    This video is on Youtube, and is by far and away the bet and most effective way for 99%er's to voice their own opinions on these two environmental vandals, without being jailed or beaten, in the same way the recluse and Artist James DeWeaver, who just happens to be a good friend and collaborator with U.K. Street Artist BANKSY did!
    The Unabomber once went after DeWeaver, and failed obviously!

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