• Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 19:06:09View | Delete

    Whoa! I think this is the last question I have to answer…

    And I’m pleased to say that everyone in the film loves it, and that we’ve had such a warm and enthusiastic response from audiences…really without exception across the political spectrum and across the country. I’m generalizing here, but conservatives (and we’ve screened places like Americans for Tax Reform, for instance) come to the film to “see themselves” and walk away re-considering some of their beliefs in many cases. Progressives come to the film to “know thy enemy” and often come away seeing themselves in some of the characters, or at a minimum having a more nuanced view of people with whom they disagree. All our beliefs come from somewhere…and at the same time we should all rethink them from time to time to see if they still hold true for us…or at least that’s a proposition that I hope people will walk away from the film considering.

    As far as other films, we’re currently in production on a few more documentaries in Pakistan, Chile and Cameroon — with our Pakistani project the one that we’re pushing forward most of all these days. If we’re lucky “Two Children of the Red Mosque” (which is another, very different coming-of-age story) will premiere next Spring…perhaps we’ll see you here with our Indian and Pakistani Co-Directors to discuss it.

    Until then, thanks again for having me here for FDL Movie Night; thanks for your thoughtful questions; and thanks for letting us know what you think of the film!

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:58:27View | Delete

    Yes, I think that — honesty and dancing around the truth with ‘political’ speech — is an issue for politicians. But that’s also something that’s true for many (shall we say most?) adults at times in their daily lives. We use euphemisms, don’t always say exactly what we mean or give the whole truth. I’m sort of the opposite personally, and it gets me into trouble frankly…I get accused of being anti-social or worse for not having that much of a filter.

    But in the film I think you see honesty in these guys…more so than I think we’d see in adult politicians. And you see them becoming more guarded with age too. They’re learning, and even they recognize that. We can’t expect them to be transparent, not completely. Though as I’ve said before in this chat, I think Ben is a particularly good example of honesty and authenticity, whether you agree with him or not. Otherwise, I don’t think I can easily generalize about all three of them, and I know you’re using only the trailer as a jumping off point for your question. Would certainly be glad to engage further on Facebook or Twitter (see comments above for our social media details) once you’ve seen the whole film…

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:51:51View | Delete

    Yes, I suppose you are right…but my point is that this sort of thing is not uncommon today. This is the environment that these proto-politicians have to grow up in if they’re ambitious and putting themselves out there…on the one hand they are public figures, and yet they are only 16 years old! That scene gets a very animated audience response at screenings…but there’s a lot that very serious and consequential for us to discuss here as a society.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:46:45View | Delete

    Yes, I think there’s an issue here…though I see it being less about not doing that one thing (you’re right that not all of them took shop class), and more about a focus on politics to the exclusion of other pursuits…which I think are necessary for making better leaders. As the boys have turned into young adults, all of them have to some extent branched out…which is healthy for them as people, citizens, and certainly as leaders in a political sense if they choose later in life to continue pursuing that path…

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:42:56View | Delete

    I’ve tried to answer your question here in comment #64…

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:41:48View | Delete

    I think you’d have to ask them if you think it affected their schoolwork — though if it wasn’t politics, it would likely have been something else. As D.J. says, politics is their “sport”…and their are a lot of similarities between sports and how the view politics, especially in their younger years.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:39:11View | Delete

    My pleasure — I tried to wrap it up with some closing comments (#64) — but will go back now and try to answers questions that I might have missed…glad to engage here now, and hopefully in the future on social media with FDL members…
    http://www.facebook.com/followtheleaderfilm
    http://www.twitter.com/changeworxfilms
    http://www.followtheleaderfilm.com

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:36:59View | Delete

    Well thank you, Lisa, Bev & the entire FDL community for such an engaging chat this past 90 minutes! It’s been an honor to be invited and to take part…I hope of course that you will be encouraged to check out the film on iTunes (and many other digital platforms soon) and on PBS stations in your area.

    @ThingsComeUndone — the characters in the film have stayed more or less as they are at the end of the film, politically speaking, since we stopped filming…I think we captured a lot of the changes that each of them carries in adulthood. But in terms of overall data, I can’t speak directly to that — other than to say that I think there is a very strong correlation between the political views of parents and their children…why we believe what we believe is a major topic and question of the film, and something that I hope you’ll discuss with those you know once you see it!

    Thanks again for this experience, and please feel free to reach out to us directly — via the comment form on our website is as easy way to reach me and others involved in the film. We’d love it if you participated on our Facebook page, engaged us on twitter @changeworxfilms, and generally used the film as a jumping off point for your own thoughtful and reflective discussions about politics, leadership & the future…such a pleasure to be with you on Firedoglake!!!

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:29:10View | Delete

    Their parents were supportive, yes — but I chose kids who didn’t really come from classical “political” families…I don’t think they’d be as sympathetic as characters to such a wide portion of people if they were pushed by their family into politics…

    I don’t know whether I’m going to be able to get to all your questions — do you want me to wind down and just answer your final ones? I can finish up with a few final comments or stay another short while if you prefer, up to you…

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:26:21View | Delete

    But women — and for that matter, largely African-American audiences, of which we’ve had a few theatrically — do love the film. Audiences see the film as our political reality. The questioning along these lines, and the desire for a more diverse base of main characters — for the film to have been made in a somewhat different way, as some (not here) have put it — is something we only get asked by those in the film industry or progressive activists. I know we’re running out of time, but we could have a whole 90 minute chat about this issue alone…

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:23:18View | Delete

    I started to answer this question somewhat in my answer earlier about why I chose the characters I did — but there are several reasons why our main characters are boys. The biggest one is that men are still running the country today, for the most part — and these boys represent the traditional leaders of America. If things are going to change, if we are going to have more diversity, we need to content first with the reality…it is by design that this will inflame some people emotionally (that the film’s about three boys and no girls), but that’s a good thing. That’s how we create change. A film with a diverse set of characters on this topic that makes us feel good about ourselves as Americans doesn’t create the sort of change we often assume it does — and it won’t bring a more diverse viewership into the conversation either like Follow the Leader does…

    That said, there are also practical concerns, and as a man in his (then) mid-30s, it was more straightforward for me to make a film about young boys than young girls. I was often on my own on shoots, sleeping on the guys floors and starting to film right when they woke up…and I don’t necessarily think that would have been comfortable for 16-year-old girls or their parents.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:15:26View | Delete

    Yes…that’s what the film’s about, in a word: change. All my films are about following change over time as it unfolds on-screen. So your question is apt.

    Thanks for not giving away any spoilers re: the Deeje’s transformation…but I will say that there are clues to it as early as the first minutes of the film.

    As for Ben, he’s actually become more religious since the film was made, and is probably (though I can’t really speak for him) more ardently pro-life that while we were filming. During the making of the film this wasn’t something that he had particular conviction on — but as you suggest he was a party loyalist then as now, and wouldn’t have strayed from that line.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:11:53View | Delete

    Nick knew what happened here because the other kid admitted it when he called him…nobody else really had access or could have been the culprit. But while I hesitate to say it was “only” a childhood prank…it wasn’t something the resulted in actual litigation as you see threatened in the film.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:09:18View | Delete

    No…Nick has moved on from Internet TV! But he’s actually something of a pundit all over the media and pops up all over the place. I can’t even keep track really…I think I last saw him talking about Millennials on Al Jazeera’s The Stream.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:07:56View | Delete

    Glad you asked about Reality Check Interactive, because it’s an important part of our distribution strategy — that runs throughout the next academic year with a college and community tour of events nationwide that use the film as a jumping off point for a wider and more provocative discussion.

    Essentially, RCI breaks Follow the Leader into five “episodes” that alternate with collective interactive voting sections. We’ve done it as a live event and are now developing it for online use, on demand…hopefully it will be ready by fall. What we’re doing is leading viewers – who we consider participants – through a journey that allows for more reflection, deeper engagement, and we think greater fulfillment. Everyone’s responses (to questions about the characters, their views, participants’ own political views and current events relevant to the film’s themes) are reported in real-time, split along demographic lines. So everyone gets a “reality check” about what people are really thinking in relation to what they’re watching, which complements and highlights their own unique reactions.

    What we’re trying to create is really an ideal viewing and learning experience for the film, as well as an argument for why people should come out and see it live in a theater. Young people are a core audience for us, and they’re even more open to new modes of storytelling and a viewing experience that promises something different and unpredictable. Test screenings of the film that we’ve had also showed us how differently people reacted to the film given their own political leanings, and we wanted to find a way to make these responses part of the experience while people watched. It wouldn’t work for a film that tells you what to think, but Follow the Leader is more non-judgmental, which allows different readings of it. What we’re doing is turning viewers into active participants who each complete the film for themselves as they watch. It’s new in this context, but in art in general that’s not a new idea at all – we’re just explicit about how every person who sees the film is seeing a different film because of what they bring to it. What we want people to do is play this idea out in a wider political context: What do we experience when we watch a candidate talking or an ad on TV? Are each of us really even “seeing” the same thing?

    We’re aiming to collect the data from live events to investigate whether taking part in the experience really does decrease political polarization, and increase cross-partisan understanding and dialogue, like we think it will. We’re working with a growing number of academics on our questions and data collection — research psychology is part of my own background before moving into filmmaking, so it’s not completely out of left field. One concept that we’re finding a particular challenge to consider measuring is whether taking part in Reality Check encourages people to step back and consider whether the leaders we’re getting are the leaders we truly need. That goes to our wider goal for the film & our outreach, which is basically to encourage a deeper conversation, to change the conversation. For the widest exposure, we need to build a way to experience it online and make it available on-demand, and we’re talking with broadcasters and online platforms now about making this happen by the end of the year. So that’s what we’re doing now with a lot of our time…

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 18:02:21View | Delete

    Yes, he certainly does! We were on an MTV chat show recently and Ben said on air that he still wanted to be President…and his now wife Anna (Ben and Anna got married 2 weeks ago and are currently on their honeymoon) said that she too “wanted to live in the White House!” Good for him for sticking to his guns, so to speak. His honesty about what he was thinking and feeling really made working with him as a filmmaker such a joy — and I wish more people in public life would just say what they truly feel like Ben does. Say what you will about him, but Ben’s authentic.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 17:59:38View | Delete

    I actually don’t think that’s unusual at all, though Ben was a bit younger than most staffers — who are usually late teens to mid-twenties…some others reading could probably specify this or also contribute from their experience. I think campaigns across the board, across the political spectrum, rely on cheap, youthful, energetic labor, and that’s what you see in the film to some extent.

    People younger than that are also creating their own campaign “ads” and putting them up on YouTube all the time now…and I think the quality of what some “random people” put up on their own rivals or surpasses what Ben did for Ken Cuccinelli as you see in the film. This was a local campaign after all. But I suppose on the bigger campaigns they’re not really directed by the campaign itself.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 17:55:19View | Delete

    My pleasure…and I think one thing people will see in the film is a recognition by the young men who feature is that they recognize this too. But they disagree about what should be done to create “equality of opportunity” in the country…and in part they believe as they do because they haven’t been exposed to diversity themselves. A lot of the time progressives will look at people like those in the film and just say they’re evil or something worse — and I got accused of worse simply by associating with them and doing my best to tell their stories — but I think the worst thing we _should_ say is that each of them is ignorant in some ways of how other people live, ignorant of how the world works. And that’s frankly a process that we all go through as we grow up…so that’s a lot of what you’ll see happening — a shedding of some of that ignorance through more varied experience and influences — during the course of the film.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 17:49:53View | Delete

    Yes…Ben worked for Ken Cuccinelli, for Bob McDonnell, for Tom Davis and for a lot of Republican candidate in Northern Virginia. You see him doing the nuts-and-bolts work in the film. Definitely rewarding and formative for him as you say. He’s taken an academic path, while also starting to work on policy analysis for a research branch of the U.S. Army — Army Corps of Engineers I think it is — part time. Ben has a very pragmatic view of politics and of life that I think was born out of his work for the Republican establishment near where he grew up…and out of his own childhood experiences as you see in the film during his parents divorce.

  • Jonathan Goodman Levitt commented on the blog post FDL Movie Night: Follow the Leader

    2013-06-24 17:45:49View | Delete

    Thanks for your comment, Steve. Yes, that is one reading…though in the course of the film you see some movement and questioning in (some of) the characters. If you see the film, I hope you don’t still see them as sociopaths — though I do think that part of the problem is that people on the left view those people on the right as such and vice versa. The guys in the film are products of their environments and experience, no more or less…

    In some ways they do feel — and I’m not justifying it by explaining or describing it, and certainly not advocating it — like they have no choice but to choose a careerist path. And to choose a path that actually limits their actual life experience…which I think is a problem for a lot of our present leaders and wannabe leaders today…if there wasn’t such a concern about losing ground or doing something that would “haunt” them, they would take more personal risks and be better placed to make better decisions about other people’s lives…

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