Filmgoers tend to assume indie films are politically liberal -- actually, most of them are liberal. The true calling of indie films, however, is to be independent. Their mission is to give voice to the voiceless, explore the unexplored, and challenge the conventional. Challenge the political Right, the comfortable Center, and also the Left! Independent film is not meant to go with the flow, but to disturb the tranquility.
Yet, when a political subject is hypersensitive, when the national emotions roar and brain clamps down, the pressure on film to confirm is at its most intense. This is when an indie film can buckle under to the political pressure. This is when the fair and open fade and and cinema turns conformist and closed minded. And there is no political issue today that is more sensitive, more demanding of conformity, more bolt-down-the-brain, than illegal immigration.
Riding on the L-train from Manhattan to the Brooklyn International Film Festival to watch The Minutemen Movie, I was not optimistic. I feared another demonization of the "bad guys," a roasting of yet another ugly caricature. I feared another indie film would buckle under. But this is Brooklyn! You never know in Brooklyn.
The Minutemen are of course our modern-day American volunteers patrolling and even camping along the U.S.-Mexican border to monitor foreigners attempting to sneak into the country illegally. The Minutemen are angry the U.S. government is not enforcing the border and our immigration laws. So they are enthusiastic in assisting the undermanned and overworked Border Patrol who are attempting to halt the flood of not only illegal laborers but also drug gangs.
Some Americans insist the Minutemen are dangerous vigilantes, others proclaim they are super-patriots. Very few Americans, however, have had the opportunity to hear the Minutemen speak in more than sound-bits on the evening news. Although nearly all of Americans have a strongly held opinion of the Minutemen, very few have ever heard their voice. That's not right.
The Minutemen Movie follows six volunteers. Led by Lil Dog, there are also Jefe, Minute Mom, Mad Max, the Sheriff, and Bird Watcher. They are a real mixed bag -- infuriated and relaxed, hostile and compassionate, united in their goal to secure the border yet divided in their way to achieve that goal, witty and humorless, insightful and boorish. They are everything the narrow politics of today insist they are not: real people.
Most of them appear to be Vietnam veterans, all are working class -- Americans who often lack a voice in the American media. Their desire to secure the border and their intense patriotism are too often ridiculed or worshiped. Director Corey Wascinski, an immigrant himself, is not interested in that picture, and after 4 years of work, has given us a much fuller picture of these Americans.
His film is not meant to change minds. After viewing The Minutemen Movie, the world-without-borders faction will not suddenly believe we need to secure the border, and the America-without-immigrants group will not suddenly loosen up. This is a film not meant to change minds but to open minds. It attempts to do this by presenting a group of people who had previously been portrayed as only caricatures, creatures of hate and ignorance, as demons, or as flawless self-sacrificing angels and super-patriots. Instead of a unified political poster, Wascinski presents them as a complex and diversified group.
Regardless of your political beliefs, you can embrace The Minutemen Movie as an indie film upholding the honored tradition of independent filmmaking. For decades we have been losing this tradition as more and more indies move closer and closer to mainstream filmmaking. But Wascinski does not cave in to political orthodoxy. He tells a story and gives voice instead of delivering a platform to embrace or reject. We see real people in a real world with real concerns, even when we disagree with them.
Riding on the subway back to Manhattan, I thought, "Well, that's Brooklyn!" The mecca of indie filmmakers ... national hotbed of alternative filmmaking. It was a good trip across the river. It was good to see The Minutemen Movie.