Documentary filmmaker Kimberly Reed took some time out of her schedule last week to discuss her thrilling political documentary, Dark Money, with Solzy at the Movies.
Thanks for joining us and congrats on the release of Dark Money.
Kimberly Reed: Thank you.
What was the reception like when the film premiered at Sundance?
Kimberly Reed: Sundance premieres are great because typically you have a lot of subjects from the film there. We were fortunate to have some of the film’s subjects there. It was really nice to see all of these people including our filmmaking team—who have worked so hard for so long—to get some recognition. It was really nice to—after kind of sitting in a dark room for a year editing the film—share it with the public. We got a standing ovation at every screening and that was wonderful.
It’s fair to say that the day in which the Citizens United ruling came down was one of the worst days in US history. When did you decide that you would make a documentary in response?
Kimberly Reed: When I heard about the Citizens United ruling, I think like a lot of Americans—if you look at the polls, it’s typically 75-85% of Americans. I was pretty mystified by the ruling. I didn’t see how on its face we could end up with the Supreme Court saying corporations are people and money is speech and therefore you can’t limit the money/speech by corporations. It didn’t make any sense. I was full of a bunch of questions but I didn’t quite know what to do with those until 2012.
It was actually late 2014 when this case sort of evolved but the Montana Supreme Court ruled that Montana had a specific set of circumstances that meant that Citizens United did hold sway—that the state laws should take precedent there. They did not fly in the face of Citizens United. When all of that legal jousting started happening in late 2014, I got interested and really started following the topic. I’m not somebody who typically follows the Supreme Court but it was an interesting issue that I was trying to get to the bottom of. When the case went to the Supreme Court in early 2015, I started filming it. I had this A-ha moment where I realized that this really abstract issue about money and politics could be dramatized by following this court case so I followed it.
Some filmmakers would likely have told this story through focusing on multiple states. I thought by grounding the story in just one state made for a more compelling film. Did you ever consider looking at other states or was it always going to be Montana?
Kimberley Reed: I certainly considered doing a broader film. What I found is that again and again, Montana just made for the best case study to follow. I think I also—during the process of making the film—was realizing that with such a potentially complicated issue that runs the danger of becoming too abstract that grounding it in one location and one story that the viewers could really get their arms around that that would be the best approach. When you talk about financial issues, you run the danger of people glazing over and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to focus on not just a way to tell a compelling story through the eyes of real people but to also show the impact that politics has on our every day lives and keeping the story focused really tightly on this microcosm in Montana allows us to do that.
The U.S. Treasury recently moved to protect the identity of dark money donors. Is your hope that people see this film and react accordingly?
Kimberly Reed: Yeah. I think that our film shows that the way that the campaign finance system was set up until a week ago was bad enough but these rule changes that just came down from Mnuchin and the Treasury are only going to make dark money that much darker. So yes, if our film was going to inspire people before this rule change, I hope this makes it even more obvious and urgent that changes like that are only going to exacerbate the problem already built into the system.
Thank you for your time and congrats again on the film.
Kimberly Reed: Thank you very much! It was nice to talk with you.