The director of Occupy Unmasked talks facts, bias and the future of the movement
Occupy Wall Street celebrated its first birthday this week. In the past year, the young political movement has inspired laws, riots and several retrospective glances, not the least among them the new documentary Occupy Unmasked. Directed by conservative filmmaker Stephen K. Bannon, the piece stays true to its title, aiming both unflinching cameras and harsh historical analysis at a handful of Occupy branches (Denver's own included) to bring attention at the faces and figures behind the movement. Before Occupy Unmasked plays at the AMC Highlands Ranch 24 tonight, Westword caught up with Bannon on his intentions, his biases and the surprises he uncovered while documenting a revolution.
Westword: At what moment did you begin to consider making a film out of the movement?
Stephen Bannon: (Well-known political commentator) Andrew Breitbart literally -- this is the amazing thing when you see the film -- he came up to me three days after it started, maybe September 19 or 20. He was just on fire about this movement being positioned as the way to solve the debt crisis. The film starts off with a prologue, this debate in Washington about increasing the debt limits, and I end that prologue onscreen by saying that President Obama's popularity ratings were 39 percent. Andrew Breitbart, three days into it, was telling me, "You don't understand. This is how the left is going to change the discussion."
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I'd done a couple Tea Party movies, and I said, "Andrew, you're just blowing steam. This is just a couple of people on the grates in Zucotti Park sleeping during the day." It wasn't until the Brooklyn Bridge incident a couple weeks in that I was convinced. Andrew got it right away. It took me several weeks to realize there was a story here worth telling -- and that it was something vastly different than was being portrayed.
What was it about the Brooklyn Bridge occupation?
That was one of the biggest mass arrests in american history -- more than 700 people -- but it was just so organized and coordinated and they had baited the police. That's what I saw, at least. The way the media had come in and become cheerleaders for it astounded me. Erin Burnett's report, when she went down on her show and kind of mocked these guys, the media ripped on her. The Brooklyn Bridge incident seemed to indicate that people had thought this through. It was well organized and highly disciplined, not just a random occurrence.
And the film seems to point strongly to that conclusion.
Our contention is that the occupation was no random occurrence. It's a combination of Anonymous and other factors. I think a center-left populist movement would be incredibly productive and helpful to the country right now. But I think that was hijacked by the side parties who took over the movement. The movie is violent and vulgar. I put cameras out there everywhere, and the middle class doesn't read the alternative press. It comes across as shocking for people who see it. Everyone in this film is a former radical or a leftist.
How does the film cover Anonymous?
Anonymous is a very scary force, and it's not portrayed in a positive light in my film. The police are really the heroes in this film, which covers a lot about doxing [the online disclosure of personal information, which was an especially popular tactic for responding to police]. It shows that Anonymous has powers to intimidate. Someone came up to me and told me that the villains are the mainstream media and the politicians who attempt to use the movement to their own end, and the Anonymous people and hardcore activists come across as anarchist ninjas. If you believe in anarchy, they're heroes.
How does Denver figure into the film?
We have a lot of Denver footage in here. I don't make a distinction because to a degree all the occupations were the same. I'm trying to get more to the core qualities than to the indigenous differences. I'm not making a PBS socumentary on the Occupy movement. I'm a conservative. I clearly come at this from a view that's not, "Let's go down and talk to the mayor and the police chief."
Based on your experience shadowing the movement -- and your own political stances -- how do you see Occupy's future playing out?
Occupy's at the top of the first inning, Anyone who says it's dead has no idea what they're talking about. It's been around for years in different movements, and it will continue. If we had an election where Obama won the popular vote and Romney won the election, for example, I think you'd see a resurgence immediately. We haven't even begun to see the start. The Occupy movement is very early in its growth, and it's going to be a major influence on the country's future. For people who are paying attention on both the left and the right, this film will be an affirmation. For people who are not, it will be a revelation.
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