Anthem: Third Year and Growing

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On July 10–13, over 2,500 attendees, 150 speakers, and 100 exhibitors filled the convention hall at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. The event was FreedomFest, which the Washington Post has called "the greatest gathering of libertarians in the world." One of the most popular features of FreedomFest is the Anthem Libertarian Film Festival, now in its third year and truly growing into its own.

The theater at Planet Hollywood provided the perfect venue for this year’s film festival, with comfortable seating for 250 people. Nevertheless, many of the documentaries hosted standing-room-only crowds as FreedomFest attendees thronged to watch the films. "I could go listen to someone talk about the same subject," one viewer said, "but in a film you can see a wide variety of people talking about the topic, along with music, historical clips, and a great story arc." Many people watched every film at the festival.

First-time filmmaker Cyrus Saidi won the FreedomFest Grand Prize for 2013 with his short narrative L1ttl3 Br0th3r, which tells the story of a Nobel Peace Prize nominee who demonstrates extraordinary courage in order to reveal the evil nature of a totalitarian dictator. Big Brother is watching, we know . . . but, according to this film, so is Little Brother!

"This film is the perfect precursor to our theme for next year, 'Is Big Brother Here?'" said FreedomFest producer Mark Skousen in awarding the $2,500 prize to "L1ttl3 Br0th3r” for demonstrating excellence in filmmaking and libertarian ideals.

An Iranian who immigrated to Canada with his mother when he was 10, Saidi described America as a place of hope as he participated in a panel on free speech at the festival. "This is a very unexpected honor," he admitted in accepting his prize. "As a Canadian-Iranian who really loves America — I will be moving here in about six months — being at this event for the last three days has made me really hopeful about the future of this country and the fact that there are people who really care about what I care about, which is freedom."We expect to see other important works from this fine filmmaker in the future.

Most of Anthem’s documentaries highlighted the unintended consequences of a new kind of war: a war of ideas. Their focus was on the ideas involved in a literalwar between nations (Post Lebanon), a war against business (The Last Week: How Lawsuits Doomed an American Icon, about the demise of the company that manufactured those ubiquitous red gas cans), wars against personal liberty (Exiled from Vanderbilt and Act of Terror), the war against conservatives (Hating Breitbart), and the war against drugs (America’s Longest War). These were some of our strongest documentaries ever. They are insightful — and inciteful.

Libertarian films are about choice, opportunity, and knocking down obstacles. They demonstrate the power of persuasion over the force of authority.

One of my favorite films, Rebel Evolution, directed by Anna Zetchus Smith, interviews half a dozen political activists, including Ted Hayes and Bill Ayers, and traces their evolution from leftist to libertarian (well . . . Bill Ayers doesn't quite make it to libertarian. But we see a much softer, more thoughtful side of him in these interviews). What I loved about this film is how it demonstrates the power of persuasion over force. We all see the same problems in the world; where we differ is in how to solve those problems. I love to see people move from "Somebody oughtta . . ." to "We can fix this ourselves."

One of the most popular films was a seven-minute documentary called I, Pencil, directed by Nick Tucker. It’s based on the pamphlet by the same name, written several decades ago by Leonard Read, creator of the Foundation for Economic Education, the first libertarian thinktank. The pamphlet describes the process of making a pencil and explains that no single indvidual could make something as inexpensive and ubiquitous as a pencil. Through the magic of the free market, however, hundreds of people all over the world cooperate to provide the rubber, graphite, redwood, aluminum, and machinery necessary to create a humble writing instrumentthat can be sold for a quarter. Using gorgeous graphics, the film brings this simple story to life for a new generation. It won the prize for Best Short Documentary.

Libertarians always like to get into the conversation, and Anthem provides that opportunity through Q&A sessions with the filmmakers and formal panels following many of the films. Panels this year included "The Erosion of Free Speech," "Laissez Faire Economics," "Inside the Federal Reserve," "The Unintended Costs of the War on Drugs," "What You Eat Can Cure and Prevent Cancer," and "The Future of Libertarian Filmmaking." Motion Picture Institute Director Adam Guillette provided a detailed, informative panel on "Advice from a Libertarian Film Producer" with MPI fellows Ted Balaker and Naomi Brockwell adding specific suggestions.

Another timely and intelligent film offered a history of the Federal Reserve. Directed by economist Jim Bruce, Money for Nothing: Inside the Federal Reserve won the prize for Best Documentary Feature and will be released in select theaters around the country, beginning in September.

What makes a film “libertarian”? It’s not about overthrowing the government, and it’s not about the Tea Party. Libertarian films are about choice, opportunity, and knocking down obstacles. They demonstrate the power of persuasion over the force of authority. Libertarian films often point out the unintended consequences of government intervention, but they are just as likely to present a protagonist’s personal struggle for self-expression. They show us how to make the world a better place simply by making one's own life better.

Filmmaker Sean Buttimer said, “Being a libertarian filmmaker comes with its own set of complications, particularly concerning reception. Anthem provides more than just a showcase for niche films . . . it's an outlet for like-minded individuals to network in an industry that is generally dominated by hostile kingmakers."

Bob Bowdon, director of the award-winning “The Cartel,” added, “Many of the people who run traditional film festivals seem to be ideologically hostile to the concepts of free markets, capitalism and individual liberty, even though it's those very principles which have given our country the wealth to afford creative pursuits such as filmmaking. Fortunately, those biases against free enterprise do not exist at the Anthem Film Festival — one reason it's become such a successful event in just a few short years.”

Following the awards ceremony, Anthem celebrants danced to the sounds of the Pink Flamingos, an interactive band specializing in golden oldies and audience interaction, not only with great music but also with beach balls in the air, bubble wrap on the floor, blowup guitars on the stage, and even a volleyball net dividing the dance floor. As one filmmaker said with glee, "Where else can you play beach volleyball with Steve Forbes?" Anthem was the place to be July 10–13. Join us in Las Vegas July 9–13 for Anthem 2014 and another great lineup of libertarian films.


Editor's Note: The author does not mention one of the most interesting events of the Anthem festival, the sneak preview of a documentary "Downwinders," about the effects of above-ground nuclear testing, during the 1950s and 1960s, on the people of several western states. The memory of the bomb tests has almost vanished, except among those who may have been victimized by them. The film tells their story, but it does more: it provides a remarkable view of the astonishing cultural changes that have happened in America during the past half-century. The director of "Downwinders" is Tim Skousen, son of the author. – Ed.



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