Two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas – David McKay and Bradley Crowder – fall under the sway of a charismatic revolutionary ten years their senior. At the volatile 2008 Republican Convention the “Texas Two” cross a line that radically changes their lives. The result: eight homemade bombs, multiple domestic terrorism charges and a high stakes entrapment defense hinging on the actions of a controversial FBI informant. A dramatic story of idealism, loyalty, crime and betrayal, “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. [SXSW]
[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]
“Better This World”
Director: Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega
Producer: Katie Galloway, Kelly Duane de la Vega, Mike Nicholson
Cast: Brad Crowder, David McKay, Brandon Darby, E.K. Wilson (Supervisory Special Agent – Minneapolis FBI Domestic Terrorism Squad), Christopher Langert (Special Agent – Minneapolis FBI Domestic Terrorism Squad), Jeffrey Paulsen (Assistant U.S. Attorney), Twila Crowder, Michel McKay, Emily Coleman, Jeff DeGree
Cinematographer: David Layton
Editor: Greg O’Toole
Music: Paul Brill
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Responses courtesy of “Better This World” Directors Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega.
Evolving into filmmakers…
Galloway: I started working in print – writing for newspapers and magazines – and then moved to radio. I was so intrigued by the nuance and depth audio added to the stories I was telling that I became increasingly curious about, and ultimately moved into, filmmaking.
Duane de la Vega: I was always drawn to visual storytelling. I was reared in fine art photography and photojournalism so it was a logical extension of those things for me.
Discovering the story…
Galloway: We read this headline in the New York Times a couple of years ago called “Activist Unmasks Himself as Federal Informant…” and it sounded like a great story. It was also a merging of themes I’d dealt with in previous films: informants and activism.
Duane de la Vega: We knew it was an interesting idea on paper – but what ultimately led us to pursue making the film was meeting the characters in person and finding out how rich they were and how complex and interesting the story was in terms of human drama. One of the questions that intrigued me was: What causes someone to cross a line that most people wouldn’t?
Working with the past and present…
Duane de la Vega: Katie and I both generally prefer to shoot stories as they’re happening, in the “verite” style. With “Better This World,” there is a significant part of the story, the heart of the story really, that takes place before we began filming. So we had to come up with creative ways to make the past feel alive in order to work with the part of our story that unfolded in the present. Definitely a creative challenge but one that we think paid off.
Some of the challenges?
Galloway: The usual pain in the ass suspect, fundraising, although that worked out well in the end with a combination of money from ITVS, Sundance and Film Independent, as well as several smaller funders. Beyond that, BY FAR the biggest challenge was not having the cooperation of one of the story’s key characters. In the end that challenge pushed us to be very creative and perhaps even worked to our advantage, though we still wonder how our film would be different if he’d agreed to film with us…
Getting to know one another…
Duane de la Vega: Katie and I went to Berkeley High together but didn’t know each other well. We hadn’t been in contact for years when we bumped into each other several years ago and found out we were both making films. We definitely had a creative chemistry and started talking about working on a project together. We read the article about this case just a few weeks later and jumped on a plane to check it out. We were literally getting to know each other as we were getting to know our characters.
Galloway: We’re in development or production on a few things, including talking to PBS Frontline about a film of national scope on the government’s use of informants post 9/11. We’re also in production with our awesome partners at Austin’s Picturebox, Mike Nicholson and David Layton, on a film about an amazing, unusual band of public defenders in a tiny Kentucky town.