Colorado documentary-maker Brian Malone has taken on some big topics over the years, including the media in Breaking News and environmental dangers via Intelligent Life -- not to mention the late, great Blinky the Clown. But his latest project -- The Reformers, launching tonight in Parker -- is among his most passionate and personal. The subject? The Douglas County School Board, which had him arrested earlier this year for taking video of a meeting. Get details and see clips from The Reformers below.
When it came to The Reformers, Malone -- that's him as a youngster in the photo above -- didn't have to look far for inspiration.
"I am a longtime Castle Rock resident," he notes. "I grew up here and went to Douglas County schools from the time I was in first grade -- 43 years ago, going on 44. And when I got married and had kids, I moved back because it was a great school district." He points out that when his children attended preschool, they did so in what was Malone's old first-grade classroom at Cantril Elementary.
Over time, however, Malone says, "I kept hearing from teachers and different people I'd known for years, telling me, 'You need to look into doing a film about the school board. What's going on is crazy.'"
Malone hadn't planned to jump right into another project, having just finished a big one -- a documentary entitled Patriocracy. But he was curious enough that "I started covering school board meetings. I'd show up with my camera just to observe what was going on and deduce whether there was a story there or not."
Soon, the story came to him. Last summer, he was escorted out of a meeting and formally charged with disrupting a lawful assembly. To fight the allegation, he turned to the ACLU, and this past April, the criminal count against him was dropped. In a statement, ACLU of Colorado legal director Mark Silverstein said, "This decision reinforces that access to public meetings for the media and general public is a fundamental right that should never be criminalized."
For Malone's part, he continued to look into the activities of the board, whose members maintain that they are simply trying to give Douglas County parents more choices for educating their children -- an approach they believe will improve poor test scores and lackluster school performance. Ultimately, though, he came to see things very differently.
Continue for more about The Reformers, including a trailer from the film. "The ideologues, the zealots have politicized what has always been a nonpartisan school board," he maintains. "They have resorted to the same old bag of tricks we see happening all over the country -- union-bashing and really salacious, low-intellect fear tactics that a lot of people fall for because they're not paying attention.
"The board members have proudly touted themselves as conservatives who stand for school reform," he continues. "But the more and more I dug into school reform, the more I concluded that what it really means is privatization -- and if you follow the money back to who's funding school reform, it leads to a lot of really wealthy people with either an ideological agenda or a profit motive.
"There's lots of evidence to show there's lots of money to be made in public education, especially in Douglas County. It's just one school district in one state, but it has an annual operating budget of half a billion dollars, replenished every year by property taxes. And if you're a for-profit educator, one of the investors in these charter schools, and you see $500,000,000, you're just salivating. That's an untapped market."
As these comments make clear, Malone doesn't pretend to objectivity when it comes to the school board. He wanted to complete the film quickly in order to screen it as many times as possible prior to November, when four of the seven board members are up for reelection. And he's hopeful that voters will return what he describes as "more balance" to the assembly.
"One of the cool things about the backlash we're seeing is that many of the activists who are pushing back are lifelong Republicans," he allows. "I think we've known for a while that there have been certain factions that have -- in the words of someone I interview in the film -- 'hijacked' the school board and the Republican Party as a whole."
Tonight's debut of The Reformers, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Mainstreet Center, 19650 East Mainstreet in Parker, is "over-sold," Malone says -- so getting in to see this screening may be difficult. (Click here if you want to give it a shot anyhow.) However, he says, "we'll be making an announcement tonight about further screenings," including a 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, September 11 unspooling at the Castle Rock Community Recreation Center's Panorama Hall ( get details by clicking here). "There will be several opportunities for Douglas County residents to see the film between now and the election," he promises.
Here's the trailer for The Reformers.
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More from our Follow That Story archive circa August 2012: "R.I.P. Blinky the Clown: Remembering Russell Scott in photos and videos."