My new friends like Glenn Beck: tea-party-affiliated activism in middle Tennessee through the lens of a progressive student filmmaker.
What is Our Finest Hour?
Our Finest Hour is a documentary short about a very conservative political activist group called the Tennessee 9-12 Project. Since I’m a two-time Obama voter, this documentary is also an exploration of whether it is possible to have real, valuable conversations—and even friendships—with sworn political enemies.
In 2009, Glenn Beck hatched the idea of a national “9-12 Project” that could bring the United States back to the sense of unity and purpose that it had just after the attacks on September 11, 2001. Glenn Beck doesn’t have any formal affiliation with the Tennessee 9-12 Project, however. The group was born of a concerned citizen’s call to action to his peers in middle Tennessee, to stand with the burgeoning national tea party movement and rally against President Obama’s political agenda.
Where this story departs from your average media coverage of tea party politics is that I’m just a dude with a camera. For that reason, I was able to have conversations with this group that wouldn’t be possible if I was filming on behalf of an institution or if I were a team of documentarians with a bunch of fancy equipment.
At the same time, some were skeptical of my intentions at first. I openly identified as a Democrat in my conversations, so it took time and the development of trust for members of the group to recognize that I was there truly to listen. From town hall meetings about how to subvert the implementation of Obamacare to monthly dinners called “Eat, Drink, and Be Wary,” they welcomed me into their goings-on and were very frank with me about the threats they perceive to this country’s greatness.
What is the purpose of the documentary?
My friends have asked me what I’m trying to accomplish by being civil and even friendly with folks with whom I have strong disagreements. Some have even wondered if I’m secretly a conservative—how else could I have gotten the access that I did and made friendships with members of this group so easily? The purpose of this documentary is to question this type of logic: that there’s no way a conversation is possible without being on the same political “team.”
Do I approve of most of this group’s political beliefs? Absolutely not. At the same time, I want to be bigger than name calling and a politics of total cynicism and exclusion. I leave the viewer to decide whether I give this group too much or too little credit. What I care about is just putting a discussion about the relationship between these conservatives and a progressive millennial like myself on the table.
Cool. What did you learn?
Sometimes, after an event I was recording would wrap up, a couple nine-twelvers would ask me if the keynote speakers were able to persuade me to change my views at all. The answer was never “yes,” but that didn’t mean I wasn’t listening. I learned that trust comes in different types and that there are a lot of intermediate steps between completely disregarding someone and completely agreeing with her arguments. Even if I don’t trust someone’s conclusions about the Obamacare bill, I may respect his common sense instinct that it’s not a great idea to rush the passage of an enormous bill that apparently few legislators have read thoroughly.
I’m not convinced that there’s any one correct way to listen to someone on the other side of the aisle, but I do think it’s healthy to be aware of how we listen and to find prudent opportunities to trust each other in the ways that we can.
Hold up—I’m skeptical. Aren’t the members of this group crazy / racist / violent / (some other strong adjective)?
We all have the freedom to respond in our own way to the actions of others and to choose our own words. But for me, it’s hard to dismiss someone's perspective entirely when he or she has the respect of an entire community. When that person studies the news carefully and reads academic books and articles on a subject before arriving at certain views, I can’t bring myself to malign those views as “thoughtless” or “ignorant.” Just like anyone else, it’s a release for me to laugh and dismiss as “crazy” people who I think are very wrong about the issues and who made me uncomfortable as a result. If I’ve learned one thing by doing this project, it’s that civility and patient listening are way easier said than done. But the reward, which I hope you will be able to share by seeing my finished product, is the jarring awareness that your sworn political enemies may have something to teach you about what it means to be an involved citizen.
How can I help?
Every little bit of funding takes me closer to a professional-looking end product that will turn more heads and inspire more dialogue. The standard services I need are sound mixing, color correction, graphic design, and editing assistance, which even for a short film cost thousands and thousands of dollars (and usually more than the amount I’m trying to raise).
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Before I'm able to use any funding from this campaign, I'll have to put together the rough cut of my short myself. Finishing filming is a huge relief, but it will take a lot of time and careful editing to put this thing together. The big challenge during that process and later stages of post-production will be telling the story in such a way that I can thread the needle between endorsing how active this group is in their community and endorsing what the group says. Even subtle editing touches, like the background color of a shot, can communicate emotions to a viewer that could change her or his understanding of that shot’s meaning. The people who I interviewed and otherwise recorded for this project have trusted me not to do a sensationalized “hatchet job” on their group, and I take that obligation very seriously. At the same time, I have to be faithful to my own views and do not want to give the appearance of endorsing views that I oppose strongly.
My main technical challenges arise from having "prosumer" but not totally pro equipment. My equipment gives me a level of quality with which I'm satisfied, but there are certainly some hiccups that need sorting out. The audio that I subtitled in the preview video is an example.
Also, since I'm only one person, finalizing my project may go a little slower than it would for similar projects. I've budgeted what I think is enough time to complete it. Even though I think the final product will be a documentary short (less than 50 minutes), it still takes several months to complete! Other documentary filmmakers have looked at my schedule and commented that it looks about right.
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