THE BRAINWASHING OF MY DAD opens today, March 18 theatrically in New York (Cinema Village) and Los Angeles (Laemmle Music Hall). This film is auspiciously timed, especially given the current vitriol political climate. The film tells a story of a father seduced, conditioned, entrapped by the right-wing media and a divided nation.
I had the privilege to speak with the socially conscious trinity of Jen Senko, an award-winning documentary filmmaker. One of my favorite actors, Matthew Modine who is the narrator, producer for this documentary. Matthew is a Golden Globe Award winner and has worked tirelessly for nearly four decades with some of the most iconic directors such as Oliver Stone, Stanley Kubrick, Spike Lee, Mike Figgis, Jonathan Demme – to name a few. Adam Rackoff, producer who partnered with Matthew to form their Cinco Dedos Peliculas production company. This dynamic duo has produced many award-winning films.
Here is what they had to say:
Why do you believe this film is important?
Adam Rackoff, Producer – I believe this film is important because it shows what a bad diet can do to your health. I’m not referring to what you eat, but the media that you consume. The places we go to get “the news” can change us. The film’s director, Jen Senko, uses her own father as an example. For decades, he got all his news from right-wing radio and eventually Fox News. This “media diet” turned him into an angry, intolerant, and unlikable person to his friends and family. He would isolate himself for hours a day and regurgitate the hateful things he was hearing about his friends and family around him. The film does a good job of explaining how this media shift happened, but what’s important to me is that there’s hope for our loved ones that have been consumed by right-wing media. The film shows that people can be weaned off these unhealthy diets and eventually “deprogrammed.” I think the diet analogy is spot-on. For years, Jen’s father only ate an unhealthy diet of meat, but over time, Jen and her mother were able to nudge him back to the middle and reintroduce him to fruits and vegetables again. Before his passing last month, Frank Senko was a much happier man who still enjoyed meat in moderation, but also ate his vegetables.
How did you get involved?
Adam Rackoff, Producer – I was first introduced to Jen Senko by our mutual friend, Bill Plympton. I had worked with Bill on several animation projects with my producing partner, Matthew Modine, including running two successful Kickstarter campaigns. At the time, Jen was running her own campaign and needed some help. After speaking with her on the phone, I knew this was a project I wanted to be involved with. I shared it with Matthew and he suggested that we offer to help her produce the film and he could provide some voice narration where appropriate. That was back in the Fall of 2013, so Matthew and I have been working with Jen on this film for over two and a half years now.
Your films often make a cultural statement. What is your process of choosing films? Why do you believe this film is important at this time?
Matthew Modine, Narrator and Producer – I studied with Stella Adler. Ms Adler came up in a time of great political theatre. It’s clear that theatre, films, and television can have a great impact on social consciousness. With this awareness, comes a great responsibility. What is truth? Who’s truth? Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong. With my work I don’t try to say who’s right and who’s wrong, that’s an individual choice. What I do – is try to do is raise questions that start a discussion – so individuals can explain their beliefs. It is through this discussion that light can expose a greater truth. Civil discourse and freedom of speech are sacred to me.
When did you realize you absolutely had to make this film?
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – I’d been wanting to make this film for over a decade. A couple years after I’d completed THE VANISHING CITY with Fiore DeRosa I realized there was no reason not to. All my ducks were lined up a row. I was confident after THE VANISHING CITY that I now had the skills I needed to do justice to the film. And being in my 50s, I realized, if not now, when? I had hoped there would be more progress after Obama became president but I saw just how entrenched this media was and that the Right and the 1% only kept getting more powerful. So I decided to throw caution to the wind, stop fooling around with my freelance jobs and just trust that I would raise money to do the film.
Tell me about your journey to this point.
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – It was exhilarating and scary for me to realize I’d totally committed myself to making this film. And, It was exhausting making it. I even got pneumonia last year! I had so many struggles and problems I had to overcome along the way but there was always this satisfaction deep down that I was doing it. I can only say that every time I thought I couldn’t do something I did it and that just strengthened my resolve. I met so many incredible people along the way like, Jeff Cohen, Claire Connor, Carole Dean and Jodie Evans that believed in me, encouraged me and taught me so much. The team that evolved along the way has been amazing – talented and supportive – so I have a lot of gratitude.
Why is this film necessary at this time?
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – I think this film has been necessary for the last 30 years, and, better late than never. But seriously, I think it’s a perfect time for the film because people are ready to hear the message. With the rise of Donald Trump in the political arena perhaps anyone who is shocked by this will be looking for answers, or have figured it out too. Often we aren’t ready to hear or understand something until we are on the brink of disaster. THE BRAINWASHING OF MY DAD presents the full picture for those that seek to understand.
Were you shocked to learn how Talk Radio is affecting millennials?
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – To find out how Talk Radio and Fox “News” was affecting millennials was disappointing and shocking but not completely surprising. The success of right-wing media and its reach has been and is very powerful.
What was your experience like interviewing one of the leading philosophers such Noam Chomsky?
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – Kind of like meeting Gandhi or Buddha. There were just three of us: Mel Bryant on 2nd camera and Rachael Levine on 1st camera, then me. We were very excited but we made sure we were super prepared. Noam’s office had even sent us pictures the week before so that we could decide exactly where the cameras would go beforehand so as not to waste a second. He was sweet and down to earth. We got into talking and Bev, his ‘wrangler’ had to remind him he was eight minutes late for his next phone call. I couldn’t believe the good fortune I was having with the people I was getting. It just reassured me I was doing something right. I did feel blessed.
What do you want the audience to come away with?
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – I would like the audience to see how there really was a “vast right-wing conspiracy” as Hillary called it back then on the Today Show in 1998 and that it still exists and has and still is influencing the public’s views. I believe they will see there is an insidious reason that they are at odds with their friends and family members, and to be able to connect it to why this country has become so divided. I would like them to feel empowered with the knowledge that their feeling that something was wrong was correct and that there is hope to make a change if we act.
What are the superpowers/message of this film?
Jen Senko, Filmmaker – I think what this film does, is to bring the larger story of right-wing media bias to a very human level where people can relate to it. The message of the film is that there has been a systematic effort to shape public opinion to embrace ‘free market ideology’. I’ve been calling this “the period of the great bamboozle”. Millions have been voting against their own interests along with the billionaires for so long because they thought to vote for ‘moral issues’ was more important. The “moral” issues have been used to pit us against each other. Consequently, we’ve had 30 years of trickle down economics, jobs outsourced and our country divided. We hope people will read and support independent media and think about what they are ingesting. I think we are what we ingest.
Check out the trailer:
The film is available on VOD RELEASE (iTunes, GOOGLE PLAY, VUDU and many more)
Official Website: http://www.thebrainwashingofmydad.com
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