This month in Las Vegas, The Afghan Nightmare took the FreedomFest Grand Prize at the annual Anthem Libertarian Film Festival. The film is remarkable for its stunning cinematography, dramatic story arc, and powerful message. Director Klaus Erik Okstad spent four months embedded with the Norwegian army as they labored to prepare Afghan forces for NATO troop withdrawal in 2014. This intense, eye-opening documentary demonstrates the futility of modern "nation-building" warfare. We see how ill prepared the Afghans are to defend their own people after more than a decade of someone else’s doing it for them. In one telling example, the Afghan soldiers refuse to walk from the main headquarters to an outpost just one kilometer — barely more than half a mile! — away, and demand that the Norwegian soldiers build them a road and give them a Jeep. It's the welfare principle in practice, destroying courage, skill, and self-reliance.
Documentaries stood out at Anthem this year. Films took viewers around the world as they explored issues of freedom, choice, self-reliance, and accountability. In addition to "visiting" Afghanistan, attendees met seven unlikely Detroit entrepreneurs in Men at Work. Entered the fascinating world of business in Ayn Rand & The Prophecy of Atlas Shrugged. Visited four continents with best-selling author Dinesh D'Souza in his pursuit of Obama's past. Explored the facts surrounding global warming in An Inconsistent Truth. Debated the risks and rewards of vaccinations in The Greater Good. Learned more about states' rights and the constitution in Nullification: The Rightful Remedy. And visited a tiny village in Honduras where a disabled man has been building a helicopter for the past 50 years. In his shed.
Anthem is in its second year as part of FreedomFest, "the world's largest gathering of free minds," where over 2,000 attendees and 150 speakers gather each year to discuss politics and economics, science and healthy living, arts and history — and now, movies.
Anthem's goal is to give libertarian filmmakers a venue and a community. Janek Ambros came last year as an attendee and went home with the determination to make a film that would be accepted for screening at Anthem. This year he submitted his short narrative Closing Bell, which takes viewers inside the mind of a stockbroker in the final four minutes of trading as the market was collapsing in 2008. Closing Bell was not only accepted; it won the award for excellence in filmmaking in that category. Others attending Anthem and FreedomFest this year expressed a similar determination to make worthwhile films with self-reliant protagonists and libertarian values. They also networked with seasoned film makers and producers.
Husband and wife film makers Ted and Courtney Balaker each submitted films, albeit in noncompeting categories. Courtney's short narrative The Conversation, about a likable college couple discussing libertarian principles over coffee and tea, won the award for Best Libertarian Ideals. Not to be outdone, Ted won the same award for his short documentary Don't Mess with Firefly, about a professor at the University of Wisconsin who was forced to remove a poster of the cult classic TV show Firefly from his office door because it posed a threat of violence. Yes, the poster was considered armed and dangerous. FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) stepped in to safeguard the professor's right to free speech, with a little Twitter help from the TV show's stars, Adam Baldwin and Nathan Fillion, and bestselling writer Neil Gaiman.
Harmon Kaslow and John Aglialoro, producers of the Atlas Shrugged movies, closed the festival with a preview of Part 2, which will open in theaters October 12 of this year. Part 2 has a new cast, new director, new scriptwriter, and even a modern setting, "the day after tomorrow," as Rand wrote in the book. They also updated the cast to include ethnic diversity that would be more reflective of a modern near future. How might Ayn Rand, who demanded (but was never granted) script approval in her lifetime, feel about this change in her characters? "Rand's all-Caucasian cast was realistic in the 1950s," Kaslow explained, "but it would not be realistic for the day after our tomorrow." Part 2 will be screened at Anthem next year.
The Anthem Film Festival was one of the most popular events at FreedomFest. Films were screened to SRO crowds who lined the walls and sat on the floor, even after additional seating was provided. It is providing a venue for libertarian filmmakers and film lovers alike. What will next year bring? We can't wait to see.