As a conservative and a fledgling filmmaker with a few early-stage documentaries in the works, I've long been concerned about conservatism's struggle to relate to the culture. While our ideological opponents are partying with Beyoncé and having action movies made about their foreign policy decisions, the pop-culture portrayals of our party have led many voters to associate us more closely with segregation than economic liberty. As unfair and inaccurate as the characterizations may be, it's our job as a movement to fix the problem.
Unfortunately, a new production by the conservative nonprofit Tea Party Patriots, called A Movement on Fire, looks like it may do more harm than good.
From what I can gather, the initiative is aimed at addressing this problem of conservatism's absence in the entertainment media. I'm calling it an initiative because Tea Party Patriots hasn't made it entirely clear what they plan to do. So far, a movie trailer and, more recently, a "music video" (essentially just a longer trailer) have been released.
In the future, I sincerely hope they hire some experienced help, because what I see right now leaves much to be desired.
The newer of the two trailers starts by providing the setting. A woman — it's unclear if she's symbolic or an actual part of the movie — stands next to a torch overlooking a city as a girl's voice is heard providing a brief history: "It was created to provide us with freedom. Our city became a great beacon of hope and liberty to the world. It was a shining city upon a hill. 15 years ago ... freedom died."
From there, we learn that 15 years earlier, a political party known as the Development Party earned total control over this city. Using double-speak and talking points, Development Party Chairman Troy Marcus lays out their plans to create a welfare state in which "from each, everything shall be given to all."
From here, it becomes clear that Marcus has raised taxes (now called "contributions") to 80% and has begun a massive effort to redistribute wealth and ensure that everyone is receiving their "fair share." As outcry from citizens grows, the Development Party — apparently with control over the police department — rounds up opposition and squashes dissent.
As the video moves to the present day, the protagonist of the film appears and quietly tells a companion, "Something is very wrong with our city." And thus begins the rebellion against tyranny in this city of liberty. Quick cuts and action scenes are interspersed with frightening statements from politicians, and symbols of liberty are placed in windows around the city.
Interestingly, 15 years into this dystopia, people seem to be doing pretty well. The cities appear to be clean, everyone is healthy-looking and wearing stylish clothing, technology seems to have progressed quite nicely as "Development Cards" are used by citizens throughout the area to collect their "fair share." I find it alarming that the creators of the film believe a socialist paradise would work so efficiently, with one character even marveling at "everything they give us."
Of course, all the upsides come at the cost of liberty, so this ragtag group of rebels takes to the streets and works to earn their freedom back. Through the use of such modern conveniences as computers and touch-screen AT&T smartphones — as well as media support from what appears to be a free press that reports all of the bad news against the Development Party — the "Liberty Movement" rises up to challenge the status quo.
In front of a crowd on a cold night, the protagonist rallies the troops to fight for freedom:
"Our city was built on freedom and opportunity. The freedom to pursue our own dreams. The freedom to build our own lives. The freedom to develop our own destinies. We are all shaped by the times in which we live. So let this time be defined by freedom! That our lives be the spark that ignites the flames of liberty! We are a movement on fire! Will you take up the torch!?"
It ends with a message from the Tea Party Patriots: "Fiscal Responsibility; Constitutionally Limited Government; Free Markets."
So far, the original trailer has earned about 113,000 views on YouTube. The music video version has earned an additional 9,000 views.
Don't get me wrong. I agree with the general sentiments expressed in the trailer. I just wish they were expressed in a way that captivated. Instead, it's cringe inducing.
Right out of the gate, the first thing you'll notice is that the acting falls short. I don't necessarily think that's the actors' fault, though. Much of what you get out of an actor can be based on the director and the dialogue. I can't speak to the abilities of director Luke Livingston, but the dialogue is trite and the portrayals are robotic. In a movie trailer you often find the best scenes and the best lines used in order to pique interest. When what you see is awkward acting, repetitive scenery, and a story line that you can predict with precision in two minutes, you lose a lot of your potential moviegoers.
If the "thumbs down" number on YouTube is to be believed (and I'll grant you it's not scientific), the majority of viewers represent my point of view on this effort. This film seems to play out less as the tried-and-true Orwellian future that is used in so many successful movies and books — typically with more progressive heroes saving the day — and attempts a weak imitation of The Hunger Games. But even putting aside what appears to be a low-budget offering, where does a film like The Hunger Games succeed while this film can't? Why do Orwellian futures work in other stories, but not this one?
Well first of all, films like The Hunger Games succeed because they create a suspension of disbelief. They take you into a world so far removed from our own that you become absorbed in their universe. Suspension of disbelief can be vitally important if your intention is to make a statement that you hope resonates with the viewer. By absorbing them in something so far removed from reality and getting them to accept that reality's rules, you have opened their mind to ideas. This doesn't work well if the person is instead constantly nitpicking what they find unrealistic.
If you've ever watched a film that represents the industry you work in, it's a great example of the problem I'm describing. I'd imagine it's pretty hard for forensic scientists to watch actors on CSI: Miami go from shooting bad guys in the head to using a microscope. As such, an episode of CSI: Miami that is trying to make a point about say, child slavery, will find itself having a hard time convincing the forensic scientist who is more focused on the ridiculousness of the portrayal.
In A Movement on Fire, there are high taxes, forced redistribution of wealth, a controlling political party, and corrupt police. All of these are used as a way, apparently, to cause the viewer to fear the direction we're headed in as Americans. I can't imagine that such a portrayal could do any such thing to the uninitiated. While The Hunger Games created a healthy respect for freedom to choose your destiny, this film seems more likely to cause viewers to roll their eyes and mutter, "Like that could happen here." Any points about loss of liberty or the lack of self-reliant people would disappear into a cloud of criticism about the unrealistic portrayal of modern American life.
But possibly the most damning aspect of the story, given its apparently lofty goals, is that we are supposed to fear what takes place in the past. Were this some other universe, as in Hunger Games, the distant past works fine because, in that film, what matters is the future, not the present. How will things turn out? But in A Movement on Fire, the concern is the present. Our present, to be specific. Without providing an adequate portrayal of how what is happening now unfolds, opting instead to merely present it as a horrible thing that already happened 15 years ago, the ability for a viewer to connect their lives to the future being shown is lacking and interferes with the message.
Now, the entire reason I'm writing this review can be summed up in my opening: I want a culture shift, and I want conservative artists to be taken seriously. It is my opinion that this Tea Party Patriots film does great damage to such an effort.
Instead of pulling people into a story that espouses the underlying tenets of liberty, it slaps them across the face with all of the subtlety of a campaign commercial. Rather than taking the viewer along for a first-person view of how our present can develop into their future, the filmmakers opted to skip directly to the bottom of the slippery slope without describing the tumble with enough detail to create a real connection for the viewer.
The last thing these filmmakers probably wanted was to grant more evidence to the entertainment industry that conservatism and art don't mix. Unfortunately for them, and others wishing to make an impact in film, A Movement on Fire could easily become the smoking gun for that narrative.
This column originally appeared at Buzzfeed.
Someone tell me what happened with James Gunn. I'm only seeing the aftermath and am incapable of googling.