Courtesy of Variance Films

Trouble the Water Filmmakers Return with Citizen Koch

00:00 May 25, 2014
By: Fritz Esker
[Courtesy of Variance Films]

Documentarians Carl Deal and Tia Lessin last made a splash at both the national and local level with the acclaimed Hurricane Katrina documentary Trouble the Water.Now, they've set their sights on big money in politics with Citizen Koch.

Citizen Koch, which will screen at Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center on June 27th, focuses on the repercussions of the U.S Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling in 2010, which blocked corporate spending limits in elections. This decision paved the way for the billionaire Koch brothers to lend unlimited support to far-right Tea Party candidates like Wisconsin governor Scott Walker.

While people might expect the film to be just another left-wing political documentary, the film devotes most of its screen time to Republicans and conservatives either disillusioned by rampant corporate influence on politicians or adversely affected by the union busting policies of Scott Walker.

In the first category, former Louisiana governor and 2012 presidential candidate Buddy Roemer voices strong objections to uncapped corporate spending in politics. The film also shows how Roemer's efforts to participate in the Republican primary debates and discuss the issue on a national stage were thwarted at every turn.

In the second category, a significant portion of the film takes place in Wisconsin, where governor Scott Walker offended many people who identified themselves as lifelong conservatives with his efforts to take away workers' rights to unionize. Deal said one of the most fascinating discoveries during the filming process was seeing how both Republicans and Democrats were on the streets protesting Walker.

Citizen Koch was originally supposed to air on PBS, but the Independent Television Service, the public agency that funds and curates documentaries, withdrew financial support and the television partnership. WNET (New York's public television station) was expecting a $7 million donation from David Koch. The New York area is the biggest market for public broadcasting, and if WNET withdrew support for a project, its odds of landing on PBS were dire. Deal and Lessin were told their film was "unbroadcastable."

Deal said they were discouraged that a publicly funded outlet for TV and documentaries could be influenced so heavily by one corporate sponsor. He added that Citizen Koch was funded entirely through non-partisan organizations. "Our funders were all legit," Deal said. "It was their funder who killed the film."

But Deal and Lessin rallied and launched a 30-day Kickstarter crowd funding campaign to replace the lost $150,000. 3500 backers contributed $169,552 with an average pledge of $50.

New Orleanians might recognize the names of Deal and Lessin from their documentary Trouble the Water, which dealt with the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. The filmmakers believe there is a link between their previous work and Citizen Koch. Trouble the Water gave people a frightening glimpse of a world without government services, and Citizen Koch details the efforts of mega-donors like the Koch Brothers to remove the funding for many government services.

Deal and Lessin's experience with Trouble the Water did make them lifelong fans of New Orleans. "We come down as frequently as we can," Deal said. "We love the city."

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