Friday, July 05, 2013

America Reframed: Follow the Leader

Last week I was invited to a private online pre-view of the new PBS documentary, Follow the Leader. The film is now available on iTunes – via this link if you can use it: – and beginning July 9th on these other platforms: Amazon, Xbox, Playstation, Vudu, Google Play

FOLLOW THE LEADER has a rare U.S. TV Premiere as the only new film to air and the finale of the first season of the PBS/WGBH’s World Channel series, America ReFramed throughout this 4th of July holiday week, and a re-broadcast on Sept. 11) in the top regional markets including:

New York City (WNET), Santa Ana, CA (KOCE), Philadelphia (WHYY), Dallas (KERA), San Francisco (KQED), Boston (WGBH), Durham, NH (NEWH), Atlanta (GEOR), Phoenix (KAET), Tampa, FL (WEDU), and many more.

You can also view Follow the Leader on Saturday July 6, 2013 here.

According to it’s promotion on the web, Follow the Leader is:

 A political coming-of-age documentary about three boys who want to be President. Over three life-changing years, each rethinks his beliefs and discovers who he truly wants to be as an adult

The over-arching question the film documentary asks is: What shapes our political beliefs?

After viewing Follow the Leader, a well-presented story of three highly motivated, top of their class, 2007 high school graduates, who in the beginning were all politically conservative WASPS (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), I came away with a few questions.

But before I get to my questions, I want to say that the film was very engaging and the young men, D.J., Nick, and Ben, were all very sympathetic. Here’s a little summary:

D.J. saw himself as a geek leader and he began to move toward the Democratic Party early on in the film. After he went off to college, he began “thinking on his own,” and realized that “the rest of the world doesn’t want to follow the United States.” He had a quick change of heart following his realization that there were “no weapons of mass destruction,” yet he voted for McCain and Palin. He thought Palin was hot. He campaigned for Duvall Patrick. He was befriended by Gov. Mike Dukakis. D.J. also worked on the Niki Tsongas campaign. He eventually decided that the goal of becoming president was not what he really wanted. He moved to a Bible college, got engaged to a girl named Hillary, and together they are building a youth ministry.

Nick was a strong conservative leader with some rather old fashioned chauvinistic thinking concerning women early on in the film. He thought that women were too emotional to be leaders. Once he went off to college at the American University in D.C., he really felt like a political outsider. As he began having “intellectual” conversations he began hearing the “echo of conservative arguments sounding ridiculous.” The fact is that he probably succumbed to some pretty strong peer and scholastic pressure. Although still a conservative, Nick decided to vote for Obama because he had such a “cool” story and “even though I disagree with all of his policies he can unite the country.” But Nick grew frustrated with Obama after just a few months. He now considers himself a “radical centrist.” He took a break from college and by the end of the film was working for Americans Elect, an internet based movement attempting to build an “all-partisan” third party.

Ben always thought he had something to prove and saw himself as a fighter at the beginning of the film. He stated that he “can’t settle for anything in life that is not absolutely perfect.” He was into paint ball and believed that “terrorism has shaped what my generation is…” and he believed that the vision of America’s invincibility was shattered on 9/11. Ben talked about facing the brutal reality that (WASP) male leaders are a dying breed and there will be a paradigm shift in 20 years. Ben was very down after Barack Obama’s election to President, and felt he had a challenge to bring the Republican party back.  Ben helped several Republicans win election since Obama’s election including Virginia’s Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, II. By the end of the film, Ben was working as a part-time researcher for the U.S. Army and is engaged to a girl named Ann.

So there you have it. One becomes a Democrat and a Christian attempting to build a ministry, one becomes a radical centrist trying to build a third party, and one remains a Republican with a modest job as a part-time researcher for the US Army.

What’s my take away from these boys’ experiences? Old age and treachery will overcome youth and skill especially when it comes to politics! What shaped their political beliefs? They are still very young and will continue to change, or evolve, as we all do. There are so many factors involved, including personality and life experiences, that it’s practically impossible to determine what shapes or changes one’s political ideology.

At the end of the film, Nastasha Del Toro hosted an interview with the filmmaker, Johnathan Goodman Levitt and with one of the boys, Nick Trolano.

I’m not sure why all three boys were not involved in the interview, but perhaps Nick was chosen because he sees himself as a radical centrist reformer who wants to “break down political institutions and policies.”

Nick says that we are ‘all in this together,” and we “can’t take for granted America’s role in the world.” He is now in journalism or political story-telling and he sees himself as evolved with a “nuanced view of politics.” He also thinks that there are too many old people in Congress since the average age is 60.

According to the filmmaker, Johnathan Goodman Levitt, “Follow the Leader,” is a non-partisan documentary. But is it really all that non-partisan? Or perhaps “partisan” isn’t even the right word? Perhaps there’s a larger world-view, or ideology, behind this entire series? I don’t know but I must ask.

The film is part of a series of 26 independent films called America ReFramed, which present “the stories of a transforming American culture and its broad diversity.” America ReFramed can be viewed online on World (

Are we to assume that this particular documentary, presented by a liberal progressive organizations has no liberal bias?

Well we don’t know the political bias of the filmmaker,Johnathan Goodman Levitt. He wanted to keep it that way and he did a fairly good job of keeping the film politically neutral.

According to the filmmaker’s representative:

First and foremost, Follow the Leader received no funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), or any other American entity for that matter. The series, America ReFramed, which is carried by PBS/World Channel, is programmed by WGBH and by American Documentary, Inc. (a private company that also programs the P.O.V. Documentary series for PBS stations). CPB does provide partial funding to the PBS World channel and the PBS system generally, but the film itself didn't receive any such funds at all. In fact, Follow the Leader was funded solely by the filmmaker's company Changeworx and by European broadcasters, which were interested in a more non-judgmental film about American politics than most of the documentaries that come from American filmmakers. The licensing agreement from the public television system is also non-exclusive, and the filmmaker is currently pursuing additional broadcast options including Fox, Glenn Beck's The Blaze TV, and others. This is a rare film without any U.S. funding or partisan bent that attracts interest across the political spectrum.

Importantly, The Aspen Institute did not present Follow the Leader or this (or any) episode of America ReFramed, and has no connection to Follow the Leader. There is simply another show on PBS World Channel the features their proceedings, but that is a completely unconnected series to our film and America ReFramed as well.

We still have some questions. Why were three conservative WASP boys chosen for this film? 

Should we assume that other races or ethnic groups don’t have political biases or can change?

Or should we assume that the maker of this film is only interested in learning what makes young conservatives change?

There’s only one thing we can really assume. It was something I learned in a very liberal seminary some years ago. When you boil everything down, all things are political!

America Reframed

Follow the Leader, America ReFramed, TV, Television,  PBS/WGBH, World Channel, film, documentary,  political, beliefs, Johnathan Goodman Levitt,  independent, films, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, (CPB), The Aspen Institute, Open Society Foundations, George Soros.

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