Filming for Freedom


The Moving Picture Institute is the AV department for the vast libertarian conspiracy. It funds films celebrating liberty, it trains young filmmakers, and it helps them make connections in the mainstream. Its projects range from Zabbaleen, a documentary about an entrepreneurial minority in modern Egypt, to Hammer & Tickle, about subversive humor in the old Soviet Union—"a language of truth under communism."

Rob Pfaltzgraff, the institute's executive director, spoke with Reason in July about several of the group's pictures.

Q: Is Michael Moore your nemesis?

A: We like to diversify—if you'll pardon that overused word—the debate, to bring other points of view and messages to counter the very loud voices of certain people. Michael Moore is able to generate a lot of attention for his issues in films and for his side of those issues. Sicko just makes a single-payer system look like the answer to all of the problems in the U.S. We like to present a counter to those opinions in general, but we are also responding directly to Sicko in a series of short films at They show the other side of the issue and what it's like to have health care rationed in Canada.

Q: Freedom's Fury is about water polo. What does water polo have to do with freedom?

A: That was one that we found at the Tribeca Film Festival in 2006. It was a finished film at that point but needed help with the finishing funding as well as promotional work. The filmmakers had set out to make a film about water polo, to tell the story about an epic water polo match between Hungary and the Soviet Union, known as the "Blood in the Water Match." But they ended up with what they described as "a love letter to Hungary and the Hungarian Revolution" and an excellent juxtaposition of the struggle between Hungary and the Soviet Union with the 1956 Melbourne Olympics. It turned into a lot more than what they initially had intended.

Q: Mining companies funded your latest film, Mine Your Own Business, a documentary about the impact of environmentalism on Third World communities. Doesn't that undermine its effectiveness?

A: To be honest, when we were thinking about getting involved with the film that was my initial reaction too: "Well, this will just be seen as propaganda from mining companies." But at the very beginning the filmmakers clearly state who funded it. There's no mystery, there's nothing hidden about that in the film. Their deal was that they would not proceed unless they were given complete editorial control. The filmmakers are very independent people, and they do not take direction well. Knowing them, they would have stopped the project if they were forced to present a specific opinion from the mining company. Because it's very upfront, it's not really a problem.

The film has really taken on a life of its own. It has opened a lot of people's eyes to the fact that what environmentalism does in Third World countries largely is to keep people in poverty. That isn't to say that doing work to protect the environment isn't important. But there is a balance between protecting the environment and allowing economic development, and that is often overlooked.

Q: Do you plan to stick with documentaries?

A: It just happens that so far the projects that express a message that we think is a positive one have been documentaries. We have a film of Kurt Vonnegut's story "Harrison Bergeron," scheduled to start filming this fall. It's the project of a very talented New York University film school graduate named Chandler Tuttle. It's set in the year 2081, when, "thanks to the 211th, 212th, and 213th amendments to the Constitution and the unceasing vigilance of the United States Handicapper General, everyone is finally equal."