By Emily S. Mendel
The Berkeley FILM Foundation will hold a benefit screening Thursday of Better This World, a powerful, award-winning documentary produced and directed by filmmakers Katie Galloway and Kelly Duane de la Vega and funded, in part, by a grant by the foundation. Galloway, of Berkeley, and de la Vega will host a Q and A after the 7 pm screening at the Zaentz Media Center. The screening is part of the FILM Foundation’s monthly documentary series, held the third Thursday of every month
Better This World, which was partially funded and aired by PBS’s Point of View, follows two boyhood friends from Midland, Texas as their world spins out of control. David McKay, 22 and Bradley Crowder, 23, had been opposed to the Iraq War, yet had no idea of what, if any, action to take. Within six months, in a stunning turn of events, they wound up arrested on terrorism charges at the 2008 Republican National Convention.
The film explores their initial naiveté (“We just want to make the world a better place.”) and their bonds with the intense older Brandon Darby, a radical agent provocateur, who mentored and challenged them until their arrests. Much of the film is about the Feds’ relentless prosecution of McKay and Crowder, and the eventual (here, undisclosed) outcome.
Almost in disbelief, we watch the vindictive battle of the US Justice Department and the FBI against McKay and Bradley’s sense of honor, friendship and fear. We also observe the toll the terrorist allegations take on their families, their loved ones and themselves.
More like an edge-of-your-seat spy thriller and tense legal drama than a true story, Better This World soberly illustrates the dilemma between civil liberties and post-9/11 public safety. This is a documentary; it isn’t ripped from the headlines and fictionalized. Yet Better This World has all the complexity, stimulation and suspense of a great drama — with incredible twists at the end.
Through meticulously edited interviews, moving jailhouse phone calls, audio of FBI interrogations, FBI surveillance photos and video, and footage from the Twin Cities’ Joint Terrorism Task Force Department (Homeland Security had granted $50,000 for surveillance), the documentary shows the events as they happened, although the filmmakers first met McKay and Bradley one year after their arrests. Careful recreations are used where necessary.
Better This World is a powerful film. I wish it were a paranoid fantasy rather than a presentation of actual events. But such is our 21st century world.
The benefit screening will be held on Thursday, January 19, 2012, at 7:00 pm, at The Zaentz Media Center at 2600 Tenth Street. The screening is part of the FILM Foundation’s Berkeley Filmmakers’ Screening Series, which occurs the third Thursday of every month. The films are generally free to the public. Tickets for this event are $10.00 plus a $1.54 fee and directly benefit the Berkeley FILM Foundation.
Berkeley FILM Foundation is a grant program established in 2009 by the City of Berkeley, Wareham Development and The Saul Zaentz Company for independent filmmakers with a mission to nurture, encourage and sustain the thriving Berkeley independent film community. The Foundation distributed $162,000 in grants this summer.