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Dark Money, a political thriller, examines one of the greatest present threats to American democracy: the influence of untraceable corporate money on our elections and elected officials. The film takes viewers to Montana—a frontline in the fight to preserve fair elections nationwide—to follow an intrepid local journalist working to expose the real-life impacts of the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. Through this gripping story, Dark Money uncovers the shocking and vital truth of how American elections are bought and sold. This Sundance award-winning documentary is directed/produced by Kimberly Reed (Prodigal Sons) and produced by Katy Chevigny (E-Team).
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When I heard about the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision on the radio in 2010, I froze in the middle of my apartment. Like many Americans, I found the ideas that corporations are people and money is speech to be ludicrous. But worse than that was the easily foreseeable outcome that political power would be controlled by fewer and fewer, richer and richer people. And I knew that I was not alone. Approximately 80% of Americans have consistently disapproved of this decision. [CBS Poll, 2016]
For a few years, I didn’t quite know what to do about my frustration with our crippled campaign finance system. As a filmmaker, my first impulse was to make a documentary about it.
When I heard my home state of Montana would be the only state to fight back against Citizens United in the U.S. Supreme Court, everything changed. I knew I could tell a compelling story of campaign finance through the eyes of real people. I grabbed the best camera I could get and started filming.
The only way to really understand how the dark money shell game works is to follow the nonprofit corporations over multiple election cycles as they pop up, disintegrate, reconstitute, and wreak havoc once again. It usually takes journalists years to uncover the damage that dark money causes, and by that time it is too late.
I played this game of Whack-A-Mole over three election cycles in what became the perfect environment to tell the campaign finance story. Montana was not only the first and hardest hit with dark money but also the state that fought back the hardest with grassroots citizen outrage. Dark Money puts a human face to that fight.
Told through the lives of real people, our film makes a concerted effort to share stories from both sides of the aisle. It was important to me to remind folks that campaign spending is not just a liberal or conservative issue; and it affects all Americans, not just Montanans, regardless of ideology.
The role money plays in our politics has never been more crucial. Or timely. Dark money contributions increased a stunning 60-fold in 2012 (the first election after Citizens United) and spending for the 2018 campaigns has already far outpaced that of 2016. And, as we have seen with recent breaking news, the spending is getting more sophisticated, more insidious, and harder to track.
I am excited our film is being released in the midst of the 2018 election cycle. Campaign spending is the most fundamental political problem facing our democracy, and I believe our film comes at a critical time to help solve some of those problems, educate viewers, and inspire citizens to “follow the money” all the way to the campaign finance reform Americans consistently say they want.
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Kimberly Reed’s work has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, NPR, The Moth, and in Details Magazine. One of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 New Faces of Independent Film,” she directed/produced Prodigal Sons, a “whiplash doc that heralds an exciting talent” (SF Weekly). Prodigal Sons (First Run Features, Sundance Channel) premiered at Telluride, landed on many Best of the Year lists, screened at more than 100 film festivals, and garnered 14 Audience and Jury awards, including the FIPRESCI Prize. Ms. Reed was recognized as one of OUT Magazine’s “Out 100,” and as Towleroad’s “Best LGBT Character of the Film Year.” She also produced/edited/wrote Paul Goodman Changed My Life (Zeitgeist Films) and produced The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (Netflix). With a background in journalism, her work in broader artistic fields has also been acclaimed. She was published in the NY Times bestselling “The Moth – 50 True Stories,” and has co-authored three operas, including As One, the most frequently produced American opera in decades.
Photo by Claire Jones.
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