Robert Greenwald on the New Film 'Koch Brothers Exposed' -- the 1% at Its Very Worst
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It's not just about having money; it's the use of the money, the use of the power -- it's the use of the money and power to impress and take advantage of others. And it's the fact that they are fighting tooth and nail to make sure that capitalism has absolutely no restraints on it. And capitalism without restraints is a very ugly beast.
A: You embarked on this initially as a series of shorter films. What led you to that approach? Each of these films dealt with very different aspects of the Koch brothers' activities. When you set out to make these shorter films, did you have a longer film in mind?
RG: When we started the Koch Brothers Exposed campaign, we were not thinking -- or I was not thinking -- of a longer film. It was similar to our work around Afghanistan, were we learned -- you know, one of the things that's exciting about working in digital media is how quickly everything changes.
A: One of the challenges, too.
RG: Oh, my god! We could have a long session just on the changes on YouTube, which has been phenomenal in a short period of time. But we realized with the Afghanistan work -- and there we did it because we really had no choice; we had no money and no funding at the beginning, so we were only able to do a couple of short pieces. But with each short piece, we found that we were building an online community, and so we used that same approach with the Koch brothers.
And so, one piece was around Social Security, one piece was around environment, one piece was around Wisconsin, one piece was around education -- and what we were doing was we were reaching an audience with particular interests in that aspect of the Koch work. And, frankly, very strategically reaching out to audiences so they could see how the issue they care about most profoundly was being attacked by the Kochs. And then a couple of months into it, we realized that there was an opportunity for a full-length film here.
We fortunately were able to raise some money to allow us to take the short pieces -- we went online, we asked people for help, we had a very strong response from thousands of our small donors and some wonderful larger donors and a foundation or two who said, We think this is important. We think it's important because it's talking about the structure, it's talking about the way the system works, and it's connecting the dots between these various issues: Social Security, resegregation, buying up politicians, buying up college professors. And, overall, it's the money in politics frame. This is what you can achieve when you have money, when you have power, when you have access and you're willing to use it for your own narrow self-interest.
A: By doing this film in these pieces that look at all different aspects of what these guys are up to because of their broad reach, do you inadvertently build a coalition? One piece of the film that is so moving is about an African-American community in Arkansas that is decimated by cancer because of the apparent dumping of toxic waste by a plant owned by Koch Industries. You have the environmental community galvanized by parts of your film. You have the voting rights community targeted by another part of the film.
RG: Definitely. And as we realized the size and scope of what the Kochs were doing, it became very intentional. One of the problems in the progressive movement, all too often -- and, you know, people have talked about this endlessly -- the separate silos, the single-issue folks who are both focused and funded to do a single issue -- but how do you encourage and work so that the issue people come together and see the importance of the fact that the people who are attacking the environment are attacking Social Security, are attacking public education, are attacking and buying politicians, are attacking an African-American community, etc., etc.