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Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #26: Abigail Disney Had to Discipline Herself with Political Tolerance in ‘The Armor of Light’

Meet the 2015 Tribeca Filmmakers #26: Abigail Disney Had to Discipline Herself with Political Tolerance in 'The Armor of Light'

READ MORE: Meet the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival Filmmakers

This inspiring documentary digs into the deep affinity between the evangelical Christian movement and our country’s gun culture — and how one top minister and anti-abortion activist undergoes a change of consciousness to challenge prevailing attitudes toward firearms among his fellow Christians. [Synopsis Courtesy of Tribeca]

Director Abigail Disney shares the challenges she faced in putting her own political biases aside to make a documentary about evangelicalism.

READ MORE: Tribeca 2015 Unveils Innovation Programming Lineup, Featuring Talks From Top CEOs and Scientists

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

A Christian minister answers call of conscience to challenge fellow Evangelicals to walk their talk on sanctity of human life.

Now what’s it REALLY about?

“The Armor of Light” is an attempt to stir a new conversation in this country based in the values shared by both conservatives and liberals. We listen to people who genuinely believe in the sacredness of every human life as they come to grips with the readiness—even eagerness—of their fellow citizens to buy, carry and use firearms in a wide array of public circumstances. In doing so we hope to trigger some new modes of thinking and discussion in a space “above politics”, that space inhabited by us all which is rooted in morals, in faith and in ethics. It is this discussion that should precede all talk of legislation and policy, not the other way around. And so “The Armor of Light” attempts to remind us all of who we are as a nation on a moral plane.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I was raised in LA in a family somewhat well known for its conservative politics. After college I settled in New York City, partly because it was a lot more exciting and partly because it was a far more hospitable place for my political sensibilities than my home. Over the years I did a great deal of work in the not-for-profit sector, particularly around women’s human rights. This work led directly to my filmmaking. In meeting the women of Liberia for my first film, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” then in meeting women peacebuilders in the over 30 countries to which I brought that film I came to believe that if I wanted not to be a horrid hypocrite, I needed to think about becoming a peacebuilder in my own country. It was the principles of peacebuilding I learned over those years that I have brought to bear on every aspect of “The Armor of Light.”

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

The hardest thing for me in making this film has been disciplining myself on the question of political tolerance. I was working with men and women who at a personal level were lovely and kind, but who had spent their lifetimes tearing away at the very political suppositions I hold most dear. Many were the times I wanted to sit people down and lecture them about how wrong they were about their political values—”convert” them, as it were, to my own positions. I had to understand that if I didn’t want to be evangelized from a religious point of view, I was going to have to let go of my own impulses toward political evangelism, and that has been very, very difficult. The hardest thing in the world, I now know, is to hold in your head that it is okay to think that you are right, but not to think so necessarily because everyone who disagrees with you is wrong, or stupid, or duped, or bad.

What do you want the Tribeca audience to take away from your film?

I hope Tribeca audiences walk away from our film with a willingness to have a new and different conversation not just about guns and gun rights, but across the board about the broken nature of the American political dynamic, and about the part each of us as an individual can choose every day to play either to keep us divided, or to find a better way to come together. I hope people will recognize that if we keep going forward doubling down on the bets we’ve already made in the public square, we will only drag the country deeper into the box canyon we are already in.

Any films inspire you?

A couple of years ago I saw “Bombay Beach” here at Tribeca and was so moved by it. It told a story without really telling a story. It was a deeply lyrical look at people whose lives were so different from my own without an ounce of the “anthropological” gaze. It was extraordinary. Alex Gibney’s “Mea Maxima Culpa” was amazing. It dug all the way into the horrid hypocrisy and predation of this hideous group of victimizers, but treasured the dignity of the victims, even lifted them up as positively beautiful beings all without a shred of exploitation. “The Invisible War” did the same and did it with a class of people no one ever thinks about as victims, and whose unique suffering the world was clueless about before this film.

What’s next?

Now this is a crazy question! I can barely breathe, much less know what is next! I still have a lot to say about violence in America. The sentence that drove me the most crazy when we did interviews with gun rights activists for this film was, “It’s in our DNA.” What on earth does that even mean? And if Wyatt Earp is in our DNA, isn’t also Jane Addams? Clara Barton? Helen Keller? So whatever I do next, it will take on the question of why there is this huge swath of Americans that so readily swallows this idea of themselves as inherently violent.

What cameras did you shoot on?

We shot on a Canon C300. But of course it’s the shooter that we are most excited about. Jeff Hutchens did superb work for us and really lifted our film incredibly with his amazing gifts.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?

We did not crowdfund, nor did we get support from any foundations only because we figured the more quietly we worked the less likely we would be to run up against interference from the more rabid folks on both the left and the right. The fact is, funnily enough, that the people who seem to be most committed to causes, also seem to be least invested in anyone actually talking to each other. So we figured we had a better chance of reaching audiences without having been terribly dirtied up by what others have to say about us, the more discreetly we were working from the beginning.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? 

Indiewire invited Tribeca Film Festival directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. We’ll be publishing their responses leading up to the 2015 festival. For profiles go HERE.

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