Wisconsinites who waved a sign or chanted “This is what democracy looks like!” got their big-screen debut at the Sundance Film Festival on Monday.
The documentary “Citizen Koch” which deals heavily with the public backlash against Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 plan to strip most public sector workers of most of their collective bargaining rights, premiered at the Temple Theatre in Park City, Utah.
Early reviews of the film out of Sundance appear to be mixed so far. The Salt Lake Tribune said the film is certainly full of fire, as it traces a thick green line of shadowy corporate donations from the Citizens United decision to the battle in Wisconsin. The film apparently makes prominent use of three Wisconsin Republicans – a prison guard, a librarian, and a nurse – who switched to the Democratic ticket because of Walker’s actions.
“Directors Tia Lessin and Carl Deal, the team behind the Oscar-nominated doc "Trouble the Water," fill their enterprise to bursting with policy experts, rally footage from both sides of the battle and, best of all, moderate Wisconsin Republicans shocked at who has seized control of their party by sheer force of wallet,” the Tribune’s Ben Fulton wrote.
But Fulton said he wished the film had done less hand-wringing over the current state of affairs, and pointed a way towards a solution.
“As vital as the film is for anyone who cares about a level playing field in U.S. democracy, its relentless tone of warning becomes more fatiguing than energizing. It’s no secret that those who have the gold make the rules.”
Anthony Kaufman of Screen Daily said the film provided useful information, but much of it was covered more entertainingly by Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story.”
“Lacking the acerbic bite of a film by Michael Moore—with whom Deal and Lessin have collaborated— 'Citizen Koch' works as a straightforward piece of reportage, combining talking head interviews with more verite portraits of public workers and officials trying to fight back against Walker and corporate money.
“The rest of the film sticks mostly to Wisconsin, called at the time 'ground zero' for the fight between corporate interests and rank-and-file workers. There are some outrageous interviews with Tim Phillips, the president of Americans for Prosperity, the nonprofit organization founded and funded by the Koch brothers, in which he derides 'pampered' public employees and blames the destruction of America on unions.”
On Tuesday morning, blogger Sara Zia Ebrahimi had a more positive take on the film, particularly its usefulness in disseminating information and rallying support against corporate influence in politics.
"The film focuses on the case of Wisconsin and cleverly weaves back and forth between a cinema verite style of following personalized stories of several Wisconsin residents and their experiences after Scott Walker’s election and the recall and news footage and talking head interviews with folks such as Bob Edgar, director of Common Cause," Ebrahimi said.
"The film has great potential as an organizing tool as we lead up to the next election to educate and ignite people to take action on corporate restrictions and electoral reform and I’m excited to see the outreach and engagement that will be developed for this film."
“Citizen Koch” will get its first press and industry screening Tuesday, which means a lot more reviews will likely be posted in the next 24 hours. How it plays at that screening, and those reviews, will likely help determine whether it gets national distribution, including whether it plays theatrically in Madison.
In addition, Wisconsin Film Festival director of programming Jim Healy is out at Sundance, so he may be looking at bringing the film back to Madison in April.