SXSW Spotlight: ‘Better This World’ Filmmakers Q&A

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POV veteran filmmaker Katie Galloway (Prison Town, USA, POV 2007) and Kelly Duane de la Vega will be premiering their new film, Better This World (POV 2011) at the South by Southwest Film Festival this weekend in Austin, Texas.

A still from "Better This World"The story of Bradley Crowder and David McKay, who were accused of intending to firebomb the 2008 Republican National Convention, is a dramatic tale of idealism, loyalty, crime and betrayal. Better This World follows the radicalization of these boyhood friends from Midland, Texas, under the tutelage of revolutionary activist Brandon Darby. The results: eight homemade bombs, multiple domestic terrorism charges and a high-stakes entrapment defense hinging on the actions of a controversial FBI informant. Better This World goes to the heart of the war on terror and its impact on civil liberties and political dissent in post-9/11 America.

We checked in with Katie and Kelly via email to learn more about the film and it’s world premiere in Austin.

POV: What inspired you to make Better This World? How did you find out about the story?

'Better This World' filmmaker Katie GallowayKatie Galloway: There was an article in The New York Times about two young men from Midland, Texas, who were arrested on domestic terrorism charges at the RNC in ’08. What made the story especially intriguing is that they’d been deeply involved with an FBI informant and that there was a question of government entrapment.

POV: How did you meet David and Brad? At what point in the timeline did you meet them? How did you present to them that you wanted to make a film?

'Better This World' filmmaker Kelly Duane de la VegaKelly Duane de la Vega: We met David first… just days after reading about the story. The article noted that he was soon going to trial so it was a mad dash to get to Minnesota. We wound up meeting him for the first time at the Sherburne County Jail in Elk River Minnesota, the day before his trial began. He was facing up to 30 years. We met Brad about 5 months later — also at Sherburne County Jail.

POV: How did you present to them that you wanted to make a film about their story?

Galloway: It was pretty straightforward, really. We got in touch with Brad and David through their attorneys, explaining a bit about our backgrounds and the kind of work we do, and that this story seemed up our alley and really worth looking into.

POV: How did you build trust with them and their families?

Galloway: Building trust with David, Brad and several members of their family was a combination of instinct and leap of faith. It was clear from pretty early on that they experienced the criminal justice system as rather dehumanizing, as prone to seeing things in black and white — and they all seemed eager to tell a much fuller story of the case than the news media and the law seemed to allow.

We essentially trusted David and Brad from very early on. They seemed genuinely authentic and open. They didn’t protest their innocence of all charges. That’s not where they were coming from. So we trusted them, and I think the feeling was mutual.

POV: Tell us what it means to you to have Better This World premiere in Austin at SXSW? Will Bradley, Brandon or any of their family members be present for the screening?

de la Vega: It means everything for us to premiere at SXSW. A dream realized, actually. Its obviously a great fest — but beyond that our story largely took place there. There’s a ton of local interest in the story, many of our characters live in or near the town and our partners at Picturebox are based there. We’re also looking forward to having our terrific executive producers in town — Julie Goldman of Motto Pictures in NY and John Battsek and Nicole Stott of Passion pictures in London will all be in Austin for the premiere.

In terms of who will be at the screenings: Probably a dozen characters from the film will be in the house: Brad, his mother Twila, many members of David’s family, as well as a handful of Austin-based political activists and writers.

POV: Without giving anything away about the plot, what surprised you in making this film?

de la Vega: There were so many twists and turns as we followed this story it was just incredible, as anyone who watches the film will find out. We were stunned, repeatedly, by what happened next.

Along the way we also came to realize that David and Brad’s case was not that unusual — that there are dozens of domestic terrorism cases (at least) post 9/11 — where there are questions of entrapment.

POV: What’s your opinion of the case? Do you think that David and Bradley were entrapped?

Galloway: Entrapment is a slippery concept — lawyers in McKay’s federal trial argued over which definition would be used. One definition basically asks would the crime have been committed had the defendant never been involved with a government informant. The other asks if the agent or informant coerced or cajoled the defendant into the crime he/she is being prosecuted for.

The question of entrapment is central to our story, and we have laid out the narrative in such a way that the audience is challenged to dig deep and come to their own conclusions. For that reason we’re disinclined to lay out our own beliefs at this point.

POV: What do you hope people who see this film take away from it?

de la Vega: There is clearly so much gray in this story — much more than we see represented in the legal system and on the nightly news. Our goal was to tell the story behind the headlines — to tell a more complicated, nuanced story and allow the audience to wrestle with their own sense of morality and truth.

Specifically, we expect the story to raise consciousness about questions of entrapment post 9/11 — and to take a hard look at what impact the War on Terror has had on civil liberties.

Watch the Trailer

Better This World premieres at SXSW on Saturday, March 12 at 11 AM at the Vimeo Theater. Additional screenings include: Monday, March 14 at 1:45 PM – Alamo Lamar B and Friday, March 18 2 PM – Paramount Theatre. Check the SXSW festival schedule and be sure to catch Better This World if you are in Austin next week!

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