In a hot-button climate of reactionary fear, the Internet-based grassroots initiative MoveOn.org has made available controversial docs and raised the profile of films from which others slinked away. For Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11, for example, MoveOn urged its members to see the film, hand out flyers about it, and then gather at one of the nation-wide house parties that had been organized to discuss the doc. Moore then held a conference call so that members could speak to him directly. ‘You could go online and see a map of where every house party was and people could ask him questions online,’ recalls Laura Dawn, MoveOn’s event and cultural director. To generate still more press, MoveOn hosted a flagship party in New York that a bunch of celebs attended.
The house party approach was repeated for Robert Greenwald’s Outfoxed, a doc released in July that criticizes Fox News. But, MoveOn was involved much earlier, donating about US$80,000 to the budget (raised through individual donations of about $50 to $75), recruiting members to help research the film, and selling the DVD online. The buzz it built created so much demand that the film was later released in theaters.
Helmed by a team of 10 scattered across the U.S., MoveOn’s mission is to bring the Average Joe back into the political process. Formed in 1998 by Joan Blades and Wes Boyd, two Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, it currently boasts 2.8 million members, galvanized to action over the Internet. Most recently, in the ramp-up to the U.S. elections in November, MoveOn commissioned Errol Morris to produce a series of political ads featuring average Americans speaking about the need for change. That resulted in MoveOn’s biggest ad buy of $3 million.
In the post-election quiet, Dawn says she hopes to do more work with films. ‘I’d like to see MoveOn create films and have a production arm,’ she explains. ‘Sometimes we’ll send our [ad] scripts to our members and say, ‘If you give us money, we’ll make it.’ Imagine if somebody out there wrote a great film and said, ‘Here’s my film, give me money and I’ll make it.’ I don’t know if MoveOn would or should do that, but there’s a lot of aggregate power in people coming together like this. There’s a lot of things people can do that allows them to participate in larger systems to which they’ve felt disenfranchised. That’s happening in politics and it could happen in the realm of entertainment.’ And people said digital cameras would democratize filmmaking.