Film festival draws Libertarian filmmakers and fans to Las Vegas

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, and wife Kelley Ashby attend the Time 100 Gala celebrating the “100 Most Influential People in the World” at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York on Tuesday, April 23, 2013.
Photo: Evan Agostini/Invision/AP

The third-annual Anthem Libertarian Film Festival returns to Las Vegas, part of the Freedom Fest conference, a gathering of several thousand libertarian thinkers self-described as the world’s largest gathering of free minds."

Contrary to its name, the film festival does not take place in Anthem, but rather at Planet Hollywood in Sin City Theater and The Studio. The festival opened Thursday night with a keynote address from former Mayor Oscar Goodman and continues through Saturday. One highlight: A speech from Republican Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky.

Festival founder Jo Ann Skousen discusses the festival’s roots, what makes a film Libertarian and what’s in store for the weekend.

How and why did the festival first get started?

My husband and I have been running Freedom Fest for a little over 10 years. We decided that a film festival would be a good way to continue to spread the ideas shared at Freedom Fest. So it was kind of my baby. What makes ours so different from other festivals is that we have a ready source of audiences. My films today have been, almost all of them have been, standing room only. That’s really not what you see at smaller film festivals normally, so it’s great for the filmmaker.

Why hold it in Las Vegas?

We like Las Vegas because it has that Libertarian do what you want to do kind of atmosphere, about being responsible for yourself but taking charge of your own actions.

What makes a film Libertarian?

I pick films with a Libertarian slant, so they are about people who fix things for themselves. We have independent, individualist kind of protagonists. We have documentaries about the unintended consequences of government intervention. People come to learn and to think, and they could go listen to a speaker talk about the Federal Reserve, and it might be interesting, but it could be kind of dry just looking at the person talking. Or you could go to a film where you have music and clips of things from the past and have several people talking, so I think that film is just a great way to learn about a topic.

Who is your audience? Whom is this festival for?

Mostly they are free-minded people, intellectual, interested in changing the world for the better. But also interested in being left alone to do things for yourself. They are very self-reliant and take-charge kind of people. They range in age. I had children here today, young teens, all the way up to people in their 70s and 80s. Men and women, just a real variety of people.

I like film because when you’re watching it, you get involved in the story and you start to feel what the protagonist feels and you start to think what the protagonist thinks. So if we can use storytelling or narrative fiction as a way to let people step inside somebody’s head and think the way they think, we think that’s one good way to help them think the way a Libertarian thinks. To be responsible for themselves.

Where does the festival’s name come from? I think some folks are surprised to learn that it isn't held in Anthem.

It comes from Ayn Rand, who helped influence Libertarianism and in the 20th century wrote a lot about the free market and individuality. One of her very first books was called "Anthem." It’s a little short book set in a dystopian future where no one is allowed to say the word "I." They’re not allowed to even think "I." They can only think and participate as a group. And this one main character discovers the concept of "I." And so I named it "Anthem" as a tribute to Ayn Rand. And for the same reason she called her book "Anthem" — it’s a call to passion for a cause.

What do you see as some of the highlights at the festival?

In the evening, we tend to have our narrative features. We have a couple of science-fiction films. (Today), we have a film called "America’s Longest War," and it’s not the war in Afghanistan, it’s the war against drugs. And it talks about all the unintended costs of the war on drugs. So that one’s pretty interesting. On Saturday, we have some films that are about health. We have one that’s about socialized medicine, one that suggests the curative powers of cannabis. And then every day at lunchtime, we have little short narrative films from 10 to 20 minutes long. On Friday night, we have a sneak peek of a film called "Downwinders" about people who lived in the fallout areas during the atomic bomb testing. That’s not a complete film; it’s a work in progress. I always like to show at least one film that’s in progress so the audience can give feedback to the filmmaker.

Looking at the schedule and number of films, I’m surprised at the scope of the Libertarian films as a genre and as a community.

Yeah, and it’s getting bigger, which is why I wanted to do this. There was a Libertarian film festival a few years ago, but it didn’t last. So this really is the only one that is focused on Libertarian ideals. I think the reason mine is able to keep growing is that we’re part of Freedom Fest, so we have this ready audience. The filmmakers love it; they have a blast here. They need each other. I was kind of proud of the fact that in the first year, two of the filmmakers got to know each other well, and I noticed that last year one of them contributed to the Kickstarter campaign of another, and now that film is showing at Anthem this year. So I like the fact that I can bring these filmmakers together. They can get to know each other. They can support each other and see that there is an audience for these kinds of heroes that are self-reliant and anti-government. They like the idea of making a difference, and I like the fact that they are getting to know each other. Working with the filmmakers is one of my very favorite things about the festival.

For tickets, schedules and more information, visit the Anthem Film Festival website.

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