“Actors are agents of change. A film, a piece of theater…can make a difference. It can change the world”. (Alan Rickman, Actor)
“In times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act”. (George Orwell)
“The great enemy of truth is very often not the lie, deliberate, contrived and dishonest, but the myth, persuasive and unrealistic”. (John F. Kennedy)
We have an early spring here in Northern Arizona and are celebrating our 21st Sedona International Film Festival. This year’s event is being held in observation of the 100th anniversary of the birthday of renowned actor, director and former Sedona resident Orson Welles. Academy and Golden Globe Award winner Richard Dreyfuss is in town to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award and also recognition for his role as activist and spokesperson on the issue of media informing policy, legislation, public opinion; and in expression of his sentiments in favor of privacy, freedom of speech, democracy and individual accountability. (SedonaFilmFestival.Org). Acting legend, Ed Asner is also here for an opening night screening of his latest film Good Men.
Now 85, Asner has served two terms as President of the Screen Actor’s Guild, won seven Emmy Awards and served as an outspoken advocate of universal health care and worker’s rights. In his role in Good Men, the veteran actor and activist has taken on a personal issue which he says remains untouchable in Hollywood and therefore appropriate for the spirit of independence in the independent film industry. The result is a film only 12 minutes in length, written and directed by Brian Connors and produced with a mini-budget by Sean Tracy. Essentially a one act comedy with only two actors, Ed and Mark Rydell portray two elderly, long-time friends and colleagues who argue about the conspiracy allegations surrounding the events of September 11, 2001. This emotionally charged character study was shot in one day with two 5D cameras. Asner’s character argues for the massive evidence that that the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers and Building 7 were brought down by explosive demolitions, as is believed to be the case by 2,000 Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth, founded in 2006, who call officialdom’s original investigations and ongoing stories, a sham. (ae911truth.org).
Moreover, Pilots for 9/11 Truth, also founded in 2006 by aviation professionals, have presented deeply serious, thoroughly-researched challenges to all official investigations. (PilotsFor9/11Truth.org). Asner’s friend, portrayed by Mark Rydell angrily rejects any and all unofficial explanations as unpatriotic “conspiracies”. Now, nearly 15 years after 9/11, these 12 minutes of film, brilliantly capture an ongoing and heated debate throughout this dangerously polarized country, as to “what really happened”. On this theme of “conspiracy” allegations I find it interesting to note that the term “conspiracy theory” was coined by the CIA in April 1967. Their Clandestine Services unit then focused on strategies for discrediting any and all unwelcome inquiries, including the use of the word conspiracy in a pejorative sense in order to debunk and discredit (washingtonsblog.com, February 23, 2015). In recent times, we have an Orwellian twist given to the word “truth” so that those who doubt official propaganda and mass-media lies, are ridiculed and dismissed as conspiracy theory “truthers”. (see also: David Martin, “Thirteen Techniques for Truth Suppression”, brasscheck.com)
In a number of interviews surrounding the release of Good Men, Asner has been repeatedly asked why he thought that Hollywood would never produce such a film. In general, he often replied that the current mood in Tinsel-Town is one of “go along to get along”, a reluctance to speak truth to power, challenge authority or the fairy tale myth of a free and democratic Republic of America. On a darker note, Asner observes that most of the group-think, bobble headed populace can’t handle the idea that America would allow anything like the 9/11 attacks to be done to itself. While he denies the existence of an official Hollywood Blacklist, he affirms the reality that political views and activities can also severely impact one’s professional life. Asner admits to feeling such pressures and his immensely popular TV series, Lou Grant was abruptly cancelled in 1982 due to right wing protest campaigns against his criticism of U.S. foreign policy in Central America.
With an eye toward history, Hollywood and the entertainment industry has a long and colorful tradition of political censorship. This overt form of scare-mongering oppression peaked during the mid-twentieth century with the Blacklist policy of denying employment to actors, directors, screenwriters, musicians and other entertainers due to suspected political beliefs and associations. During the years when Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actor’s Guild, he kept in close touch with “better dead than red”, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; who conducted notorious and highly publicized “witch hunts” against allegedly dis-loyal public personalities. Less than 10 % of those investigated by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) were able to return to their careers as a result of this anti-communist hysteria. (Dan Georgakas, “The Hollywood Blacklist”, english.illinois.edu, 1992)
Now, in our current era following the world changing events of September 11, 2001, censorship in the entertainment industry remains, although at a much subtler level than we saw during the dark days of the Hollywood Blacklist. For now, at least, alternative media outlets and the international, independent film industry are still able to offer creative options outside of the establishment control-matrix.