Jo Ann Skousen is a busy woman. As the Founding Director of the Anthem Film Festival, Skousen is frantically putting the last touches on the event which will be featured in partnership with Freedomfest – the popular Libertarian gathering in Las Vegas this week. When I called Skousen to ask some questions about the festival she seemed hesitant. She didn’t remember scheduling the call but kept talking anyway as I asked her how she was doing, how was the week going, is this a good time to talk.
Eventually the light came on. “Oh!” she laughed. “I’m so crazy right now I completely forgot. I know your name sounded familiar. I just thought I’d keep talking until I figured it out!”
Pushing ahead seems to be Skousen’s M.O. When she started the Anthem Film Festival they could barely fill a small room with their audience. Six years later they’ve held screenings for as many as 1200 people in the main ballroom during Freedomfest. Some events have been standing room only.
I asked Skousen why she started Anthem, and why at at Libertarian convention. She explained that a lot of film makers – especially documentarians – feel frustration that if their messages don’t fit certain political notions in Hollywood they can’t find funding and support for their projects. Libertarians are often seen as “the center” in politics, but most of them don’t care to be labeled on the political specturm. They simply have ideas about the nature of being an American that aren’t always shared in the mainstream.
“There was a need for a venue for film makers who care about individuality and accountability…who care about the unintended consequences of government intervention. Hollywood doesn’t always conduct that message very well. We wanted to give them a voice.”
At Anthem, film makers have the opportunity to showcase their talent without worry about how any “message” will be received. Anthem welcomes any all artists who subtly or overtly embrace libertarian values like ones Skousen described. The artists get the advantage of screening their work in a professional setting and even walking away with a bona fide award and a cash prize.
“Those awards can add some gravitas to the film makers and gives them a chance to springboard off of that win to secure more funding and more recognition down the road.”
Skousen claims quite a few of the featured film makers over the years have gone on to do even more high profile work in the industry. I asked if she felt apprehension about holding a film festival at a political event.
“Not at all. Freedomfest isn’t really a political conference. Its an investment conference, there are health and wellness seminars, science and technology presentations…it covers a lot. We feel our work fits in well with all of those themes. Its good to have the arts and entertainment field represented.”
Indeed, looking at the submissions and past winners the field does seem very broad. The 2014 Grand Prize Winner was “Poverty, Inc.” – a film that highlights the cycle of poverty and the obstacles to escaping it. It’s a subject a broad spectrum of people can appreciate.
One of the films screened this year will be “Little Pink House” – a documentary about a woman who battles her local government to prevent her life-long home from being seized through eminent domain.
Another is “Can We Take a Joke” which features some of today’s most famous comedians discussing the breakdown of free speech on college campuses and their reluctance to take their comedy to academia these days.
There are several other documentaries on a wide range of subjects.
The festival runs in conjunction with Freedomfest July 13-16 at Planet Hollywood in Las Vegas. Those with tickets to Freedomfest can attend the festival for free or individual festival passes are available for a reasonable price.
Its too late for submissions this year, but film makers are encouraged to submit their projects for 2017 consideration. Considering how broad their current collection of films is, there are probably a lot of young, passionate artists out there who have already created something they just haven’t been able to find support for in the traditional arenas.
For tickets or more information visit AnthemFilmFestival.com