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Robert Greenwald on the New Film 'Koch Brothers Exposed' -- the 1% at Its Very Worst

Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Foundation debuts their feature-length film, an exposé of the right-wing brothers' massive reach.

Photo Credit: Brave New Foundation


Robert Greenwald and his Brave New Foundation will tonight debut their feature-length film, Koch Brothers Exposed, in New York. (The DVD is available here; see the two-minute trailer for the film on the last page of this article.) Koch Brothers Exposed weaves together a series of short films produced over the course of the last year or so as part of an online video campaign of the same name. As principals of Koch Industries, the second-largest privately held corporation in America and one of the nation's top polluters, the Koch brothers have grown notorious for their funding of think-tanks and astroturf organizations that aim to deregulate business and scale back government programs such as Social Security, Medicare and the new healthcare reform law. 

Koch Brothers Exposed zeroes in on several aspects of the Kochs' impact by focusing on the people most affected by the brothers' use of their billions to buy politicians and ignore regulators. In North Carolina, we meet high school students whose lives would have been gravely impacted had Koch-allied politicians succeeded in undoing the desegregation of the Wake County school system. In Arkansas, the filmmakers take viewers to a community that is riven with cancer, the likely result of toxic dumping by a Koch-owned paper plant. We meet voters in Missouri and Texas who find themselves disenfranchised by a voter-ID law pushed by an organization funded with Koch money. 
Before becoming an activist filmmaker, Robert Greenwald enjoyed a long career in the world of commercial film and television, directing the feminist classic, The Burning Bed, and earning a Peabody Award for Sharing the Secret, a 2000 made-for-TV movie about a teenager with an eating disorder. He also directed the cult classic, Steal This Movie, about his late friend, Abbie Hoffman -- which may speak to where his heart was all along. The advent of Fox News launched Greenwald into the role of an activist when his Brave New Films launched with  Outfoxed: Rupert Murdoch's War on Journalism. Since then Brave New Films and Brave New Foundation have produced a torrent of video shorts and films, including Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Rethinking Afghanistan and Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers.
AlterNet sat down with Greenwald to discuss the value of storytelling as an organizing tool -- and to explore just what makes the Koch brothers "the 1 percent at its very worst."

AlterNet: What drew your interest to the Koch brothers as a vehicle for a broader story? These guys are your poster boys, but they're poster boys for something even larger than themselves.  

Robert Greenwald: What we always try to do with Brave New Foundation films is to connect the dots. I think it's very important that people understand how whole systems work -- and that it's not a question of a rotten apple, be it Wal-Mart, or be it war profiteers, or be it the Koch brothers. In all these cases, they are representative of the fact that there are structural and systemic inequities in our society.

The Koch brothers, as you say today, are perfectly out of Central Casting [as typecasts for] rich, arrogant, conservative billionaires. But they're not the only ones. What drew my attention to it was Jane Mayer's brilliant piece in The New Yorker, and articles by Lee Fang and [AlterNet's] Addie Stan -- and the realization that this was an opportunity to do what we do, which is build narratives. Now we can't, and shouldn't, do everything. There are certain issues that should absolutely remain in the hands of policy folks, or think tanks or position papers. But the Kochs are breathing, human representatives of the worst of the 1 percent -- and it's the way they use their money to advance their economic self-interest and their ideology. And that's important.

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