This year, a coal miner’s daughter in West Virginia, a grieving mother in Nevada, a registered nurse in Missouri and a young bartender from New York are challenging powerful incumbents in Congress. None of these women have experience in politics, but each has had a life-changing experience of injustice. Running on their own, they might never stand a chance. But running together, as part of a rising movement, they’re finding the courage to do something extraordinary.
"Now that my eyes are open, I cannot and will not close them again." — Amy Vilela
When her daughter died from a preventable medical condition, businesswoman Amy Vilela of Las Vegas didn't know what to do with her anger about America's broken health care system. Bronx-born Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez had to work double shifts in a restaurant to save her family’s home from foreclosure after losing her father. Cori Bush, a Saint Louis nurse, was drawn into the streets when the shooting of Michael Brown brought protests and tanks into her neighborhood. Paula Jean Swearengin buried family and neighbors to illnesses caused by West Virginia’s coal industry — and worries her children will be next. All four women understood that their lives were affected by politics, but none had considered running for office themselves. Until now.
"It's not faith in me. It's survival." — Paula Jean Swearengin
Knock Down The House is a story about power and what it takes to achieve it—both inside yourself and in the world. Behind the scenes and in the streets, we follow these four women on the roller-coaster journey of running for office, from early doubts to finding their voices before huge crowds. As these outsider candidates steel themselves for confrontations with well-funded career politicians like West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and New York’s Joseph Crowley, they have a few tricks up their sleeves. Backed by a surging grassroots movement of voters hungry for change, they’re running with dozens of progressive challengers on a unified slate under the banners of Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress. They have access to veteran campaign managers, a national fundraising base, and tech innovations like the most efficient peer-to-peer voter contact system in the history of US elections. And they’re forming tight friendships with each other across culture and geography. To win, Amy, Alex, Cori and Paula will have to unify their divided districts, discover courage in the midst of pain and loss, and withstand personal attacks from political machines determined to hold on to power. No matter what happens, none of them will ever be the same again.
"At the end of David vs. Goliath, David wins." — Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez
Why doesn’t Congress—made up primarily of white, male, millionaire lawyers— better represent the American people? Why do so many eligible voters abstain from casting a ballot, and what happens when they have new options to choose from? Each of the charismatic women in Knock Down The House has had a firsthand experience with the life and death stakes of injustice in the environment, healthcare, police brutality and economic inequality. Their stories of empowerment will challenge the cynicism that keeps many people from engaging in politics and ask what it really takes to break down the barriers of access to the halls of power.
"I'm able to stomp through some doors other people are afraid to." — Cori Bush
At a time when political surprises are becoming the norm, Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress are the only groups systematically recruiting extraordinary working people to run for Congress. The experienced but controversial organizers behind these candidates are building a new pathway to power that bypasses lobbyists and good old boy networks. Our exclusive inside access to these groups, combined with the dramatic life stories of our main characters, ensures that this project will present a unique angle on the rise of progressive upstart candidates, and the historic waves of ordinary women running for office—two of the biggest stories of 2018. The time to make this film is now, both because the story is moving quickly and because our deeply divided country faces urgent challenges that can only be addressed if more people get involved with the democratic process.
Thank you for visiting this page! We literally can't make this documentary without your help. The 2018 election season is coming up fast and traditional documentary funding sources move very slowly. The only way to raise funds in time to capture this rapidly unfolding story is to make this a people-powered production. Every dollar you pledge (besides fees and the reward costs) will go directly to production—including travel, equipment rental, and other direct costs. We have over a decade of experience producing in a lean, efficient way to capture stories as they unfold, and have calculated that our goal of $25,000 is the minimum amount we need to cover the 2018 primary season. This will put us in the best possible position to edit a work sample that can bring on grants or investors to get us over the finish line.
In a media landscape dominated by profit, Kickstarter backers like you keep the heart of independent film beating! But a Kickstarter campaign isn't just about money. It's about building a community around the project—so that you’re with us on the journey of watching the story unfold, finishing the film, and maximizing its impact when it is released. We never forget or take for granted the wonderful ensemble of friends, family and total strangers who supported our past work. If you become a backer, we will make you part of our team, give you behind-the-scenes peeks in our process, and shower you in fun, exclusive rewards. And you’ll be helping us bring this story of hope and courage to as wide an audience as possible — in time to impact the national conversation around the 2020 presidential elections. So thank you!
We created this video and the short candidate profiles above for narrative.ly, an award-winning online literary magazine.
Rachel Lears and Robin Blotnick are Emmy-nominated New York-based filmmakers and 2013 Sundance Fellows. Our last feature documentary, The Hand That Feeds was broadcast on PBS and won awards at numerous festivals, including Full Frame, AFI Docs and DOC NYC. It was supported by major grants like Sundance Documentary Film Program, the Ford Foundation, Latino Public Broadcasting, Chicken & Egg Pictures, New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), and Bertha BRITDOC Connect Fund. Here's what reviewers had to say:
We have a track record of making character-based documentaries about real life David and Goliath struggles, and stories of different kinds of people teaming up to confront common enemies. We've spent years investigating the way power works in our world and what it really takes to make change. Knock Down The House will build on the fast-paced, gritty, observational style we developed for The Hand That Feeds. We’ll move from lively urban neighborhoods to sleepy mountain hollows and suburban sprawl, dramatizing powerful connections between people in very different regions of the country. We’ll use split screens to interweave the four candidates’ storylines, and playful archival montages and animated screencasts to show the role of media and technology in elections. With its suspenseful storyline and life and death stakes, this documentary will change the way we think about democracy and keep audiences on the edge of their seats.
Risks and challenges
It’s not easy to finish an independent documentary and get it before an audience. But we’ve already faced many of the most common challenges with our previous films, and we’ve learned ways to overcome them, from handling our own editing and shooting to running our own DIY theatrical release. Our biggest risk for this project is time. We must move quickly to expand our team, capture events as they unfold in various parts of the country, and prove to potential funders and collaborators that this film is a sound investment. We can only do this with your help! We've earned a reputation among our peers as hard working, motivated artists who can be counted on to meet deadlines and keep our promises, and we've never failed to reward our Kickstarter backers. If you put your faith in us, we promise we won't let you down.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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