About this project
**UPDATE** Amazing. Thanks to you and all of our nearly 300 backers (and everyone else who has spread the word about SILENCED!) we have reached our fundraising goal ahead of schedule. Your support has been overwhelming and humbling, and I am so grateful for your generosity in making this film happen.
There are still five days left in this campaign, and we are thrilled that people are still backing us! And yes, we will put any additional Kickstarter funds raised in these final days to good use--making some critical upgrades to our editing equipment, beginning work with composer Emile Menasché, and spending more time in the edit room assembling all of these individual stories into a powerful narrative about the importance of whistleblowers to American democracy.
You can continue to help the campaign by sharing this link on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging your friends to pledge--even raising your own pledge! http://kck.st/Z5yC5E
A short time ago, I was lucky enough make a documentary that struck a nerve with audiences worldwide. That film, Incident in New Baghdad, explored U.S. soldier Ethan McCord's transforming experience on the scene of one of the most infamous events of the Iraq War, and its Academy Award qualifying run in a Los Angeles theater was made possible by a successful fundraising effort right here on Kickstarter. I will forever be grateful to the generosity of the backers who made my trip to the Oscars happen!
Now I've teamed up with producer Daniel Chalfen and executive producer Jim Butterworth of Naked Edge Films to make an ambitious new documentary called SILENCED, and I need your help to raise $35,000 by March 14th so we can begin post-production and finish the film by the end of this year.
The War on Whistleblowers
SILENCED follows a group of high-profile truthtellers who dared to question official national security policy in post 9-11 America, and have endured harsh consequences. I became increasingly interested in the issue of government transparency and accountability, and the ongoing efforts to punish those who reveal information about official wrongdoing, when working on Incident in New Baghdad. That film featured incendiary footage of a controversial U.S. helicopter attack purportedly released by a young U.S. Army Specialist named Bradley Manning, who is currently facing a court martial on charges that could result in a life prison sentence.
But Manning is not alone. Over the past several years, an arcane WWI era law called The Espionage Act has been used six times to bring charges against whistleblowers, not for revealing information to a foreign government, but for talking to the press. In fact, the current administration invoked this law more times than all previous administrations combined.
What does it take for an individual of conscience to speak out in this environment? What kind of courage and character does it take to challenge the national security policies of the most powerful nation on Earth? Though Incident was not directly about Manning, the experience of making it got me to thinking about the power of information: who controls and classifies it, who is allowed to release it, who is rewarded for its use and who is punished.
The targeting of whistleblowers raises profound questions that have implications far beyond the fates of the individuals profiled in this film. In an age where the spectre of terrorism is deemed an appropriate reason for the Executive branch to claim greater and greater powers, can the United States government maintain a commitment to the rule of law? How can a democracy that purports to champion human rights simultaneously attempt to quash criticism from within its ranks? What is the effect on our First Amendment right to dissent--and on the whole idea of a free press--when those in power single out whistleblowers for prosecution?
How you can help
SILENCED is the most ambitious, most important film of my career—and I definitely need your help to make it happen! I have been shooting now for six months, and will continue to follow these stories as they unfold. But every documentary really comes together in the edit room. And the funds we raise here on Kickstarter will allow our team to finally get into the edit room for four months with all of this amazing footage, and start to put together my film.
There are some great incentives for you to get involved at various levels of support. But really, I’d like to think the main incentive is that you care deeply about these issues and what they mean for the United States and indeed, the world.
So please support this project in any way you can. Every dollar truly will make a
difference. Kickstarter is "all-or-nothing" - so we won't get anything unless we reach our goal of $35,000 by March 14th. And if you believe in what I
am doing, please help spread the word by following us on Facebook or Twitter, and sharing this link with your friends: http://kck.st/Z5yC5E
Thank you so much for your support.
Jim Spione, Producer/Director
Some of Our Rewards
Meet the whistleblowers
Jesselyn Radack In 2001, Ms. Radack, then a Justice Department lawyer, resigned over official misconduct in the case of "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, leaking critical emails to Newsweek magazine. A campaign of retribution followed, in which Radack was forced out of her new job, referred for discipline before the bar in two states, threatened with prosecution, and effectively kept from working as an attorney for years. Media investigations of the emails eventually lead to the revelation that a secret program to torture prisoners in U.S. custody was being hidden by the White House. Now Jesselyn works at the nonprofit Government Accountability Project in Washington DC, and has dedicated her life to helping other whistleblowers.
Thomas Drake After sounding the alarm for years through internal channels at the National Security Agency, Thomas Drake released non-classified information regarding warrantless surveillance programs targeting millions of Americans to a reporter at the Baltimore Sun. An investigation ensued, and in 2007 Drake’s home and those of several other NSA employees who had made complaints were raided by armed agents. In 2010, the Obama Justice Department charged Drake with an unprecedented use of the Espionage Act in relation to his contact with the press, but the case collapsed in 2011. Nonetheless, Drake was left with hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal bills.
John Kiriakou In 2007, Mr. Kiriakou became the first current or former CIA officer to confirm that waterboarding was official United States policy, criticizing the practice on national television. While initially claiming the technique worked, he later retracted that stance when he found that the CIA had been providing him with false information. As he continued to give interviews he became more critical of enhanced interrogations, calling them torture. An active source for the press, Kiriakou named a former colleague involved in the rendition and interrogation program to a journalist, and the name of the agent ended up in a legal brief for lawyers of Guantanomo Bay prisoners. Mr. Kiriakou was soon hit with numerous charges from U.S. prosecutors, including Espionage Act charges. Earlier this year he pleaded guilty to revealing the identity of an undercover agent, and will shortly begin serving a 30-month sentence in federal prison.
Peter Van Buren Twenty-four-year State Department veteran Peter Van Buren volunteered for the job of heading up a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Iraq. He recently published “We Meant Well: How I Lost the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People," a scathing, “Catch-22”-style critique of his experience, detailing waste, fraud and ineptitude on a colossal scale. Almost immediately he had his security clearances revoked, and the State Department began to monitor all of his online activities. However, after the ACLU mounted an aggressive public defense of Mr. Van Buren, State eventually backed off and Van Buren was allowed to resign with full retirement, a rare happy outcome in the current environment.
Meet the Filmmaker
Academy Award® nominated director James Spione is an independent filmmaker based in New York. His most recent work, the powerful war film Incident in New Baghdad, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won Best Documentary Short. The film went on to win top honors at many other festivals, and was nominated for an Oscar in February 2012 in the Documentary Short Subject category. It premiered on the Documentary Channel in May 2012.
Mr. Spione's previous documentaries include the poignant portrait film Our Island Home, about the last surviving denizens of a vanished settlement off the coast of Virginia, and his first feature American Farm, distributed by Passion River Films, which detailed the deep generational conflicts on his family's fifth-generation homestead in central New York State.
Mr. Spione has also made a number of fiction films, including the international festival hit and Sundance favorite Garden, starring Oscar winner Melissa Leo, and the television suspense film The Playroom. Mr. Spione produced the acclaimed independent feature Parallel Sons. (Sundance '95). His first film Prelude earned a Student Academy Award.
Risks and challenges
One of the hardest things to accurately gauge in documentary filmmaking is a realistic timeline for completion. Since I am still in active production on SILENCED, and will continue to shoot for some months, it is hard to pinpoint exactly when the film will be finished--obviously, real-world events sometimes change a story, complicate it, lengthen it, often throwing a wrench into the director's plans. This is great from a filmmaking point of view--after all, what makes nonfiction film exciting is that anything can happen, and the outcomes of your stories cannot be predicted. So, while I am aiming for a premiere date towards the beginning of 2014, there are no guarantees! And of course the timing of completion will have a direct bearing on some of the incentives in the right-hand column, so please be aware that those dates of delivery are estimates! :)Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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